Revival is a term commonly used within the Christian Church to describe an infusion of spiritual life into those who believe. They are brought closer to God in their experience and their lifestyle, and 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 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 towards 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 [1736], 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 bee seen as national revival. There are numerous incidents where the presence of God is so strong that people are affected giving personal revival, (e.g. Exodus 33, 2 Chron 7:1-3).

Revival and Church Growth

Many Christians believe that the growth of the church occurs primarily through such 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, 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.