A revival is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes salvation in Christ and the presence of God real in the experience of people. It spreads in an epidemic-type fashion because revived Christians are so changed that they “infect” others around them. Unbelievers are converted, and believers are renewed and revived.
Such revived Christians are an example of enthusiasts in the Limited Enthusiasm model of church growth. The rapid growth follows from the attention that the revived Christians have in their social networks. However, there is a downside, as revivals have opposition; people who do not approve of this behaviour. These people are often other Christians, and as such, revivals are very controversial in church circles. In past revivals, those controversies have faded, and the revivals are often seen in heroic terms. Thus, they are generally accepted by most evangelical Christians. Revivals that are in living memory, or those that had wide exposure through the media, are treated more harshly. Many get rejected as revivals.
The following is a review of candidates for revival since the 1960s in the West. Each has their supporters and their opponents. They are not universally regarded as revivals by all believers in historic revival. Nevertheless, all have spread in a similar fashion to revival and could, in principle, have their dynamics analysed using the Limited Enthusiasm church growth model.
This phenomenon started in a church in Toronto in January 1994. Initially, people travelled to the Airport Christian Fellowship to be blessed and take the blessing home with them. However, by summer, the “Blessing” drew the media’s attention, and through the Internet, the phenomena spread rapidly. It was this phenomenon that initially inspired the first Church Growth Model when someone said to me, “This Blessing is spreading like an epidemic”. As a result, I decided to see if an epidemic model could explain the pattern of behaviour.
The Toronto Blessing has proved very controversial. In search engines, the opponents heavily outnumber those in favour. Despite that, its influence on the church has been enormous, seen by many as a revival movement. It has affected many churches across the western world and developing countries. It also influenced the church where the Alpha course started. Although less prominent now, the Toronto church is still packed with visitors for numerous conferences each year, and they have a network of like-minded churches, those affected by the blessing.
The Alpha Course originally started as an evangelism course at Holy Trinity Brompton, London. It is now used extensively in many churches across all denominations and most countries. It is an excellent example of the Limited Enthusiasm principle, as the participants on the course are encouraged to bring their friends to subsequent courses. The participants who get converted or renewed are the enthusiasts who are then seeking to make new enthusiasts from their friendship network.
The course is evangelical and charismatic, both of which attract criticism from different quarters. Nevertheless, over 2 million people in the UK have been through the course. It is difficult to think of any other evangelistic method that has involved numbers on this scale.
See the article on Alpha Course.
Charismatic renewal has been a movement within the Christian church that has brought new life to believers. As a result, churches have grown. It is generally taken that it started in California with Dennis Bennett, an Episcopalian priest, being baptised with the Spirit. Though there had no doubt been instances of this phenomenon in non-Pentecostal denominations before that date, this event was significant because it occurred in a high-profile “establishment” denomination.
Through the 60s and 70s, the renewal spread throughout non-Pentecostal churches, including the Church of England. It has brought about a massive change in the culture of protestant Christianity in the West, especially in the areas of worship, prayer and evangelism. The renewal had a significant influence on Roman Catholicism in the West and helped break some barriers between that church and Protestantism. Various smaller movements have kept the renewal going, and it has benefited from its contact with Restorationism. Although not as powerful now, it nevertheless continues to resurface from time to time.
Part of the renewal was the Vineyard church, founded by John Wimber in the USA. This church helped initiate a “third wave” of charismatic renewal, bringing many evangelicals into the movement and transforming their worship culture to the current “band” led format.
In the UK, Restorationism has been a parallel movement to charismatic renewal led by Christians outside the historic denominations. Although “charismatic”, its primary aim has been to restore the church to its New Testament roots. That way, they could become the church God had always intended, a pattern for the restored church of the future. Initially, they were called house churches but have since become known as “new” churches. They refer to the different groupings as “streams” rather than denominations.
The streams grew rapidly through the 80s and 90s. However, the last English Church Growth survey has shown their numbers have fallen back. This slowdown of growth may be due to streams changing their nature as leadership changes hands. Some have refused to stay together and be a denomination. The largest stream, New Frontiers, continues to grow.
The Jesus People or Jesus movement started in California among the hippy culture and was thus a predominately young person’s movement. It grew rapidly through the 60s and 70s until it became part of mainstream church life. With its emphasis on contemporary music, it had an influence on Christianity much wider than the denominations that it spawned, like Calvary Chapel. It influenced Charismatic renewal and the Vineyard church.
This title is a generic name for revivals that are propagated by the combination of intensive worship and evangelism. They are driven by the named worship leader and evangelist and usually have large events in a fixed location. Although this style can be seen in both Vineyard and Toronto movements, it was more clearly defined in the Brownsville revival of 1995 onwards. In this revival, the combination of worship leader Lindell Cooley and evangelist Steve Hill was key. The Lakeland Outpouring, 2008, had worship leader Roy Fields with evangelist Todd Bentley. This movement that also included a healing ministry with evangelism. Both had wide exposure over the internet.
The Brownsville revival lasted for almost 10 years with various changes of personnel. It recurred with the same pastor at the Bay of the Holy Spirit, 2010-2011. Here, the worship leader was Lydia Stanley, with evangelist Nathan Morris. Initial exposure was through YouTube, but later GodTV broadcast many of the revival services. The key that has made them deem it a revival rather than just “powerful services” is the “glory”, that is, the “presence of God”. Eventually, the revival was taken out on the road rather than staying at its home in Mobile, Alabama.
A similar movement started at Victory Church Cwmbran UK on April 10th 2013. Known as the Cwmbran Outpouring, or Welsh Outpouring, the church met most nights to experience the presence of God, with people travelling from all over the United Kingdom. There was no one named worship leader or evangelist; however, meetings followed the same pattern as previous worship-evangelist revivals. The then pastor, Richard Taylor, became a powerful advocate for the outpouring. Following the outpouring, several churches were planted, and new church groupings were formed. Divisions followed, and the Cwmbran church no longer acknowledges the outpouring. The former pastor, Richard Taylor, moved to another church but subsequently left Christian ministry and turned to politics. Revival can be a dangerous business to both churches and leaders.
See the collection of blogs on the outpouring.
For a 2013 update, read this article in Premier Christianity.
The USA has a long history of revivals in on college campuses. These often involve extended periods of worship, over many days or weeks, where God manifests his presence. There are usually times of confession, repentance and testimony. Sometimes, students travel from the campus to other locations taking the flame of revival there.
A notable revivals occurred at Wheaton College in 1995 and Asbury College in 1970. In 2023 Asbury has seen another visitation of the Lord.