Part 3 of 5.

“What is a revival?” Answers to this question are essential if you want to understand the rationale for the Church Growth Modelling project. The third in this series of five articles comes from a sermon I have preached in many churches. The passage is Acts 1:1-12.

Read parts 1 and 2 to set the context [1].

Throughout this article, I treat revival and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as synonymous. See the previous parts.

An Outpouring of the Spirit Concerns the Kingdom of God

We are looking at the first 16 verses in the Acts of the Apostles. Here, the writer, Luke, is recording a conversation between the Lord Jesus Christ and his disciples. The disciples are overjoyed to see the Lord risen from the dead and listen to his every word. Our foundational text, from Acts 1:8, is part of that conversation:

 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;

Acts 1:8

The Lord Jesus is speaking of a “coming of the Holy Spirit”, answering the disciples’ earlier question:

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?

Acts 1:6

Unfortunately, this was a misplaced question from the disciples. Jesus had been teaching them about the Kingdom of God,

He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Acts 1:3

But they had got the wrong end of the stick! They thought of a kingdom run by an earthly ruler, a bit like David or Solomon of old. They wanted to restore the past, kick out the Romans, and “make Israel great again”. A kingdom where the Jews could “take back control”.

The Kingdom of God

The disciples’ attitude was very understandable. No one wants to be subjected to another power. But Jesus meant a kingdom run by God. So, he corrects their misunderstanding:

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;

Acts 1:7-8

Jesus tells them this kingdom is not about a human kingdom, its institutions, and its empires. Of these things, they are not meant to know. Instead, the world will see Jesus Christ building his kingdom through them!

Revival is Spiritual, not Physical

Just as the kingdom of God is spiritual, not physical, so is revival. Outpourings of the Spirit advance the kingdom of God by increasing the number of believers. Revival is not about expanding empires, such as the British one or even Israel of old. These are physical empires; although spiritual people may sometimes run them, they are not God’s kingdom. Revival increases God’s direct rule over individuals.

Similarly, revival does not expand “Christian Civilisation”. It is true that Christian civilisation came from outpourings of the Spirit in Roman and Celtic times. It is inevitable that when countries, their leaders and other elites get converted, they will change the culture to one espousing Christian values. They may even adopt Christianity as an official religion. But revival’s primary purpose is to put individuals under God’s rule.

I can go further. Revivals are not about expanding churches. Church growth is a secondary consequence of a spiritual outpouring. This is an outward sign of the growing kingdom. But the primary purpose of revival is to convert and convert people. People who are now under the Lordship of Christ.

Revival Does affect the Church

In the 1858-9 revivals, most churches in the USA and UK grew rapidly [2]. Denominations such as the Methodists, Baptists and Anglicans had many people added to their number. In 1904/5, 100,000 were added to the denominations of Wales in 12 months [3]. Revivals have a powerful effect on existing churches.

Sometimes, revivals cause new denominations to form. For example, in Reformation times, many churches separated from the Catholic church following the Spirit’s outpouring. Anglicans and Lutherans owe their existence to such revivals [4]. In Puritan times, further outpourings led to congregational and presbyterian churches in England [5]. Sometimes, structures must break to accommodate a move of the Spirit. New wineskins for new wine (Matt 9:17).

John Bunyan. Independent and Baptist preacher in Puritan times. Book available from Banner of Truth Trust

The 18th-century revivals saw Methodists sit as a group alongside its parent church. The revived Christians had not left the old church. No separation occurred, but the people did meet separately if the local parish church did not teach evangelical beliefs [6]. The formation of a new church only came with subsequent generations. A similar “church within a church” structure often happened in the charismatic revival of the 1960-1980s [7].

The largest revival to date has been Pentecostalism. Although it started in one church, in Azusa St in 1906, it quickly spread around the world as many people had already been prepared by previous moves of the Spirit[8]. Old institutions are renewed, and new ones are formed as it continues to spread. The results of an outpouring of the Spirit on churches are varied and often unpredictable. What matters is that God’s kingdom is growing.

