Billy Graham, prior to his monumental Crusade in New York City in 1957, said that “no other city in America – perhaps in the world – presented as great a challenge to evangelism.” But, at the same time, the team recognized the tremendous opportunity to reaching that city with the Gospel. “New York,” Billy Graham described, is “the most strategic center in the world. We could have this many people in Louisville, Kentucky…Oklahoma City…even in Chicago…and it wouldn’t mean as much as New York City. It becomes a stage on which we can do evangelism to the whole nation, to the whole world.”
Take a look with us now as we shine the “Crusade City Spotlight” on the Big Apple.
As we’ve written on the blog previously, the Crusade in New York City in 1957 was monumental in the early ministry of Billy Graham. It lasted 16 weeks. In the course of 110 days, there were 100 services, attended by some 2 million people, with more than 56,000 making decisions for Jesus Christ.
Addressing the diversity of the New York population, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a friend of Billy Graham’s, offered an opening prayer at a service and met with the team during the Crusade to help them understand the racial situation in America more fully. Another first happened in 1957 – Billy Graham used an interpreter in the U.S., holding a Saturday afternoon meeting for the city’s Spanish-speaking population.
For more on the 1957 Crusade, you can also check out this post about the important decision that was made on June 3, 1957.
While 1957 was the beginning of domestic outreach to the Spanish-speaking population in New York, it paved the way for an all-Spanish Crusade in the city in October 1960. More than 350 Spanish-speaking churches participated, and Rev. Rogelio Archilla (who also accompanied the team in the 1958 Caribbean Crusades) interpreted for Billy Graham. More than 43,000 attended the three-day event.
In June 1969, Billy Graham returned to Madison Square Garden in New York for his third Crusade. Reported attendance was more than 240,000, with more than 10,000 making decisions for Christ. Here are some of the stories shared with the counselors at that event more than 40 years ago.
A grandmother who had prayed for her grandson before he was born sat in her seat and watched through tears as the young man joined the crowds answering the appeal to give their lives to Christ.
A journalist for [a New York media outlet] who had published some critical stores about the Crusade came into the counseling room one night. Crusade officials thought he was covering a story, but instead his counselor reported that he had made a clear-cut decision for Christ!
An engineer with NASA headquarters in Houston came east to help his fiancée set up plans for their wedding. They came to the Garden and both went forward to claim Christ as Savior.
“I’m a psychoanalyst,” the inquirer said to his counselor. “My job is to help people find a way out of their troubles. My trouble was that I had analyzed myself right out of God. I didn’t know what to believe. After coming here I finally concluded that Christ was the answer and the way out of my own troubles.”
Billy Graham returned to New York a year later, this time to “Miracle Land” – the name New Yorkers have given to Shea Stadium due to the memorable accomplishments in sport that had taken place there.
In the September 1970 issue of Decision magazine, Sherwood Wirt explained how the stadium lived up to its name in June 1970.
“Only God works miracles; sometimes he uses people to carry them out. At Shea Stadium he used 1,000 cooperating churches, 4,000 choir singers, 3,700 trained counselors, 1,000 ushers, 400 buses from points round about, and 400 ‘co-laborers’ (volunteer clerks and typists), any number of committees, an evangelistic team and a preacher.”
This Crusade was described as one of the most cosmopolitan, with old and young, rich and poor, stylish and casual, all races and languages in attendance. Counselors found themselves talking to people from nearly every country of North and South America and Europe.
On Sept. 21, 1991, 250,000 people gathered as Billy Graham returned to New York City for an evangelistic rally on the Great Lawn in Central Park. The event was the culmination of “Mission New York State,” an effort that included Crusades in Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Uniondale, East Rutherford (New Jersey) and Buffalo. Here’s what the media said about the event:
“The crowd was the largest religious assembly in New York City history.” –The Daily News
“Some 250,000 people gathered in New York’s Central Park to hear the Rev. Billy Graham on Sunday. We live in a time when such a large gathering turning out for a religious message is a phenomenon.” – The Wall Street Journal
“The police estimate of 250,000 made it the largest crowd ever to see Mr. Graham in the United States…And it was one of the park’s largest crowds.” – The New York Times
Billy Graham’s final visit to New York City also became his final public Crusade. Bob Paulson writes about the event in the August 2005 issue of Decision magazine:
In a community with more than 100 language groups—and houses of worship for seven different world religions within a four-block radius—Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens was a venue perfectly suited for the Greater New York City Billy Graham Crusade to reach the world with the message of Jesus Christ. Over the three-day event, 242,000 people heard the Gospel message live, and 700 media representatives reported on that same Message to countless others across the United States and around the world.
As was reported in 1957, Billy Graham’s first New York Crusade, the No. 7 train out of Flushing was filled with songs of praise and thanksgiving after the meetings. One counselor reported that on Friday night nearly a whole subway car was singing together after the Crusade for the half-hour ride into Manhattan!
To see unique memorabilia and rare photographs from these historic New York City Crusades, make plans to visit The Billy Graham Library. Note that the Library is closed until Jan. 20 for a few system upgrades. We hope you’ll come see us when we reopen.