Are pew-jumpin’, finger-pointin’, fire-breathin’ revivals a thing of the past for Missouri Baptist congregations
By Bob Baysinger
February 3, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – Hundreds of Missouri Baptist churches – following a national trend – apparently have quit using revivals as an effective evangelistic tool.
An unscientific Pathway survey of evangelists, pastors, college professors and retired pastors suggests that a big percentage of the state’s Southern Baptist congregations no longer schedule revival meetings and have stopped using full-time evangelists. Reasons given by those quizzed ranged from lack of support by congregations to not enough room on church calendars.
Bob Caldwell, director of evangelism for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), said he feels certain that Missouri’s situation probably would parallel a study in Georgia which revealed that about one half of Southern Baptist churches in that state no longer have revival services.
But for those who do, at least in Georgia, there was a direct correlation between churches that have revivals and the number of people they baptize.
The resident member per baptism ratio in churches reporting revivals was 24 to 1. The ratio in churches not conducting or reporting revivals was 36 to 1. In other words, churches that have revivals baptize more people.
Keith Fordham, a Georgia evangelist, told The Pathway that there would have been approximately 7,000 more baptisms in Georgia if all churches had conducted revivals and sustained the 24 to 1 resident member per baptism ratio.
No similar statistics are available in Missouri. Statewide baptism records, however, indicate a similar trend.
In the mid-1950s when Southern Baptists conducted the “Million More in ‘54" evangelistic campaign, practically every Missouri Baptist church conducted revival meetings.
Dave Bennett, former MBC evangelism director and now the evangelism instructor at Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar, launched his preaching career during the “Million More in ’54" days.
“We had simultaneous revivals. All the pastors in an association would meet and eat breakfast. We would hear a challenging message and then go out and hit the highways and hedges," Bennett said.
The result was 19,560 baptisms in 1954 and 21,967 the following year.
Missouri Baptist churches were still baptizing more than 20,000 annually as late as 1980, which is about the same time that churches began slowing down on the use of revivals. In 2002, baptisms in Missouri churches fell to less than 13,000.
Thom Rainer, writing in Effective Evangelistic Churches (1996), discovered that slightly less than one-half of the churches in his SBC-wide study continue to hold regularly-scheduled revival meetings as an evangelistic method, but those who do are reaching people for Christ in greater numbers.
An example of comments obtained from church leaders by Rainer:
“I have heard for many years that revivals are ‘on their way our!’ During these years, our church has continued to reach people for Christ through revivals. We consistently are among the 10 leading churches in our state in baptisms. I hope we never learn that revivals are dead."
“I have a rather blunt theory about the lack of interest in revivals in some churches. A successful revival requires an enormous amount of preparation and prayer. Many churches want to shortcut that process, or avoid revivals altogether. Frankly, some Christians are just plain lazy."
“Finally, we were told by many leaders that effective evangelistic revivals usually have a vocational evangelist lead the services. Al Jackson, pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, AL, said, ‘We usually use a full-time vocational evangelist to lead our revival services. Though we have experienced some good revivals with other men, we have found that a full-time evangelist is gifted by God to draw the net."
James Ogan, a veteran of 21 years as a Missouri Baptist evangelist, agrees that the number of Missouri churches using evangelistic revivals is declining.
Ogan said he preached only “two or three weeklong revivals last year" and that most of his revivals are down to four days.
“I had a few that last five or six days," Ogan said. “Talking to pastors, it seems that some feel the commitment of today’s congregations is limited. They don’t feel that they can get them to come more than one or two days.
“It seems that the children’s activities as well as their own community activities are more important to them than church activities. One pastor mentioned that the people you see there every night are the older members, and I believe that he’s right."
Ron Mills, staff evangelist at Plaza Heights Baptist Church, Kansas City, is starting his 20th year in evangelism.
“When I first started almost all revivals were Sunday to Sunday meetings," Mills said. “After a few years, it was Sunday to Friday and now most of my meetings are Sunday to Wednesday. A number of churches have gone to just having a one-day super Sunday event."
Bill Dudley of Lebanon has been preaching 50 years, 41 years as a pastor and nine years as an evangelist.
“It’s very difficult for pastors to get their members to attend," Dudley said. “I was with one pastor in revival and we had about 150 in the morning worship. He told me not to be disappointed Sunday night because there might be not more than 20 in attendance. At first, I thought he was kidding. But he wasn’t. We had about 30 the rest of the week."
