NASHVILLE, Tenn.— 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 Rev. Graham 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 percent) have seen one of his sermons on television, while 1 in 10 (11 percent) 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,” said McConnell.
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 had some contact with Graham’s ministry, according to Lifeway Research:
- 48 percent watched a Billy Graham sermon on television.
- 18 percent listened to one of his sermons on the radio.
- 15 percent read one of his books.
- 14 percent read a Billy Graham newspaper column.
- 11 percent attended a Billy Graham crusade.
- 8 percent watched a Billy Graham sermon online.
A third of churchgoers had not interacted with Graham’s ministry in person, in print or through television, radio or the internet. Four percent say they “have no idea who Billy Graham is.”
Churchgoers who are 18 to 34 (16 percent) are most likely not to know who Graham is. Only 1 percent of those 35 and older don’t know who he is.
Older churchgoers have the most interaction with Graham’s ministry. Three-quarters (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 percent) and nondenominational churchgoers (12 percent) are most likely to have gone to a Graham crusade. Lutherans (3 percent) are least likely.
“For several generations of Americans, Billy Graham had a powerful effect on their Christian faith,” said McConnell.
Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends.
Lifeway Research conducted the study Aug. 22–30, 2017, using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Initially, participants are chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. People in selected households are then invited by telephone or by mail to participate in the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®. For those who agree to participate but do not already have internet access, GfK provides at no cost a laptop and ISP connection.
For this survey, a nationally representative sample of U.S. Protestant and nondenominational adults (18 and older) who attend religious services once a month or more often was selected from the KnowledgePanel®.
Sample stratification and base weights were used for gender, age, race/ethnicity, region, metro/non-metro, home ownership, education and income to reflect the most recent U.S. Census data. Study-specific weights included for gender by age, race/ethnicity, region and education to reflect GSS 2016 data. The completed sample is 1,010 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
Lifeway Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.