Most Christians I know want to see the reality of a church revival. We just don’t all agree on what revival looks like.
What Is a Church Revival?
Back in the olden days (the mid-1990s) I preached a few times at a small church (averaging 12 each Sunday) in eastern Arkansas. They had a rotation system that determined who would take the visiting speaker home for lunch, and one day my lot fell to two elderly ladies who made awesome roast beef!
As I sat in their living room visiting after lunch, they brought out some photo albums from the church’s history. I was amazed to see crowds of people stuffed so tight into the little white clapboard building that they were spilling out into the yard around the church with small groups gathered around each window leaning in to hear a loud evangelist thunder forth the gospel.
The next few photos were of the mass baptisms they conducted in the White River—dozens had come to claim Jesus Christ.
Some argue that “revival” isn’t about people being saved but about the church coming back to life. I agree, but the byproduct of the church coming to life is nearly always lost people knowing and claiming Christ as Savior to the glory of God.
I had grown up in a similar tradition with loud evangelists, standing-room only crowds and mass baptisms in Clear Fork Creek in southern Kentucky (although when I was baptized as a kid, we had already installed one of those fancy new indoor baptistries).
I’ll never forget those two ladies’ question to me. “Pastor, why don’t we see revivals like these anymore?”
My heart has hurt over their question since the day they posed it for at least two reasons. First, I, too, hunger for a fresh, massive, community-shaking movement of the Holy Spirit of God. But second, my heart hurts over their question because they weren’t really asking why doesn’t God move like this anymore? Whether they realized it or not, they were actually wondering why doesn’t a movement of God look like that anymore? The difference is subtle, but worth exploring.
A similar experience happened to me when I was serving a church in Kentucky as pastor. A guest speaker and I made a short road trip to visit the old Red River Meeting House in Logan County, Kentucky.
In the year 1800, a Methodist preacher named James McGready began asking his three small congregations scattered along the Gasper River to fast every third Saturday and pray for revival. And their prayers were answered.
The open-air meetings drew thousands of seekers and worshippers who camped out across the rolling pasture land.