By Dale Wise
Someone said, “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.” Maybe not. But I have some great memories of growing up in the church.
The late 1950s and early ’60s may have been the heyday of the revival. I remember some of the evangelists: O. George Stansberry, Cy Welch, and Phil Ling. The church was packed. The old hymns never sounded better. The preaching reached out and grabbed you.
I started preaching in the late ’60s. Revivals were still quite common. Again I saw crowded churches. The music and the sermons were still very inspirational. The first revival I ever preached was at a country church in Kentucky. It was the fall of 1970, and the revival lasted two weeks.
It was about that time I began to hear rumors about how revivals were no longer effective. “People are so busy,” preachers would say. “If we tried to have a revival, the church would be empty. It would be embarrassing.”
But I really like the book of Acts. “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (2:47). “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (5:42).
I used to hear preachers say, “Revival is just the church getting back to normal.” Or even better, Vance Havner said, “Revival is the church falling in love with Jesus all over again.” I think revivals still can be an effective tool.
I’m writing this just after our spring revival. The Vintage Gospel Lads led worship (a mix of praise choruses and some lively old hymns). We had terrific southern gospel music. A good friend, Mark Fugate of Bright, Indiana, preached. He did it well! The church was nearly full all four nights. We sang and laughed and listened to the Word of God and went home excited.
I’m going to southern Ohio next week to preach a revival. I hope and pray it goes half as well. I still enjoy holding revivals and hosting them.
What Works for Us
I realize a revival may not work everywhere. (Of course, no method works everywhere.) But we work hard to make them effective. Here are some things that work for us.
We have outstanding music. We schedule gifted musicians, sometimes years in advance. Christians and unchurched people like good music, and they’ll turn out to listen.
We have upbeat, inspirational preaching. Not only does this encourage the people, but it encourages me too. I preach three and sometimes four sermons on Sunday. I enjoy listening to someone else speak once in awhile. It gives me a boost!
We have exciting children’s activities. Our children’s revival is a lot more successful than VBS for us. Some kids have to come because their parents want to attend the revival. Some adults come because their kids insist on being with their friends at the children’s revival.
We have a prayer emphasis. Some people pray for weeks in advance that God will move in our midst. The day before the revival starts, people are praying in the prayer room at our church from 6 am till midnight. You can’t work revival up. You’ve got to pray it down.
We publicize. This year we had several well-known people in our church do a 30-second radio spot. They invited people to come. We took out huge ads in the local newspaper.
Sunday attendance averages in the mid-400s at First Christian. For the four nights of our spring revival we averaged well over 300. Three people recommitted their lives to Christ. One young lady accepted Christ as her Savior and was baptized. But hundreds of others, from preschoolers to people in their 90s, got a shot in the arm! As a matter of fact, the owner of the radio station on which we advertised missed only one night. To my knowledge, he and his wife do not regularly attend church. The last night he said to me, “Thank you for one of the greatest weeks in my life!”
If it just simply won’t work where you are, I’m sorry. But the old-fashioned revival is alive and well in Sullivan, Indiana! The population here is about 5,000. As for the cost, one offering on the last night totaled about $3,300, which really helped to pay the bills. So why not give it a shot? Sure. It could be a flop. But it could be one of the greatest weeks of your life.
Dale Wise is the preaching minister of First Christian Church in Sullivan, Indiana.