October 22, 2020

Remembering Explo ’72

By Chaplain Mike

MOD Note: I am enjoying the personal stories so much! Please keep them coming!

In my Gospel reflections this morning, I mentioned Explo 72, the conference some called the “Christian Woodstock,” held in Dallas, TX at the height of the Jesus Movement. What a blast from the past to think about those days again! You know those baby boomers who’ve been leading churches for the past generation? This is the era in which they got their start. This was probably also the main event that kick-started “contemporary Christian music” (then called, “Jesus music”) into the limelight.

Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, which sponsored the event, wrote the following words in welcoming people to Explo:

EXPLO ’72 is a call to commitment and action, a call to prayer, a call for a holy life, a call to be about our Father’s business.

Let us not be satisfied with the religious mediocrity of our age. The New Testament church, the zeal of the New Testament Christians is our example.

Join us in expecting God to perform a miracle in our hearts as we make ourselves available to Him and all that He has to teach us during this coming week.

Here’s a brief video documentary to give you a taste of what it was like:

Hey, if anyone was there, we’d love to hear your stories and reflections!

One way, man. Peace.


  1. Christopher Lake says

    I wasn’t there (way too young, though, at 37, definitely no longer a youngster!), but I will say this. No newer Christian music, at least that I have found, comes close to the intelligence, creativity, soul, and flat-out, fearless, proclaiming LOVE for CHRIST of early Larry Norman, Keith Green, and the Resurrection Band! Those were the DAYS! Wish I had been there! 🙂

  2. I wasn’t there either, but it was definitely the same wave that caught me. September, 1972. It’s been a long ride, but from where I am now, it seems that wave has flattened out some, as waves will do. Have there been others since? (Real question..) Vineyard in the 80’s? I was part of that, too, but it didn’t feel the same. 1972 was a life-changer for me; other “latest waves” have seemed like, well, moving into a new house, or something. I’d love read about other experiences.

    And yes, I’m old enough to remember when Calvary Chapel was the emerging church everybody was afraid of.

    • Hey Roger,

      Did you ever get to the weekend concert nights at Costa Mesa? I think they were Friday nights. Then again, they could have been on Saturdays. I drove more than an hour every week to get there. Would’ve driven two.

      I can still remember one of the messages from a very young “preacher.”

      Love Song, Mustard Seed Faith, Gentle Faith, Honeytree…those were the days.

      Randy Stonehill is still my favorite.

  3. it was great to see Johnny Cash in there.

  4. I’m another “wasn’t there” but I came close. I became a believer a few months before by a bunch of college Jesus freaks. I was only 15-16. They went in their VW mini bus and invited me to go. My parents (in their good wisdom) said no way. I remember some of them coming back so excited that they were sure that event was ushering in the immediate return of Christ.

  5. Was the gospel* preached at these events?

    *not “accept Jesus into your heart, He’ll make your life easy and solve all your problems”…..

    Just asking.

  6. Yes, I was there. It was a time that I look back on with mixed emotions. Several of us from the college class in our church filled up a few cars and vans and drove straight through to Dallas from Denver. A guy attending our church at the time was from Dallas had his family and church arrange accommodations. It really was a great time and probably served as a highly influential event in the spiritual formation for all us. Positively or negatively. All the big names of the time were there: Billy Graham, Bill Bright, E.V. Hill, et. al. Most of it took place at the Cotton Bowl but the last day was a massive concert at some park with an estimated 100,000 people (if I remember correctly). It was there I first heard Larry Norman and several others. It was a week of emotional highs.

    For a small hand full of us, Explo 72 served as a spring board for a summer missions trip. We left a week after returned home and were all ready to explain the four spiritual laws to everybody. Things didn’t exactly go as planned, but that’s another story. That was fine with me ‘cuz I never really took to heart or felt comfortable with such a presumptuous form of evangelism.

    Like I said, there a mixed emotions. Suffice it to say, I am currently wandering aimlessly in the post evangelical wilderness and therefor wonder if Explo 72 was plus or a minus. My feelings are that it was a plus in a great way. It’s all part of my spiritual journey, and that’s a good thing.

    And, yes Matthew, the Gospel was preached.

  7. I had the privilege of being at Explo ’72 – along with a group of friends. We drove 850 miles in an old school bus to be there. Great memories. I was a new Christian with hair on my shoulders. I still miss that hair!

    A couple those memories:

    I remember the night that Billy Graham was going to speak. Some guy I had never heard of was going to preach right before him. So, in my ignorance, I began to pray for E. V. Hill. Three minutes into Rev. Hill’s message I was praying fervently for Billy Graham. How could anyone ever follow E. V. Hill?

    Thinking of Billy Graham, I met him there.

    I decided to try to find a men’s room before the evening session got started. I looked through one of those access tunnels (the kind the ambulance would go through) and thought, “There has to be a bathroom along here.” Walking through the tunnel, a car entered from the other side. As it approached me it braked to a stop – I thought to let me past. Walking by the right side of that 1972 Cadillac Seville (think metal handles which still stood out from the car) the back door swung open and hit me in a very tender part of the male anatomy.

    While I was bent over trying to catch my breath and contemplating my new career as a high tenor, a man put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I am so sorry son. I couldn’t see you with these sun glasses on.” Yup! Billy Graham wacked me between the legs.

    Explo ’72 had a great impact on many of us. For my part, along with my wife, I moved to Bolivia in 1978. Since that time we have focused on the formation of authentic disciples – people willing to live out their faith. Today we are seeing a wave of Latin disciples heading out to the world. It has been a privilege to be part of this time in history.

    • Woody,

      Sounds like the Explo had a huge impact on you and i’m not talking about the car door.

