This post is about revival meetings. For some, it will be a trip down memory lane, while for others it may be more like a church history lesson. When I was a boy in the 1950s, most churches had two or three revivals each year. They would hold a fall revival, a spring revival, and often a summer youth revival. The churches hoped to energize their members and evangelize the lost. Sometimes the churches would invite a full-time evangelist, and they would invite a music evangelist, also, if they could afford it. Other times, the pastor would invite another pastor to preach, and there were a lot of “I’ll invite you if you invite me” arrangements. In those days there were lots of traveling evangelists, both famous and not. I remember J. Harold Smith, Angel Martinez, Bo Baker, Junior Hill, and Bailey Smith. Of course, the most famous of all was Billy Graham. He did not preach in churches; rather, he and his able team conducted “city-wide crusades.” These were broadcast on television throughout North America.
When I was really young, in the 1950s, revivals were often scheduled to last for two weeks. If the Lord really blessed with lots of decisions, the revival would be continued. Then, it became a “protracted meeting.” In the 1960s revivals lasted for a week. As years passed, they became four-day meetings and then one-day “evangelistic events.” Of course, the practice of planning both fall and spring revivals declined, and churches scheduled just one each year. Now, most churches do not hold revivals.
Southern Baptist associations, state conventions, and even the Southern Baptist Convention sometimes scheduled simultaneous revivals. All the churches were encouraged to schedule revivals at the same time. In fact, if I remember correctly, in 1968 simultaneous revivals were held in North, Central, and South America at the same time. The sponsors called this “The Crusade of the Americas.” I believe the theme was “Christ the Only Hope.”
During church revivals, we typically had special nights. For example, one night would be “pack the pew” night, and church members would take responsibility for inviting folks to fill their pew that night. Typically, a prize (usually a Bible) was awarded to the member who enlisted the most to attend. Other special nights included old-fashioned night and youth night. In those days we only sang hymns in Sunday worship, but during the revival we would sing the same revival chorus each night. One I remember was “Let’s Talk About Jesus.” (You can listen to this on the internet.) Angel Martinez wore a different colored blazer each night, and he would announce what color he would wear the next night.
During the meeting, teams would go out witnessing during the daytime. I knew one pastor who planned an evangelistic training for his members six weeks before the revival. The members would then witness intensely for those six weeks, and the revival meeting was like a harvest time.
Revival meetings descended from the camp meetings of the 1800s. During their heyday, revivals were the best show in town, but as time passed attendance began to decline. Today, pastors say folks won’t attend a revival, so there is no point in scheduling one. Of course, some churches still do sponsor a revival, and some prove productive. A successful revival requires lots of planning and promotion. Tom Rainer stated that Southern Baptists discontinued revivals, but we did not replace them with anything.
If you want to learn more about revivals, you can see my book, “Evangelism: A Concise History” (Broadman & Holman).
What do you remember about revivals? Perhaps, you would like to name an evangelist that I failed to mention. For myself, I remember revivals fondly. I was saved during a youth revival at the First Baptist Church of Lockhart, Texas.