As speculation about a possible successor intensified in recent years, Billy Graham always told reporters that the decision was not his to make, but up to God and the 32-member board of directors of his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).

But in 1995, as age and health concerns increasingly have weighed on Graham—and after much prayer, as well as input from his wife, Ruth—he felt compelled to put forth a recommendation: his namesake, 43-year-old William Franklin Graham III.

By a unanimous vote at the BGEA's annual meeting ending November 7, Graham's seventy-seventh birthday, the board agreed. Franklin Graham became first vice chair—a new position with direct succession as chair and chief executive officer "should his father ever become incapacitated."

The action settles who will lead the 45-year-old organization once the founder is gone. In the short term, changes will be minimal. "I'm going to do everything I can to help my father so that the last years of his ministry are his best years," Franklin Graham told CT after the announcement. "I want to stay in the shadows and serve him."

According to several individuals close to the senior Graham, his elder son had the enthusiastic support of some directors, while others did not see him as their first choice. In the end, though, all rallied for the sake of unity—and for the sake of the founder.

MEGA MINISTRY: The BGEA is one of the largest evangelical nonprofits in the nation, after Campus Crusade for Christ, the Christian Broadcasting Network, and Focus on the Family. The BGEA generated $88 million last year, raising $72 million in private donations. The BGEA employs 300 people at its Minneapolis headquarters ...

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