Revival Advances the Kingdom of Jesus

Don’t pray for revival to save our church denominations! That is not what it is about. Our prayer is the growth of the kingdom through saving people. If God chooses to use existing denominations, we will work through them. If not, we look for new structures to help guide the outpouring.

The kingdom growth we long for is expressed in the old hymn:

Jesus may reign where’re the sun
does its successive journeys run
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore
till moons shall wax and wane no more

This is the Kingdom that takes the world for Christ.

What that kingdom looks like in terms of denominations and organisations is not for us to know. These are the times and seasons that Jesus said are not our business. At least not when it comes to mission. Instead, we are to receive power when he outpours his Spirit. Power to be used to make conversations.

What if we do not see conversions?

If a church does not have new converts, it will eventually die. Deaths and other losses will result in church decline. But the cause of the decline is the lack of conversions. That is the current state of most of the historic denominations in the UK.

Why are there so few conversions?

It is not a lack of evangelistic effort. In the last generation, we have seen many courses such as Alpha and Christianity Explored [9]. Each year there are packed conventions like Keswick and Spring Harvest [10]. They all help. They are essential. But on their own, they are not enough.

If conversions depended on high-quality music, then churches would be seeing massive growth. Contemporary worship has been a major industry for the last 30 years, with new songs coming out each week. At one time, there were so many that the phrase was coined, “so many great worship songs – so little time! [11]”  But music does not bring conversions or revival.

Further, many churches are busy. They have programmes, strategies and community engagement in abundance. All are important. But again, on their own, they are insufficient.

The lack of conversions in the church is caused by a lack of the outpouring of the Spirit ON US. If there is no outpouring, then the Kingdom declines. Revival is essential for Kingdom growth. For churches to survive and thrive, we must see revival. We must have our Lord pour his Spirit on us again and again.

Will you commit yourself to prayer for revival? Are you ready to receive the power of the Holy Spirit? Will you be part of God’s outpouring? Revival is God’s way of advancing his kingdom.

Read Part 4:  Revival Involves the Presence of God


  1. Blog posts:
    Part 1: What is Revival? Introduction.
    Part 2: Revival is a Work of God
  2. Edwards B.H. (1990). Revival! Evangelical Press.
  3. Evans E. (1969). The Welsh Revival of 1904. Evangelical Press of Wales.
  4. Chadwick O. (1990). The Reformation, Penguin.
  5. Brown J. (1998) [1910]. The English Puritans, Christian Heritage.
  6. Ryle J.C. (1978). Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, Banner of Truth.
    Shenton T. (2003). A Cornish Revival: The Life and Times of Samuel Walker of Truro. Evangelical Press.
  7. Hocken P. (1997). Streams of Renewal: The Origins and Early Development of the Charismatic Movement in Great Britain. Paternoster Press.
  8. Whittaker C. (1986). Seven Pentecostal Pioneers. Harper Collins.
  9. The Alpha Course and Christianity Explored are two courses used to help people explore the Christian faith. They are suitable for non-Christians who may want to consider what it means to be a Christian. They may also be used to strengthen the faith of existing Christians. Other courses are available! But perhaps not as well known.
  10. Spring Harvest has been running since 1979. The Keswick Convention has been running since 1875. I could have also mentioned New Wine, the Argyll Convention, and the Aber Convention of the Evangelical Movement of Wales. Organisations such as Scripture Union run Christian camps for young people. Some other influential ones that have now run their course include Stoneleigh and the Dales weeks. These types of annual gatherings play an important part in bringing people to faith. It would be interesting to know the proportion of conversions in such meetings. My guess is that it is very high. A number of these have been associated with revival movements. However, having such conventions does not bring revival. Revival is much more than these.
  11. So many great worship songs … so little time. An article by Terry Butler in Worship Updates – A Quarterly Publication of the Vineyard Music Club, Volume VII, No 1.

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