NEW ORLEANS – Even though the number of revival meetings in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has been declining, a significant amount of churches continue to use revival meetings for evangelism and revitalization.
According to a study conducted by the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2001, 58 percent of the churches in the state conducted a local church revival. In a 2010 survey by LifeWay Research, revival meetings were among the five most often used evangelistic events in Southern Baptist churches.
Let me suggest several practical ways that may help churches benefit from a revival meeting:
• Purpose. When church leadership begins to sense that God is leading them to schedule a revival meeting, they need to ask what the purpose of such an event should be. Will it be primarily for evangelism or revitalization of a local congregation? The purpose will dictate a strategy for preparation. If the primary purpose is evangelism, the strategy may differ from that one if the primary purpose is revitalization. Even though a church selects the primary purpose as evangelism, it may experience a spiritual renewal among the membership. In turn, a church with the primary purpose as revitalization may reach people for Christ along the way. A clear purpose will enable church leadership to be more proactive in matching the purpose with a strategy for preparation and resources.
• Be aware of perceived ineffectiveness. Churches must be aware of the reasons that 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 and cleanse herself from sin and live the life of holiness. The second 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.
Those meetings might have been the only major local event going in the community and the lost people came to it. The third reason for the perceived ineffectiveness of revival meetings is the proliferation of other evangelistic methodologies. When revival meetings in the SBC experienced their golden era, the revival meeting was the prevalent methodology for evangelism. Today churches employ a diversity of methodologies for evangelism.
• Personalities. Once the primary purpose is established, the church leadership should select prayerfully a revival team. I have to confess for the first 10 years as a pastor, I invited my pastor friends to preach revival meetings. However, I came to a conclusion that if I really believed that an evangelist was God’s gift to the church, I should be willing to employ vocational evangelists in churches God allowed me to serve.
Many evangelists have developed proven themes and formats and they have used them effectively in many churches. The church leadership should be open to what the revival teams may bring to the table in regard to theme and format. One year, I was sharing with an evangelist that the main purpose of the meeting would be evangelism when I found out that one of the themes he used frequently was an emphasis on the family. Further, a format the evangelist employed was a Saturday through Monday meeting. Previously, the more common formats for me were Sunday through Wednesday or Thursday through Sunday meetings. After prayerful consideration, we agreed to conduct a revival meeting with a theme of “focusing on the family” while employing a Saturday through Monday format. God blessed that event with over 40 people giving their lives to Christ.
• Preparation. After the church leadership establishes the purpose and secures a spiritually gifted revival team, they are ready to develop a strategy for preparation. Many state conventions publish manuals on revival preparation. The North American Mission Board has an excellent resource: “Revival Preparation Manual: Practical Suggestions for Planning a Revival in Your Church” (available at NAMBstore.com).
Revival manuals provide concrete ways to involve church membership in preparation for and participation in revival meetings. The attempt should be made to involve as many church members as possible in various tasks associated with revival preparation and the revival meeting itself.
• Publicity. One critical aspect of revival preparation is publicity. The most effective publicity is a personal invitation to attend. A business card with information about the event could be printed and distributed to church members to use in inviting their family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Church literature such as newsletters, worship guides and websites should provide pertinent information about the event.
Depending on the budget allocated to publicity, the church could publicize the event via a local newspaper, television, yard signs and billboards. Publicity via Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other viral marketing strategies by the church and church members can generate a buzz in the community and beyond about the event.
• Personal evangelism. From my personal experience and observation, personal evangelism is the most productive way of preparation for revival meetings. Even though throughout the year as a pastor I was cultivating relationships with the lost, revival meetings provided an impetus for greater prayer and contacts with those without Christ.
• Program for children. One often neglected aspect of revival preparation is what to do with children. In one church I served as pastor, I became concerned about an apparent lack of participation by young couples. When asked, they responded by pointing to the fact that the church did not have anything for children during the revival week. From that day forward, in addition to a typical childcare, we provided a specialized program for children during revival services. When young couples knew that their children were taken care of spiritually, they were more inclined to participate and to invite their lost friends and family members to attend.
• Possible meals. Another response the young couples gave me for their lack of participation was that they did not have time to prepare a meal and get to the worship service after work. As a result, we began to provide catered meals during week nights. We offered tickets for a nominal price with a major portion of the meal subsidized by our church budget. Church members were more predisposed to invite people to their church when their invitation was accompanied by an invitation to a nice meal before the service during a busy week.
• Post-event follow-up. In preparation for revival meetings, post-event follow-up should not be overlooked. Billy Graham once commented that the most difficult part of his crusades was not what happened before the crusade but what happened after it was conducted. The same is true of local church revival meetings. As soon as the revival meeting concludes, names of those who made spiritual commitments can be distributed among deacons and/or Bible study group members for further follow-up.
• Prayer. The most significant aspect of revival meetings must be prayer. The genuine revival can be brought only by God. Only God can save individuals through His Holy Spirit. As the church leadership and membership engages in prayer, they acknowledge their dependence on God. From establishing the primary purpose of the revival meeting to seeking right individuals for the revival team, from publicity to personal evangelism, from taking care of spiritual needs of children to post-event follow-up, the church leadership and membership must prioritize prayer. Church leaders should set aside personal time to pray for genuine revival as well as provide opportunities for church members to pray for God’s movement in their church.
In identifying causes of perceived ineffectiveness of revival meetings, church leaders become more equipped to address challenges. By employing simple ways such as prayer, purpose, publicity and preparation, churches place themselves in the position for God to bring a harvest of souls. Let God grant us more souls for His glory as we employ revival meetings in our churches!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jake Roudkovski is assistant professor of evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This column is a summary of an article published in the book, Mobilizing a Great Commission Church for Harvest.)