By Jake Roudkovski, Director of Supervised Ministry New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
Editor’s note: In part 1, Dr. Roudkovski looked at the history of revivals in the Southern Baptist Convention. That column remains available on www.baptistmessage.com. (Search for Dr. Roudkovski’s name.)
The term revival is defined as the sovereign movement of God through the work of the Holy Spirit in revitalizing the believers in Jesus Christ to a more vital spiritual life, work, and witness. Revival meetings refer to a period of time set aside by a church or churches for the purpose of spiritual revitalization and/or evangelism. …
In a classic resource on the history of revival meetings in Southern Baptist life, Chuck Kelley asserted that revivalism was one of the major factors that contributed to the enormous growth of the denomination in the past. … In 1866, the SBC instructed the Home Mission Board [now NAMB] to make evangelism its major work and promote a comprehensive system of evangelism, including the appointment of evangelists. …
[img_assist|nid=6756|title=Jake Roudkovski|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=82|height=100]C.E. Matthews’ plan, when implemented in the convention [in the late 1930s], ushered in the golden era of Southern Baptist evangelism.
Annual baptisms topped 400,000 a year by the end of the Matthews’ tenure and remained near that level for the next six years. John Halvik calculated that the convention grew five times faster than the population of the United States at a time when the nation’s population was exploding. During this period, the revival- meeting methodology reached its maximum effectiveness.
Leonard Sanderson succeeded Matthews as evangelism leader in 1956.
Sanderson gave a greater emphasis than Matthews to personal evangelism. He encouraged churches to think in terms of reaching the lost each week, rather than once or twice a year during a revival meeting.
When C. E. Autrey followed Sanderson, he fully intended to use revival meetings as a part of his strategy. He soon discovered, however, that many pastors were ready for a change.
Although Autrey was an advocate for the two-week meetings, an eight-day meeting became the norm, with some churches going to four days or weekend revivals.
Youth-led and layman-led revivals were especially encouraged. These were organized in much the same way as typical revival meetings, but youth or laymen were given the leadership positions.
A study of SBC churches conducted during this period indicated that about 60 percent of churches had two-week revival meetings, and about 83 percent of churches had one-week revival meetings.
As revival meetings continued to diversify in length, format, and emphasis, evangelism leaders who followed Sanderson recognized the proliferation of other methodologies for doing evangelism in a local church.
For example, when Darrel Robinson came to the Home Mission Board in 1990, his emphasis was on total church evangelism.
He wrote, “Revival meetings, harvest crusades, music events, age and interest group events, Lay Renewal Weekends, Lay Discipleship Weekends, Prayer for Spiritual Awakening Conferences, Interfaith Witness training seminars and classes, ministry evangelism activities, and other such events should be scheduled to grow the spiritual life of a church and to reach the lost for Christ.” Church revival meetings became one out of many methodologies for evangelism.
Revival meetings have undergone the four stages of development in Southern Baptist history. With the formation of the department of evangelism, the convention institutionalized the methodology of revival meetings.
Hamilton and his successors popularized revival meetings among local churches. Under Matthew’s leadership the revival meetings were maximized in their effectiveness for evangelism.
Beginning with the leadership of Sanderson, the revival meetings have diversified in length, format, and emphasis, becoming one of many tools available for churches to reach their communities for Christ.
In preparation for a revival meeting, church leadership can benefit from the study of the use of revival meeting in SBC history.
By developing an appreciation for the heritage of revivalism and its contribution to the growth of the SBC, church leadership acquires a proper historical framework for the use of revivals in their ministry.
The study of SBC revivalism has helped me personally to be more informed and more motivated in the usage of revival meetings.
Causes for Perceived Ineffectiveness
After a brief historical analysis of revival meetings, one must examine reasons that have led some to abandon the usage of revival meetings altogether or pronounce them ineffective for reaching people for Christ.
Several years ago, a prominent pastor made the following statement, “Local church revivals are dead, I am sorry to say. I am doing five a year but the average church has about a Sunday night crowd average. We have them because old habits do not easily die.” What have caused some Christian leaders to assert that revival meetings are “dead”?
The first reason for the perceived ineffectiveness is the spiritual condition of many churches. At times, Christian leaders tend to blame methodology but fail to understand that Western Christianity is in need of spiritual awakening.
The church must pray for an awakening, cleanse itself from sin and live the life of holiness.
Then we could reach others for Christ. Effective revival meetings should begin with the theology of spiritual awakening taught to the local church.
The second reason for the perceived ineffectiveness of local church revival meetings is the lack of purpose for those meetings.
Many churches schedule a revival meeting because of tradition. I have preached in several churches that scheduled revival meetings the second week of August out of tradition, without considering the purpose for those meetings.
The third reason for the perceived ineffectiveness of local church revivals is the lack of preparation. Many churches do not prepare nor plan for revival meetings. Church leaders want evangelistic results in local revivals without prior cultivation.
In a previously mentioned study by the Georgia Baptist Convention, the baptism-to-member ratio of churches that did not use revival meetings was one baptism per 36 members.
The churches that did use revival meetings, the ratio was one to 24. The ratio for churches even with minimal preparation was one to 19. Revival preparation provided ways of cultivation for evangelistic harvest.
The fourth reason for perceived ineffectiveness of revival meetings is cultural trends. Pastors cannot overlook the fact that during the golden era of revivalism the entire community gathered around revival meetings.
In the past, local schools were shut down for revival meetings, like in the case of Pine Grove Community in Mississippi.
Those meetings might have been the only major local event going in the community and the lost people came to it.
In the present, improved roads provide access for people in rural areas to travel to an urban area in a relatively short period of time. Movie theaters, video rentals, computer programs, sports activities, and the Internet have provided competing alternatives to local church revivals.
The fifth reason for the perceived ineffectiveness of revival meetings is the proliferation of other evangelistic methodologies.
When revival meetings in SBC experienced their golden era, the revival meeting was the prevalent methodology for evangelism. Today churches enjoy a variety of methodologies for evangelism.
Evangelistic crusades, Christmas and Easter productions, lay renewals, businessmen lunches, and judgment houses are just a few examples of available methodologies.
Jake Roudkovski, Ph.D., is director of Supervised Ministry and Assistant Professor of Evangelism Occupying the Max and Bonnie Thornhill Chair of Evangelism at NOBTS.