Billy Graham’s first evangelistic meeting in London was perhaps his biggest and most important. While the 1949 meetings in Los Angeles vaulted Billy Graham into the national spotlight, the 1954 meetings in London, at the time billed as the world’s largest city, thrust him onto the international stage. The team secured the 12,000-seat Harringay Arena for three months, when most believed three weeks should be the maximum planned length. Crowds thronged to the Crusade, from March 1 through the closing meeting on May 22 at the 100,000-seat Wembley Stadium. Through the reservations being taken, the team quickly realized Wembley wouldn’t contain the crowds on closing night. They decided to hold an additional two-hour meeting at White City Stadium, where 65,000 came to hear the Gospel, the largest single crowd yet. Afterwards, Billy Graham and the team piled onto a bus to Wembley, where gates at the stadium had been opened to allow an additional 22,000 people to rush in and sit on the playing field itself.
When it was all said and done, more than 2,000,000 people attended the Crusade meetings, and nearly 40,000 made a commitment to Christ. As Billy Graham described later, “We knew that even among those who made no decision during the meetings, seeds had been planted that would bear fruit in God’s timing.”
Billy Graham returned to London and Wembley Stadium a year later for a week-long Crusade. It rained every single night except the last, which happened to be the coldest night of the year! The weather didn’t hamper the crowds, though, as more than 450,000 turned out, and nearly 24,000 made a commitment to Christ.
In 1966, the team traveled back to London for meetings, which were held this time at the Earl’s Court Arena. The closing meeting again was at Wembley.
Leading up to the Crusade, some media reports recalled the 1954 Crusade and attributed the invitation response, not to the preaching, but to the emotion generated by the song “Just As I Am.” The song has always been the signature “invitation” song at Billy Graham Crusades. Cliff Barrows recalls:
He [Billy Graham] said to me, “I have a suggestion. Let’s prepare the choir to sing or not sing. You have the choir ready, and if I want the song, I’ll say we’re going to sing ‘Just As I Am.’ But if I don’t want it, I won’t call for it. So don’t begin the song until I call for it.”
That first night at Earl’s Court, Billy preached his heart out. There was a real sense of the presence of God. When he finished he said, “We are not going to have any music tonight. There’ll be no singing. But if the Spirit of God is speaking to your heart, then right where you are, just stand in your place, and make your way out to the aisle. Come down to the center through the side aisles and stand here in front of the platform.” He stood back and said, “Now, you come.”
For about fifteen seconds nobody moved. And that’s a long time. Then all of a sudden a seat squeaked, and then another, and another. Then hundreds of people began to stand. They walked to the aisle, shuffled down the long wooden floor that had been put down to cover the turf, and stood at the front.
We went thirty nights without a single note of the hymn, “Just as I Am,” which has been the signature tune of our Crusades through the years. We had never done that before. When the reporters began to write about the invitation at Earl’s Court, they said that all they heard was a shuffling of feet on the floor. “Bring back ‘Just as I Am!’ The silence is killing us!” they wrote.
More than a million people attended the Crusade, with more than 40,000 making a decision for Jesus Christ – all without any music!
Billy Graham’s final London Crusade came in 1989. Though the event originated in London, the impact was felt throughout the U.K. and around the world. In addition to the 375,000+ in London, Billy Graham preached to more than 800,000 people gathered at 247 “live-link” centers throughout the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland and to 16,000 sites in 13 nations of Africa. Altogether, estimates suggest more than 25,000,000 people heard the Gospel during the London Crusade and simultaneous Mission World broadcasts in the summer of 1989.
In 2005, Billy Graham, 86 years old at the time, was invited back to London. He declined due to his age and physical health, as well as the declining health of his wife Ruth. “After much prayerful consideration, I determined I should not be that far from home,” he said in a press release. “This was a difficult decision because London has played such a significant part in the life of my ministry.”