October 1976

Campaign Tactics

Robert F. Turner

The December, 1975 issue of Human Behavior reported the results of an investigation of The Billy Graham Revival Machine. Sociologists from N. Carolina State University, the U. of Tennessee, and from Richmond, Va. were the investigators. We detect some prejudicial wording, but felt you would want to read the report.


Many sociologists and evangelists including Billy Graham, the present dean of them all —- insist that conversion is a complete and permanent turnaround. But the researchers feel these conversions are really ritualized reaffirmations of existing values.

In this sense, they point out, the crusade becomes a ritualized opportunity for people to show what they claim to be, namely, bona fide Christians. To test this theory, the investigators and about 50 assistants attended a Billy Graham crusade at a local football stadium. Through a questionnaire they randomly passed out to 368 people, they found out the crowds religious preference and affiliations, church attendance and other background information....

There didnt seem to be many lambs who had wandered away from the fold in the audience; 91 percent reported church membership. In fact, over 70 percent made it to church at least once a week and thats 32 percent higher than a national sample of Protestants. Promotion of the crusade wasnt aimed at those who were unfamiliar with church. In fact, 31 percent came with a church group. Those who made decisions werent older folks who felt they should settle their score before it was too late. No less than 73 percent were in their teens or younger, showing that conversion was an affirmation of individual beliefs.

The hoopla around the impending crusade began 18 months before the Graham organization hit town. There was a petition campaign to convince the evangelist that enough souls were planning to be saved to make it worth his while. Then there were media spots, buildups in the churches, special prayer meetings and Bible study classes, as well as training sessions for local church members who would counsel decision makers. The concept of instantaneous conversion and Grahams unique powers as a catalytic agent were touted all through this well-executed planning.

Instead of viewing crusade goers as the type who speak in tongues or have fainting fits, the researchers note that they bore a strong resemblance to a large-sized type of Protestant church service. Instead of waiting for the spirit to call them, many got in line to go forward long before there was a cue that the invitation was about to begin. They looked calm, say the investigators, not particularly ecstatic. Each decision maker very deliberately filled out cards asking for the usual vital information.

Its no miracle then that the researchers concluded that changes in values and behavior are gradual and slight, even though the perception of the convert may be otherwise.