Campus Crusade for Christ

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Campus Crusade for Christ

Campus Crusade for Christ is a conservative evangelical parachurch organization focusing on evangelism and discipleship. Founded on the campus of UCLA in 1951 by former candy salesman and Fuller Theological Seminary graduate William R. "Bill" Bright (1921–), Campus Crusade quickly became well known through a revival that claimed more than 250 converts, including many prominent campus leaders and athletes. The organization grew steadily during the 1950s, keyed by its leader's pragmatic evangelical ecumenism and emphasis on a simple, nondenominational "spiritual pitch," standardized in the late 1950s in Bright's tract The Four Spiritual Laws.

In 1962 Campus Crusade moved to an expansive new headquarters at Arrowhead Springs, a former resort near San Bernardino, California. At that time the organization created the Institute of Biblical Studies (later, the International School of Theology) to train workers for its expanding array of outreach programs. Among Campus Crusade's new initiatives in the 1960s were evangelistic training programs for laypeople and businessmen; work among military personnel both within the United States and overseas; and Athletes in Action, a venue for Christian athletes—most notably basketball players—to evangelize athletes and sports fans through exhibition games with college and professional teams.

The period from the late 1960s through the 1970s was one of meteoric growth and substantial visibility for Campus Crusade. From a full-time staff of fewer than 2,000 in 1969, the organization grew by nearly 500 percent during the 1970s. Part of this was tied to Bright's support for traditional American values, patriotism, and close identification with growing evangelical involvement in conservative politics. More important, however, was Campus Crusade's timely and innovative strategies that reemphasized traditional evangelical themes of conversion and repentance. Most successful during this period was its intensive evangelistic program "Here's Life America." Built around the ubiquitous catchphrase "I Found It!" the campaign targeted more than 250 metropolitan areas between 1973 and 1978, utilizing a combination of interchurch cooperation and savvy use of various media, from billboards and bumper stickers to telephone counseling and television specials.

During the 1980s and 1990s Campus Crusade continued to expand its scope of operation. In recognition of the growing multicultural realities of American society, it began new programs on campus aimed specifically at Hispanic, Asian, and African-American students. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Campus Crusade played a central role in the cooperative North American evangelical CoMission and CoMission II efforts to promote Christian morals and evangelism in Russian schools. But, undoubtedly, the organization's most successful project was the film Jesus. A presentation of the Gospel of St. Luke originally distributed to American theaters in 1979, it was adapted as a nonthreatening tool for foreign evangelism, eventually being translated into more than five hundred languages. In the 1990s the free distribution of video-cassettes of Jesus became the focal point for communitywide cooperative evangelistic efforts, particularly in North America. By the late 1990s Campus Crusade claimed that more than one billion people had seen the film worldwide.

Although detractors have criticized Bright's theology as simplistic, and his organization as too closely identified with middle-class American values, Campus Crusade's stature within the evangelical subculture was immense by the late 1990s. Its bimonthly magazine Worldwide Challenge had more than 250,000 subscribers, and an enormous expansion of its new (1991) Orlando, Florida, headquarters was well under way. With more than 13,000 full-time staff worldwide, and an operating budget of nearly $300 million a year, Campus Crusade for Christ stood second only to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in terms of size, influence, and historic importance among the evangelical parachurch organizations that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century.


See alsoConversion; Evangelical Christianity; InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; Proselytizing; Televangelism.

Bibliography

Bright, Bill. Come Help Change the World. 1970.

Bright, Bill. A Movement of Miracles. 1977.

Campus Crusade for Christ International Archives. Orlando, Florida.

Quebedeaux, Richard. I Found It! The Story of Bill Brightand Campus Crusade for Christ. 1979.

Sherer, Joel. "Bill Bright." In Twentieth-Century Shapersof American Popular Religion, edited by Charles H. Lippy. 1989.

Zoba, Wendy Murray. "Bill Bright's Wonderful Plan for the World." ChristianityToday ( July 14, 1997): 14–20, 22, 24, 26–27.

Larry Eskridge