Campus Crusade was founded
on the UCLA campus by Bill Bright and his wife Vonette Zachary
Bright in 1951. In the years following World War II evangelical
created a variety of strategies to both revitalize faith and "combat
the spread of communism." The many parachurch organizations
formed in these years, which included Campus Crusade for Christ, "sought
to extend... programs into the life of American youth and young adults
in a fresh, energetic manner" (Jorstad, 23). Bright saw a decline
in the "morality" of American's lives, a perspective
that is still prevalent in society today nearly a half century
From the beginning of his ministry Bright has seen the answer to
this decline in American morality by bringing the best and brightest
of America's youth to Christ. Bright hoped that by bringing America's
future leaders to Christ, they would naturally lead the nation
Richard Quebedeaux, author of a biography entitled I Found It!: The Story of Bill Bright and Campus Crusade, credits Bright's initial Christian exposure to Bright's Mother, Mary Lee Rohl, who was a pious Methodist (Quebedeaux:4; Melton 1991:62). Bright did not accept Christ himself though, nor follow any religion, until he was reintroduced to the concept by Vonette Zachary, a girl he knew from the small community of Coweta Oklahoma where he grew up.
Bill and Vonette's relationship was sparked by a letter from Bill while he was in California. Bill had moved to Los Angeles after finishing school at Northeastern State College in Oklahoma. At the university he demonstrated his natural leadership ability as year book editor and student body president. After receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in 1943 he became a teacher at Oklahoma State University. But, Bright was interested in more material wealth than teaching could offer him. Bright left Oklahoma to open his own business, Bright's California Confections, in Southern California. Vonette and Bill began corresponding while Bill was in California. At the start Bright was concerned about Vonette's religious fanaticism, and her about his lack of belief. Through a visit with Vonette, Bill came to accept Christ and began attending Hollywood's First Presbyterian Church (Quebedeaux:5-8).
There he learned the ways of evangelical Christianity from Henrietta C. Mears, director of Christian education at Hollywood Presbyterian (Quebedeaux:7). In 1946 Bright began studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. The following year he continued training at Fuller Theological Seminary, a conservative evangelical school in Southern California.
In 1948 Bright married Vonette. During his last year of seminary he felt the call to preach; he never finished seminary. He sold his business and began his life's work as an evangelist out of a house adjacent to the fraternities and sororities of the University of California at Los Angeles (Melton 1991:62; Quebedeaux:5-23).
Through saturation evangelism, and with the help of William Frank (Billy) Graham, Campus Crusade became a national movement by 1960 (Melton 1991:62). The organization has grown throughout the years and now has "a chapter on most college campuses in North America and... spread its activity around the globe" (Melton 1991:62).
Campus Crusade began with the core marriage of Bill and Vonette and spread outward. They began recruiting disciples who met at their home near the UCLA campus for prayer and meals. Today, the organization has grown tremendously, but Bill and Vonette still maintain a close group of disciples who are mostly prominent leaders in the business community. Other staff are not kept as close to the source of charisma but instead are trained in the Campus Crusade complex in Orlando, Florida, and then sent all over the world to win others to Christ. Only the best become a staffer and all staffers must raise their own salaries (Hadden and Shupe:26). Marriage is a very important tenet to Bright. Husband and wife must apply together to become staffers (Quebedeaux:52). The "beloved community" of staffers is similar to a very close family. The staffers have very strong ties and a close feeling of being with fellow Christians making entry and exit into this group very difficult (Quebedeaux:53,58)
Campus Crusade began as a ministry to reach university students (an evangelical niche not well supported at the time), but through the years Bright's high motivation to evangelize soon expanded to include high school students, university faculty and administrators, professionals, as well as minorities; in short to reach all people by what ever means necessary (Quebedeaux:26).