      Just last week, I was listening to someone who travels the world. He said that the North American continent is the only one where the church is not growing.

      I wonder how true that statement is.

      God’s blessings…

      • Yes, that whole period of life had a big impact on me. Of course, this time in life is also very meaningful. I enjoyed Explo, but I have also enjoyed the life God has given me since then.

        Regarding the church – I have had the privilege of ministering in 45 different countries. The church seems to be the church wherever I go. There is a lot of good and a lot of, well, how do you say it in a public forum? Maybe a lot of inauthenticity, wasted effort and almost pathological need to be popular – in the worst sense of the word.

        Ultimately, there is no great secret of where I see growth in God’s Kingdom: the closer we draw to Jesus, the more willing we are to reflect His character and His priorities, the greater the impact we will have. We may not be hip or popular, but we will have an impact.

  8. One more thought:

    The Gospel that I heard preached at Explo ’72 included a strong call to commitment to following hard after Jesus – to reflect His character and His priorities. I also remember hearing that we had to be willing to count the cost and, then, live the life.

  9. Explo ’72 – I was there! I had become a Christian about 7 months before and was amazed and challenged by the straight forward teaching and the call to pour out our lives to and for Christ and the Gospel. This experience shaped my world view, even though that’s not what they called it back then. I remember hearing Billy Graham speak one night. I think he wore a blue leisure suit!

  10. Paul Carter says

    Two memories of Explo:

    Larry Norman wasn’t allowed to be part of the program at Explo due, at least in part, to his views on Spiritual gifts. But he came anyway and played outside of the Cotton Bowl to a group of about 30 folks who knew who he was. While some people passed out stickers and pamphlets saying “There’s more for you at Explo ’72.” he played and preached about whatever came to mind. In the middle of one song he stopped as an airplane went over and started talking about mankind polluting the earth and the sky and how we all deserve the judgment of God for it. At the time I thought he was crazy because he seemed so angry about airplanes flying around. My memory is that he quit playing music so he could talk to us about some of his concerns about Explo ’72. After one of my friends started debating with him about speaking in tongues I decided that it was too much talking and not enough music so I left.

    An “Explo moment” that I still look back on as pivotal in my life was when, after rain had drenched us, (I think a rainbow had appeared by the end of the meeting that night but maybe not) we were called to stand up if we would commit our lives to follow Jesus with no reservation. I stood up and sang with everybody “If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, t’is now.” I can’t sing that song today without it taking me back to that evening and reminding me that, based on the promises of God, I stood up cold and wet and said nothing matters but following Jesus. “God help me to live up to that commitment ” is still my prayer.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Until this blog posting, I had never heard of Explo 72, “The Christian Woodstock”.

    Yet the anniversary of Woodstock has effectively been a National Holiday for the past few years.

    Which has demonstrated more staying power and public attention?

    • Staying power and public attention? I suspect “or” would probably be more appropriate.

      Woodstock was a nice party, and those who were there certainly relish the memories – hence the public attention. But I wouldn’t say it had the staying power that some of the above stories have demonstrated.

    • Another question someone asked that may grow out of this post: Who had more influence on American evangelicalism, Billy Graham or Bill Bright (director of Campus Crusade for Christ)? May put it up for an Open Mic one of these days.

    • Woodstock Nation died just a few months later at Altamont.

  12. I was there too, drove down from the Univ. of Minnesota. Woody and Paul, I agree with you that the gospel was preached there as a strong call to following Christ no matter the cost. Paul, I remember that moment of standing up and singing that song like it was yesterday. I am still flooded with emotion when I remember us standing with our lighted candles, was that when we sang that song? I remember walking right along the stage at the big concert outside when Kris K. and band were doing their final sound check and just as I came near the corner of the stage Kris ripped into some sound guy near him with a whole string of words that left me scratching my head as to how he was going to go from that to singing christian songs. Don’t want to be unfair to the man, but yikes!!! I went from Explo to San Bernadino, Ca to study at one of Campus Crusades Institues for Biblical Studies. Spent the summer sitting on the mountain talking to the Lord about what I had heard at Explo. Went back to the U of Minn. and changed my plans to be a physical therapist to studying history and psychology and greek so I could go to seminary. So, to seminary I went and now I’m out there in the wilderness like so many of you…even though you’re all so much younger than me…I think most everybody is younger than me.

    • There’s a web page put up by the members of the band Love Song about Explo ’72 in which they recall the same memories of Kris Kristofferson. Their take on it was about the dangers of asking new Christians to participate in events like this just because they are celebrities.

  13. I was there! A local pastor and his wife took a group of us (13 in a 9 passenger van) from Montana to Explo 72. We camped all the way down, camped there and camped all the way back. A tent for the girls, a tent for the boys and a small trailer for the pastor and his wife which they slept in and cooked out of. They must have had nerves of steel. It was awesome. I remember the rain, the thrill of the crowd, the singing, 85,000 voices strong-I have decided to follow Jesus stands out, memorizing the 4 spiritual laws (of course) in our small group sessions, the Christian singing groups. How hot and humid Texas was compared with Montana. The gospel was preached and at that time and place the gospel was all about Jesus and reaching the lost and worshiping. All the political stuff and sex roles and so forth which consume Christians today wasn’t part of it. But I think it was one of the things which set a lot of us up to try to apply our Christian faith to every area of life as we grew older.

    It was so encouraging as a public school high school student where being a committed Christian was just weird to be surrounded by thousands of other like minded young people from all over from all kinds of churches with all kinds of accents. I had never heard the southern accents before in person. Really, I thought they were just made up for tv. In our campground we camped next to a group from Louisiana with Cajun accents.