William “Bill” Bright (1921-2003), founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, was born the son of a prosperous rancher and his wife near the town of Coweta, Oklahoma. Raised a Methodist, Bright graduated from Northeastern Oklahoma State in 1943 and headed to California to seek his fortune. Settling in the Los Angeles area he formed a successful business selling candied fruit and nuts. Invited by his landlords to attend church, Bright was converted in the spring of 1945. In 1946 he enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary, transferring to the new evangelical Fuller Seminary the next year. By 1951 Bright had left seminary to start a student ministry, Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC), on the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). At UCLA he targeted campus leaders and athletes and, influenced by modern marketing and sales techniques, developed “The Four Spiritual Laws,” a short, practical, uniform presentation which emphasized God’s love, man’s sin, Christ’s sacrifice, and the need to have faith in Christ.
By 1960 CCC could be found on over forty campuses in the U.S. as well as in South Korea and Pakistan. In the next few years Bright’s organization branched out into a wide variety of evangelistic and discipleship programs including ministries to military personnel, an expanded outreach program overseas, lay evangelistic training, the Athletes in Action sports teams, and various travelling speakers and musical groups. By the 1970s CCC was the most prominent American evangelical parachurch organization aside from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a reputation gained through such extravaganzas as 1972′s EXPLO ’72 youth meetings in Dallas; EXPLO ’74 in Seoul, South Korea; the ambitious “Here’s Life America!” campaign of the mid-1970s with its ubiquitous “I Found It!” advertizing blitz; and, the Jesus film (1979) which has been translated into over 650 languages and been viewed by an estimated 4 billion people. In 1980 CCC sponsored a massive “Washington For Jesus” rally that attracted an estimated one million people to the nation’s capital and signaled Bright’s increasing attention to political and cultural issues in America. As part of this effort in the 1990s Bright launched a sustained campaign to stimulate fasting and prayer on the nation’s behalf among evangelicals.
In 1996 in recognition of his many achievements, Bright was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Bright died in 2003, and by that time CCC had grown to over 25,000 full-time workers in more than 190 countries.
For further reading, see Michael Richardson, Amazing Faith: The Authorized Biography of Bill Bright (Waterbrook, 2000); John G. Turner, Bill Bright & Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America (UNC, 2008).