Bill Bright set his goal on nothing short of evangelizing the entire world. Bright wants to bring all nations to Christ, he is committed to the proposition that the the United States is a Christian nation and that it has a special place in God's scheme to redeem a sinful world. According to Frederick Clarkson, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy (Common Courage Press, 1997), "Bright insists [in his book The Coming Revival] Christians must 'become actively involved in restoring every facet of society, including government, to the biblical values of our Founding Fathers.' Bright would turn the nation over 'to God from the top down, where our laws are made' in order to enact 'permanent change.'" Bright's various campaigns to evangelize the nation are clearly forerunners to and provided inspiration for recent lay-directed evangelistic campaigns. One example is Bill McCarthy's "Promise Keepers" which organized a "million-man march" on Washington, D.C. in the late 1990s (Clarkson).
Campus Crusade seeks to "be all things to all people," so that they may win all people to be saved through the acceptance of Christ as their lord and savior (Quebedeaux:62). In the pursuit of this goal Campus Crusade has spawned a large number of subsidiary ministries and campaigns to appeal to high school students, professionals, faculty, administrators and minorities (Quebedeaux:37).
As of 1993 "CCC [operated] more than 40 ministries, including
Andre Kole; Athletes in Action...; Business Executive; Campus
(university/college); Christian Embassy; Christian Leadership
(faculty); Drama; Family; Here's Life, World (a special discipleship/evangelism
outreach that has sponsored training by radio in 12 languages);
Here's Life, America (lay); Here's Life, Black America; Here's
Life Training Centers; Hispanic; International; International
Christian Graduate University; International Student; Jesus Film
Project; Josh McDowell; Mass Media; Military; Music; Paragon
Productions (multimedia); New Life 2000; Prayer; Prison; and
Student Venture (high school)" (Melton 1993:82). Other examples
include CWLF (Quebedeaux:30), BCC, "God's Forever Family," and
Agape (Quebedeaux:59). A more up to date list may be found at
Campus Crusade has also held several campaigns to spread their message to larger numbers of people, with the goal of turning these large conventions of believers and non-believers to accept Christ. Examples of these campaigns include: "I Found It" (Quebedeaux:40), "Here's Life, America" (Quebedeaux:40-44), Soviet Union tour (Quebedeaux:44), EXPLO '72" in Dallas, Texas and "EXPLO '74" in Seoul, South Korea (Quebedeaux:35-40), and the "Washington for Jesus" rally (Hadden and Shupe:21-38; Cloud).
The "Washington for Jesus" rally (April 29, 1980) is a particularly important example because it demonstrates Bill Bright's commitment to his belief in the specialness of the United States in God's plan. This rally also demonstrated Bill Bright's ability to bring together Christian leaders and focus them on his common goal without steeling the spotlight. Bill Bright agreed to co-chair this rally with Pat Robertson after receiving divine inspiration to bring together the ministers of the US while traveling in Asia in the spring of 1979. The rally's goal was to help return America from its "sinful" path. Bright believed from the founding of Campus Crusade that America had to be "saved" from its destructive path away from the morality of God. According to Jeffrey K. Hadden and Anson Shupe, in their book Televangelism: Power & Politics on God's Fronteir, Bright has "the gnawing conviction that something has gone terribly wrong with America. What is wrong is the result of sin, of disobedience of God's covenant with America." According to Hadden and Shupe, Bright also believes "that America is not just one among nations; it is instead the nation with a providential mission in God's grand scheme of things" (24). This rally was therefore important for Bright because of his continued belief in the need to "save" the United States. According to David W. Cloud, in his book Flirting with Rome, Bill Bright has helped organize and sponsor the "Washington for Jesus celebrations" every year since the first. Cloud also asserts that this event was important because it brought together Christians of all denominations from around the U. S. (Cloud).
Campus Crusade has taken full advantage of every new media and means of reaching new people. Bright has authored over 50 books and booklets, distributed the film Jesus and developed an extensive web presence. All of this is a part of an extensive marketing program to sell salvation through Jesus Christ to as many people as possible.
Bill Bright has always held lofty goals for his organization. His most recent, New Life 2000, is no exception. "With the NewLife 2000 strategy, the goal of Campus Crusade for Christ is to reach the world's 6 billion people by the end of the year 2000" (harvest2000.org).