Not all the the population is converted as a result of the revival. This may not come as a surprise but this failure to convert the whole population is not the result of spiritual resistance in the unbelievers. It comes because not all the unbelievers have been contacted and ultimately converted before the revival has burned out. The revival hasn't stopped for a lack of unbelievers to contact, but because there was insufficient enthusiasm (reproduction potential) in the enthusiasts to sustain the revival as the number of unbelievers ( and hence contacts) fell.
A revival will certainly cease if God withdraws his blessing, maybe because of sin in his people. However this is not necessarily the reason why revival ends. It may have ceased because it did not have sufficient momentum in the first place to reach the dwindling pool of unbelievers. To counter this dynamical reason for revivals ceasing those active in contacting unbelievers, the enthusiasts, need to increase their proportion of contacts with unbelievers rather than spend time with existing believers or new converts. Do not tie gifted evangelisers up with work that does not bring them into contact with new unbelievers!
Principles of Revival Growth
Results of the Limited Enthusiasm Model
Principles can be established for the dynamics of church growth during revival using the limited enthusiasm conversion model:
- 1. Limited extent of revival growth.
- 2. Threshold of revival growth.
- 3. Quality, not quantity, of enthusiasts determines growth.
- 4. Revivals start slow.
- 5. Enthusiasts as an indicator of future growth.
The term "revival growth" means rapid exponential growth in the numbers in church, and the number of enthusiasts. It is similar to the epidemic phase of the spread of a disease.
If the fraction of unbelievers in society exceeds a threshold determined by the reproduction potential, then revival growth will occur. The more effective the enthusiasts, the higher their reproduction potential, i.e. their ability to reproduce themselves from converts, thus the lower the threshold and, therefore, the lower the fraction of unbelievers required in society for revival growth to occur. As a formula this is
For example let church make up 20% of society, thus 80% of society are unbelievers. If the enthusiasts had reproduction potential of 1.2 then the revival growth threshold would be1/1.2 = 0.83. The fraction of unbelievers is not over the threshold, 0.8<0.83, thus no revival growth.
If however the enthusiasts could be more effective in reproducing themselves, e.g. with a reproduction potential of 1.3, then the threshold drops to 0.76. The fraction of unbelievers exceeds the threshold 0.8>0.76 and revival growth results. Growth slows once the fraction of unbelievers falls below the threshold. The threshold is also called a tipping point
When the threshold is exceeded,the growth follows the pattern in the graph below:.
While the enthusiasts are increasing, church growth is near exponential. The dominant force is that of conversion. Once the peak in enthusiasts passes, church growth slows. The dominant force is now the difficulty in contacting unbelievers which is now a smaller population.
Note the following:
- The reproduction potential depends on the potential number converted, and the fraction of those converts who become enthusiasts on their conversion. Thus revival can be mode more likely by increasing the number of converts, or by ensuring that more converts become enthusiasts, e.g. through good discipleship.
- The higher the proportion of society in church, the smaller the proportion of unbelievers, thus the harder it is to achieve revival growth. That is enthusiasts must be more effective when church is larger to see such growth.
The threshold of revival-type growth does not depend on the number of enthusiasts. However small the number of enthusiasts, provided their enthusiasm stays fixed, then growth will occur eventually. It just takes longer to do so. Thus revival can start with a small number of enthusiasts, provided their reproduction potential (enthusiasm) is high enough. This is similar to the situation with a disease, where one infected person is enough for an epidemic to start, provided they are not isolated. Thus there is no threshold number of enthusiasts if the above conditions are fulfilled.
Thus revivals can start with very small numbers of believers. An example can be seen in the Welsh revival of 1904-5, which started in West Wales in a small youth group. Another example is the revival of 1858 in the USA which started with one person in New York.
Exceptions to this rule occur if some of enthusiasts are made through existing inactive believers, a renewal process, or if the effectiveness of the enthusiasts varies over time. See Growth Through Renewal, and Growth Through Spiritual Life.
The growth in the total number of the church follows an S-shaped curve, typical of the type of growth seen in revivals, (or in the spread of disease for that matter). A point comes when the growth of the church explodes because there are so many enthusiasts whose contacts are resulting in the conversion of unbelievers, many of whom also become enthusiasts.
The bulk of the conversions occur in the middle period of the growth.
Thus early on in the growth there are few contacts, and thus few conversions, because the percentage of unbelievers is so small. Thus revivals often have a slow start, especially if the church is a small proportion of society to begin with. Because growth is the main factor through which revivals are first noticed it can mean that a revival can be underway some time before it comes to the attention of the population at large.
The peak in the number of enthusiasts in the church occurs when only half the growth has taken place. Thus measures of church growth alone may mask the fact that the means of the growth is already waning. A knowledge of the number of enthusiasts may give advance warning that action is needed to sustain growth, and perhaps stem future decline.
The peak in the percentage of enthusiasts in the church occurs before the growth in the church has reached the halfway point (the vertical line in the figure below). If the percentage of enthusiasts in the church is reflected in the enthusiastic "feel" of the church, then the church may give the impression of its life tailing off even though much of the conversions are still to come. Thus churches should not give up just because the life of the revival has passed its peak, but reap the fruit of that life.