Revival is a term commonly used within the Christian Church to describe an infusion of spiritual life into those who believe. Believers are brought closer to God in their experience and their lifestyle. As such, they witness the faith to the world more powerfully. The word “revival” also applies to a spiritual awakening in those who don’t believe. The contact between enlivened believers and awakened unbelievers leads to many conversions and substantial growth within the church.
Revival occurs when there is a strong sense of the presence of God, where Jesus reveals himself to his people. The increase in spiritual life is a consequence of the presence. The conversions and church growth are consequences of the increase in spiritual life.
Revival in the Bible
Although the word revival does not appear in the New Testament, the phenomenon is present in the Acts of the Apostles and is called an “outpouring of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:17-18). Apart from Pentecost, such outpourings occur in Samaria (Acts 8:14-17), Caesarea (acts 10:34-48) and Ephesus (Acts 19:1-10). The whole of the Acts of the Apostles can be seen as one revival, with numerous incidents of conversion and miracles contributing to the church’s growth.
It is believed that Jonathan Edwards was the first person to popularise the word “revival” when he described an outpouring of the Spirit in Northampton, Massachusetts, as a “revival of religion” (Edwards, 1965 , p.17).
In the Old Testament, revivals can be seen in the times of the Kings, especially Hezekiah and Josiah. The period under Moses and Samuel can also be seen as a national revival. There are numerous incidents where the presence of God is so strong that people are affected, giving them personal revival (e.g. Exodus 33, 2 Chron 7:1-3).
Revivals and Church Growth
Many Christians believe that the growth of the church occurs primarily through outpourings of the Spirit, which happen with different intensities. Thus, although the Christian church grows using human means: preaching, witnessing, word of mouth contact, etc., the conversion only occurs as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work. This sets apart the growth of the Christian church as a different phenomenon from that of any other organisation. Church growth, when it involves true believers, is a supernatural phenomenon.
Of course, church growth can occur through natural means, such as the birth rate exceeding the death rate. However, the church still has to keep all its children, which is unlikely to happen over an extended period unless there are conversions. Also, the church cannot fulfil the great commission without conversions from outside its number. Thus, supernatural revival is an essential part of church growth.
Modelling and Revival
The Limited Enthusiasm model is used to describe the dynamics of revival using mathematics and computer simulation. Christians, who receive the Holy Spirit, are empowered to pass the faith on to unbelievers, resulting in many conversions. In revival, these enthusiasts replicate themselves, just as infected people do in the spread of disease.
Read more in these applications of the model:
- Why Revivals Stopped in the UK
- What is Revival – Introduction
- Contemporary Revivals
- Billy Graham, Church Growth and Revival
- Revival is Real
- Is the Charismatic Revival Over?