Most revival historians contend that America was birthed by revival. They also believe that most Christian denominations can be traced back to a revival or a spiritual awakening. Even the birth of the Declaration of Independence can be traced to the first Great Awakening in the 1700s.
The very fiber of Christianity in America has seen its power and growth ascend from great movements of God set ablaze through men whom God used in supernatural ways.
America has a rich history of revivals and spiritual awakenings. Although many people use these two terms interchangeably, there is a difference.
Patrick Morley, founder of Man in the Mirror, states that in a spiritual revival, “God supernaturally transforms believers and nonbelievers in a church, locale, region, nation or the world through sudden, intense enthusiasm for Christianity. People sense the presence of God powerfully; conviction, despair, contrition, repentance and prayer come easily; people thirst for God’s Word; many authentic conversions occur and backsliders are renewed.”
Revivals may last from a few months to a few years, but awakenings last 30 or 40 years and impact the culture of an entire nation, such as the First and Second Great Awakenings. Greg Laurie puts it this way, “America needs a spiritual awakening. The church needs a revival.”
The First Great Awakening occurred within the American colonies and was referred to as the “National Conversion.” The colonies were divided in how they granted religious liberty, but God had a call upon America. He used George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards to unite the colonists to fear God and trust in Jesus Christ. Some 80% of America’s 900,000 colonists heard Whitefield’s dramatic preaching. And some 25% of the colonists were converted.
The Declaration of Independence, which recognized divinely granted “unalienable rights,” prompted Harvard professor William Perry to say the Declaration “was the result of the evangelical preaching of the evangelists of the Great Awakening.” What resulted were Christian colleges established to educate, train and equip a new generation of clergymen who would help to prepare America to fight for her life. The primary ones were Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown and Rutgers.
The Second Great Awakening—in the early 1800s—saw the evangelical Christian churches grow tenfold, from 350,000 to 3 million church members from 1800 to 1850. The nation’s population in 1800 was 5.3 million; by 1850 it was 23 million. Charles Finney saw 100,000 converts in Rochester, New York in 1831, and the awakening spread to 1,500 towns as an example of a nation on fire for God.
Methodist and Baptist churches increased greatly. The movement quickly spread through “camp meetings” in Kentucky, Tennessee and southern Ohio, and out of it the Bible Belt was born. At Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801 and 1802, as many as 25,000 gathered to drink the hell-fire Gospel preaching of itinerant evangelists. The awakening led to countless conversions.
In 1857-1858, the Businessmen’s Prayer Revival in New York City swept the nation. Banks were collapsing, crime was increasing and moral standards were declining, as were social and economic conditions. Slavery had the nation on the brink of war, and many people were working for survival. Sound familiar? Today, America is ripe for revival.
Jeremiah Lanphier, a layman in the Dutch Reformed Church that was located near Wall Street, called for noon prayer. Six people came. Then Wall Street collapsed, and in six months, 10,000 were gathering in the city to pray.
Noon prayer groups spread to every major American city. In two years, an estimated 1 million souls were saved out of the nation’s 30 million people. The revival came at a crucial time before the Civil War.
Since 1900, many movements of God have had mighty impacts. In 1904, a 26-year-old coal miner named Evan Roberts, who had prayed for a Wales revival since he was 13, asked God for 100,000 converts, and in six months, his prayer was answered. The Welsh Revival spread across the pond to America and sparked the great Azusa Revival in Los Angeles in 1906. William J. Seymour, an African-American pastor, led what became the birth of the Pentecostal movement in America. For the first three years, they met three times a day, seven days a week with a racially integrated audience. Miracles and manifestations of Holy Spirit power were witnessed in every service.
After World War II, youth organizations such as Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes presented fresh appeals for youth to connect with Jesus as their Lord and Savior. God raised up Billy Graham to preach the Gospel to more people than anyone in history. The BGEA became the standard for global evangelism.
In 1968, the Jesus Movement began in California among soul-searching youth and at a time of rebellion against the status quo on college campuses. At Asbury College in Kentucky, a freshman coed named Jeannine Brabon was the prayer leader for what was perhaps the greatest campus revival in American history, in February 1970.
Prayers were answered again this past February, as Jesus moved in similar power. In two weeks, the Holy Spirit’s presence permeated the Asbury campus of some 1,600 students, while 50,000 people representing 50 countries came seeking to join in what God was doing. Among them were students from 284 colleges who came seeking revival for their own campuses.
Our continued hope today is for awakening, revival or rapture. Lord, “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6). ©2023 BGEA
The Scripture quotation is taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Wayne Atcheson serves as senior ambassador and historian for the Billy Graham Library.
Photo: Courtesy of Asbury University