In the fall of 1949, a little-known Baptist preacher launched a series of revival meetings at a “canvas cathedral” at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Hill Street in Los Angeles.
The meetings were supposed to last three weeks. Instead, they continued for eight weeks, drawing more than 300,000 people and making Billy Graham a household name.
Nearly 70 years later, the 99-year-old evangelist remains one of the best-known preachers in America, according to a survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
Half of Protestant churchgoers in America (48%) have seen one of his sermons on television, while 1 in 10 (11%) attended one of his revivals, known as crusades.
If you go to a Protestant church, chances are you know of Billy Graham, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “We’d be hard-pressed to find another American Christian leader who has that kind of name recognition.”
The survey of 1,000 churchgoers—those who attend a Protestant or nondenominational church at least once a month—found Graham has had widespread influence.
Two-thirds of those surveyed have had contact with his ministry, including:
- 48% have watched a Billy Graham sermon on television
- 18% have listened to one of his sermons on the radio
- 15% have read one of his books
- 14% have read a Billy Graham newspaper column
- 11% have attended a Billy Graham crusade
- 8% have watched a Billy Graham sermon online
Among churchgoers with evangelical beliefs:
- 54% have watched a Billy Graham sermon on television
- 23% have listened to one of his sermons on the radio
- 19% have read one of his books
- 18% have read a Billy Graham newspaper column
- 14% have attended a Billy Graham crusade
- 10% have watched a Billy Graham sermon online
A third of churchgoers have not interacted with Graham’s ministry in person, in print, or through television, radio, or the internet. This includes:
- 51% of churchgoers ages 18 to 34
- 30% of weekly worshipers
- 37% of those attending a church of less than 50
- 22% of those attending a church of 500 to 999
- 38% of those attending a church of 1,000
- 41% of those in the Midwest
- 31% of those in the South
- 27% of those in the West
Among churchgoers with evangelical beliefs, 1 in 4 has never interacted with Graham’s ministry (27%). Meanwhile, among churchgoers who don’t hold evangelical beliefs, only 2 in 5 have never interacted with his ministry (41%).
Meanwhile, only 4 percent of churchgoers say they “have no idea who Billy Graham is.”
Churchgoers who are ages 18 to 34 are most likely not to know who Graham is (16%). Only 1 percent of those 35 and older don’t know who he is.
Older churchgoers have had the most interaction with Graham’s ministry: 74 percent of Protestant churchgoers 65 and older have seen one of his sermons on television, as have 57 percent of those ages 50 to 64.
Nineteen percent of Protestant churchgoers 65 and older—and 14 percent of those 50 to 64—say they’ve been to a Graham crusade.
Baptist (14%) and nondenominational churchgoers (12%) are most likely to have gone to a Graham crusade. Lutherans (3%) are least likely.
“For several generations of Americans, Billy Graham had a powerful effect on their Christian faith,” said McConnell.
Bob Smietana (@BobSmietana) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.