Our church is going to hold revival services this September 17th-20th, from Sunday morning through Wednesday evening. It is the first revival meeting we will have had in twenty years. Let me tell you why we haven’t had a revival meeting in twenty years, and why we are having one now.
When we first came here, my wife and I were immediately struck with the beauty of the building, especially the sanctuary. In fact, the sanctuary, platform and pulpit reminded me an awful lot of the auditorium of the church I grew up in. So in one sense, I immediately felt at home.
But after we came here, I realized that the size of our sanctuary was impressive and beautiful, but it could also be an obstacle to overcome in our worship services.
The place you meet can have a positive or negative effect on your meetings. One of my professors told us that during John F. Kennedy’s presidency, he would hold his press conferences in rooms that he knew were too small for all the reporters. He did this on purpose: a smaller, more crowded room will give a sense of excitement to a meeting. A larger room with people who are more spread-out and scattered can drain a meeting of energy.
The same thing can hold true for churches.
Our sanctuary is beautiful, and I think we are proud of it…perhaps a bit too proud? In my home church, we had massive wooden beams holding up the ceiling in our auditorium, just like in our sanctuary. One of them developed a crack, and we had to hold our services in the church’s gymnasium for a few weeks while it was being repaired. Our pastor told us that he thought it would do us good to be out of our auditorium for a while. He said, “After all, it’s not God, is it?”
We can get too hung up on the buildings we use for our worship gatherings. Ancient Israel did this. They were so impressed with their temple, they thought as long as it stood, everything was going to be all right. They were so fixated on their worship building, they let their worship grow cold. And eventually God took the temple away from them. God isn’t really impressed with our buildings. He wants our heart.
As beautiful as our sanctuary is, I often felt like it was an obstacle to overcome in our worship services, especially on Sunday evenings when the crowd was much smaller in number. Sometimes I felt like that huge room was sucking the life out of me as I tried to fill it with my voice in an attempt to hold the attention of the people scattered amongst the pews. In more recent years it has helped a great deal for me to move from the platform to the main floor, and to have those who attend sit in one section. (Well, mostly one section…leading Baptists is a lot like herding cats.)
I did wonder from time to time about holding revival services, or some kind of special meetings. But then I’d think of the relative few who attended on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, and how discouraging it was to preach to a small crowd in that huge sanctuary, and I’d think: “Why would I want to do that to anybody else? Why would I want some other preacher to come in here for a series of meetings, knowing how few people would come and how discouraging it would be to that visiting preacher?” I thought that maybe when our congregation was stronger, maybe when we had more people supporting the Sunday night and Wednesday night services, maybe then we could seriously think about having revival meetings.
Every now and then somebody would ask me why we didn’t have revival meetings. One of our former deacons responded, “We have three revival services a week. If they won’t come to those, why should we think they would come to special meetings?” As often as not, the person asking me rarely attended a Sunday night or Wednesday night service themselves. I think that’s what you call “ironic”.
So that’s why we haven’t had revival services in the last twenty years. Now let me tell you why we’re planning one this year.
Our church, like so many other churches, is facing challenging circumstances. According to Lifeway Christian Research, there are approximately 350,000 evangelical churches in North America. And about 80% of those churches are plateaued or declining. An aging congregation, an increasingly secular culture, and younger generations who think it’s fine that their grandparents or parents go to church, but don’t really make a commitment to church themselves…these factors and more have all contributed to the situation we face.
There are parallels in history to our current situation. For all the differences in style and technology, Christianity has faced other times when the church was weak, the culture hostile and young people uninterested in spiritual things.
What did Christians do then? They prayed…at least, a few of them did. Some of them prayed for a long time, sometimes for decades. They repented, and confessed their sins and the sins of our nation to God. They asked God to send His Spirit to revive His people again. They prayed for God to raise up workers for the harvest, and over time many pastors began to commit themselves to proclaim God’s truth as found in His Word. And they prayed for the lost, and they lifted up those they loved in prayer, asking for their conversion.
And in God’s timing, in answer to those prayers, revival came. Church members repented, forsaking their complacency and reconciling with one another. Unbelievers were converted. Young people were moved to follow Christ, and to serve Him without holding back.
We give those times names: The First Great Awakening, The Second Great Awakening, The General Awakening, and The Layman’s Prayer Revival. Most Christians probably aren’t even familiar with these events. If we are, we probably look at them as part of history. But they really are accounts of how God moved again among His people and the communities in which they lived. They really were times of revival.
Even when it wasn’t a move of God’s Spirit that swept a nation, there were often more localized revivals centered in a single region or area, or even one local church. When God’s Spirit moves within one church to reignite believers’ love for Christ and each other, and to reawaken a heartfelt concern for those who do not know Christ, that’s just as much revival as something like The Great Awakening. It’s just more focused.
And it’s just what our church needs.
I asked some of my fellow pastors why a church should hold a revival meeting in this present age. They were kind, but they looked at me like they couldn’t believe I was asking the question.
I asked one of my new colleagues the same question in a personal conversation. His name is Scott Kallem, and he is the pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Greencastle, Indiana. After I heard his answer, I asked him to come talk to our deacons about revival.
The evening he met with us, we started out friendly and polite, but a little reserved…just exactly like I felt when I started asking other pastors about revival. I asked Pastor Scott to talk to us for twenty minutes or so, then we’d let him go on his way while we finished our deacons meeting.
Instead, he poured his heart out to us for over an hour. Then he surprised all of us by saying this: “Before I go, can I ask that we all go into your sanctuary and pray for your church?” When we got to the sanctuary, he challenged us to pick a pew we knew was empty on Sunday mornings, and go sit or kneel in it and pray. We did this with him, and by the time we were through, there was scarcely a dry eye amongst us.
In fact, we have continued to end our deacons’ meetings this way. We go to the sanctuary and pray over the pews, for the people who used to sit there, for more people to come and sit there, and for God to revive our church again for His glory.
We have invited Pastor Scott Kallem to come preach a revival meeting for us this September 17th through the 20th. And we have invited a colleague of his, John Johnson, to come and lead the music for these meetings. Both of these men have graciously accepted our invitations.
Now we invite you, church, to pray with us, for this meeting and for our church. We invite you to do as we have begun doing: to come and pray over the pews. Come before a church service, or sometime during the week. Pick a pew you know is empty on Sunday morning, and spend a few minutes in it, praying for our church.
I say, praying for our church. What I really mean is to pray that God would glorify Himself and lift up His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, through our church. Pray that we would humble ourselves, seek His face, and that God would give us new life.
In other words: pray for revival.
Soli Deo Gloria!