The ball is snapped and it goes to Average Christian. Interference is forming in front of him…He’s up to the 15-yard stripe, running behind Prayer, Love, Bible Study, Witnessing, Faithfulness…and there’s Church Attendance…”
It’s The Game of Life, a battle on the gridiron between the forces of Good and Evil. Jesus Christ is one coach, Satan the other, and with the Holy Spirit calling signals, Average Christian runs 85 yards for the winning touchdown. A 22-year-old sportscaster and newly ordained minister in Waco, Texas spent his last $70 to record The Game of Life for mythical radio station WORD in 1950. Today Jarrell McCracken has turned that tiny investment into one of the biggest religious communications companies in the U.S. Called Word Inc., it expects sales of $32.5 million this year, more than double its 1974 figure.
From the days when McCracken’s office was in his tiny kitchen and he became an “expert in deficit financing,” Word Inc. has expanded into two huge buildings in Waco with sales offices throughout this country and in London. The company was bought three years ago by the American Broadcasting Company for stock now valued at $12.6 million and operates as an independent subsidiary with McCracken as president. (He owns 132,500 shares.)
Although he strayed from the pulpit into business, McCracken figures he is “still in the ministry” because Word gives people a “church away from church. It’s a mission,” says McCracken. “We try to provide answers from a Christian standpoint and guidance from the ultimate source—God.”
The guidance ranges from inspirational recordings by Anita Bryant and Wayne Newton to works by such authors as Ruth Carter Stapleton, Chuck Colson, Eldridge Cleaver and Roger Staubach. Earlier this year McCracken scored a major publishing coup by signing Billy Graham away from his longtime publisher, Doubleday. Graham’s first book for Word, How to Be Born Again, had a record-setting initial run of 800,000 copies.
The son of a Baptist preacher, McCracken grew up in the South and Midwest. While still in high school he decided to become a minister in spite of skills as a shortstop that landed him a tryout with the Class C Topeka Owls. He was tempted by baseball but recalls feeling like an outsider with his teammates. “They spent all their time drinking beer and chasing girls, and I was isolated. I couldn’t shoot pool, cuss or drink in their league, and I didn’t want to.”
After working his way through Baylor University by sportscasting, McCracken was ordained by his own father. That same year a friend approached the young minister to speak before a church group but suggested “something special” that would combine his commitment to sports and Christianity. The Game of Life was the result. “You can look at it as fortuitous circumstance or Divine Providence,” laughs McCracken, “though I don’t want to presume upon God.”
McCracken and his wife, Judy, have a daughter, Lisa Lacy, who is married. Son Tim is 14. Judy McCracken, a Baylor campus beauty, remembers her husband as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud in college. “I loved to dance and go to parties,” she recalls, “but he absolutely wouldn’t do that sort of thing. We’d go out to dinner, drive around and he’d talk—mostly about religion.” Jarrell still neither smokes nor drinks, but has loosened up theologically. He admits to “an immature rigidity” back then. “I’ve made up my mind,” he vows, “never to be guilty of that kind of dishonesty again.”