Following WWII, large group rallies became extremely popular in the U.S. as a primary means of evangelism. As the hunger for God’s Word and requests for help with the rallies grew, so did one man’s vision for expanding the effort into a national movement.
In 1944, on a fishing trip off the coast of Florida, Torrey Johnson, a Chicago pastor, shared this vision of a national movement with Billy Graham, asking him to become the organization’s first evangelist and employee. Under Torrey’s direction, a committee was formed to provide leadership and strategy for the coordination of speakers, musicians and locations. Beginning with dozens of cities, Youth for Christ quickly became a national movement, with Torrey Johnson as the first president, and Billy Graham as its first full-time staff member. Kalamazoo was one of the initial “core” cities, with Reinhold Barth, pastor of Calvary Bible Church, becoming the first director of Kalamazoo Youth for Christ in 1944. Rallies were held every Saturday night at the Masonic Temple downtown.
Since the initial rallies of the 1940s and 1950s, Youth for Christ has grown to include numerous ministries in 100 countries that reach and engage young people in relationships to share the Gospel. We work with more than one million young people annually around the world and engage them through other local churches, on high school and middle school campuses, and wherever they are in their local communities.
Within the United States, there are currently 180 Youth for Christ chapters in 1,500 cities and towns. Each year, more than 10,000 volunteers assist local chapters in our ministry to young people.