Jim McNiel, staff evangelist at Tower Grove Baptist Church, St. Louis, and the 2003 president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, doesn’t place all the blame at the feet of congregations. He believes a partial cause is that “some evangelists have not worked as diligently at their calling as they should."
McNiel cites recent publicity given to the Joyce Meyer Evangelistic Association, as an example.
“The recent scrutiny of Joyce Meyer (not a Southern Baptist) and the adverse publicity is not good for the office of evangelist because there are those who are prone to categorize all evangelists in the same category," McNiel said.
McNiel, entering his 37th year in evangelism, said there were times during the controversy surrounding Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart, neither Southern Baptist but rather Pentecostal, that he was ashamed to introduce himself as an evangelist.
“I remember that I was doing a meeting in Palatine, Ill., an affluent suburb of Chicago. I was at the train depot in downtown Chicago. There was an elderly man there who had a lot of luggage. I asked him if I could help with the luggage.
“When I finished taking him to his destination, he asked me what kind of work I did. I told him that I was an evangelist. His reply was, ‘Oh, you’re one of those guys.’"
McNiel said many pastors are afraid to schedule a revival.
“They’re tired of beating a dead horse in the society in which we have created," he said. “Schedules are not nearly as conducive to going to church on Sunday night as they once were. Today, businessmen will catch a plane to Timbuktu on Sunday afternoon and not come back until Thursday or Friday. Truck drivers take off on Sunday afternoon and are gone all week. It’s the society in which we live."
McNiel, however, hasn’t given up on the idea that revivals will work.
“I still believe," he said, “that if you’ll give something to the people, they will come."
McNiel recently asked members of the St. Louis Baptist Ministers Association to pray for churches and evangelists that they would get back to revivals.
“I told those pastors that many Southern Baptist churches are closing their doors on Sunday nights. I said those pastors who do not have church on Sunday night have less propensity to have a three- or four-day revival meeting. Statistics show that the churches that are really carrying out the Great Commission are churches that still believe in evangelism through revival meetings."
Other evangelists also believe revivals still work.
Bill Britt, a Texas-based evangelist, told the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists at its 2003 meeting, that he still believes in “old-fashioned, Holy Ghost, devil-chasing, pew-jumping, finger-pointing revivals" to bring the Gospel message to the masses, even though the method has its detractors.
“People say, ‘We are in the 21st century and no one wants to hear a seating, stomping, spitting, hollering preacher.’ But they do. Teenagers do," Britt said.
“It seems that churches in county-seat towns are still having most of the revivals, and the Lord is still moving in some of those places. I was recently scheduled for a one-day revival outside Shreveport, La., but so many people were getting saved that we extended it for a weeks.
“Overall, we’re having more people saved and bigger crowds than we’ve ever had in my whole ministry, and it could happen again if churches are willing to pray, promote and publicize the meeting."
“A lot of churches held revivals every spring and fall and it became routine," Caldwell said. “The churches weren’t preparing spiritually and not inviting the lost people. The power of God wasn’t present and, as a result, people began to lose interest."
Caldwell said it is time for Missouri Baptist churches to return to the day when “people pray, share their faith and set aside specific times and ask God to move in His sovereignty in a special way."
Kenny Qualls, who pastored Springhill Baptist Church, Springfield, 12 years before accepting an associate executive director’s position with the MBC, used revivals in his church. Qualls said, however, that he never scheduled a revival “just for the sake of putting one on."
“We believed that revival is for the church," Qualls said. “You can’t revive what has never been revived. We believed that evangelism flows from a church that is revived. That is why we used our revivals to focus on reviving church families. Our emphasis was not on getting a church fired up for one week; we wanted to get the church fired up for 52 weeks.
“At Springhill, the focus was on fanning that flame in their hearts so they would be about the business of evangelism.
“I am convinced,’ Qualls added, “that, under the leadership of the Lord, a week of revival still can play a great part in seeing God’s people revived and the overflow of that revival will be soul’s saved, not only that week but carry on throughout the year."
Caldwell says it’s not too late to bring back the day of revivals.
“People will come to a place where God is moving," he said. “Even busy people will come. If its done right, the day of revival is not dead."