Feb 16, 2010

Enrollment reaches 50,000

by Cat Hewett

Liberty University was founded on faith and a few big hairy audacious goals (BHAG), one of which was recently reached. Liberty Founder and Chancellor Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr. wanted an evangelical, Christian college with 50,000 students and his son Jerry Falwell Jr. announced Wednesday that his father’s goal had been reached.

“We’re now the world’s largest Christian university,” Jerry Falwell Jr. said. “We’ve been blessed here with so much, and we’re excited about what the future holds.”

Liberty Co-founder and Dean of the B.R. Lankin School of Religion Elmer Towns cannot remember exactly when he and Jerry Falwell Sr. decided they wanted Liberty University to be the largest Christian university in the country, but that became their goal very early in their ministry.

“Jerry and I agreed we wanted a big Christian college, because we wanted a big influence, because we wanted to reach the world for Jesus Christ,” Towns said.

The biggest evangelical Christian colleges that Falwell and Towns could think of were Bob Jones University and Tennessee Temple University who both had 4,500 students. So, Liberty’s founders decided that they wanted 5,000 students, according to Towns.
“It just kind of popped in our heads, ‘Oh, let’s have 5,000,’” Towns said. “I said, ‘We want to be a little bigger,.”

Towns held up his thumb and forefinger to demonstrate. Towns recalled how he would randomly catch Jerry Falwell Sr.’s eye, hold up those same fingers and Jerry Falwell Sr. would return it with a grin.

Soon after, the vision grew.

Towns said that toward the end of the first year of classes at Liberty Bible College, Jerry Falwell Sr. told Towns that they were going to have 50,000 students.

“When he said 50,000, I thought, ‘That is laughable,’” Towns said. “It was a laugh of unbelief. To show the seriousness of it (Jerry Falwell Sr.) immediately called for a one day fast.”

It was March 1971 when the Liberty students and Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC) members fasted from supper on that Sunday through sunset Monday, according to Towns. The students and TRBC were praying for $1 million.

“I’m praying for the day after the turn of the century when we have 50,000 students up on those 4,400 acres,” Jerry Falwell Sr. said in October 1985. “Fifty thousand students who are training to be preachers, missionaries, evangelists, pastors ... doctors and lawyers and journalists and politicians, and who are training to go into the sciences.”

“I thought, ‘We do not need $1 million,’” Towns said. “But history shows that was our first $1 million year.”

Liberty now has more than 57,000 students — 12,000 residential students and more than 48,000 online students, according to Towns.

Contact Cat Hewett at

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