The Effective Revival Campaign



This is the third form of heroic measure for acceleration of the church-growth process. for almost two hundred years evangelical churches have held planned evangelistic campaigns. In British countries they are called “missions. ” Typically in North America they have been called “revival meetings.” Today the terms more in favor are meetings for “renewal,” or Bible conferences, or deeper life conventions. Whatever they are called, they are generally for a predetermined duration, planned well in advance, highly advertised (or should be), buttressed by special singing and musical attractions, and marked most of all by the presence of a visiting evangelist.

The best known endeavors of this type are the Billy Graham Crusades, which have been instrumental in reaching thousands for Christ. Such city-wide campaigns have been very fruitful with many other evangelists also. Usually holiness churches have cooperated, sometimes prominently. The religious and moral tone of entire cities has been markedly cleansed and strengthened by such events.


But how should we view planned revival endeavors at the local church level? That they are now more difficult is undeniable, due to TV, the fast pace of modern life, and the materialistic mood which leaves people spiritually unconcerned. The sight of a big sign, REVIVAL, in front of a church does not excite the public as it once did. Time was when such a meeting was the only new thing happening, and people flocked to revival because they had nothing more interesting to do. Those days are gone forever. Attracting attention, creating interest, and getting people in is today a much more difficult and demanding challenge.

In view of the small returns experienced by many churches still clinging precariously to this traditional activity, is this any longer a viable mode of evangelism? To this question several answers may be given. In principle, the need for such special efforts arises out of the tendency of spirituality in the average church to decline. Some special effort is needed to awaken the church and spark new commitment and vitality. Then for a while a new plateau of blessing and fruitfulness is enjoyed. But sooner or later the tide will ebb. When a woman protested to the famous Presbyterian evangelist E. J. Bulgin, “I don’t believe in revivals; they don’t last,” he retorted, “Neither does a bath; but I hope you take one once in a while.” The fact that no matter how successful the revival campaign is the church will still need another in a few months does not prove that holding such meetings is futile.

A further observation is that there is freshness in a new voice, a new personality, and a new way of doing things that blows a few cobwebs away and lets in breezes of new air. The visiting preacher may articulate the same truths the pastor has been hammering on for months, but an unconscious but increasing deafness, caused by familiarity, kept his people from hearing; now it sounds brand new, and they find their way to an altar for pardon or purity. Of course if the pastor is small-minded and jealous, and can’t take this, he had better not call evangelists. But in this case he gives himself away, revealing that to him the protection of his ego is more important than the spiritual progress of his people.

Too much should not be made of the basic agreement between the pastor’s preaching and the evangelist’s. Although the same doctrines may be enunciated, God called evangelists typically have a unique ministry that enriches the life of the church. Theirs may be a specialty in some delicate area, perhaps family relations; or rare skill in uncovering wounds and sores that eluded the pastor. Sometimes listeners will accept searching truth from a stranger which they would tend to resent from their pastor. He knows them, and they know he knows them, but the evangelist does not, which removes from their minds any suspicion that he is preaching “at” them. They are thus more receptive to the truth. Other things being equal, churches will always be stronger for the deeper roots that grow in a short revival meeting.

The implication of this is that where there has been preparatory prayer, where truth is preached under the anointing of the Spirit, and where the effort is buttressed by the personal holiness of everyone on the platform (including singers), total failure is impossible. Some victories will be won, even if not at the altar, that will move the church further up the road. It is a poor effort indeed that does no good at all.

And for statistics who is to say what constitutes a big meeting and a small? How can the salvation of one child be measured in monetary terms? There have been some spectacular campaigns with altars lined every night, yet comparatively little to point to six weeks later. In contrast there have been some very modest efforts which did not (in the view of mercenary critics) seem “cost effective” but which produced preachers, missionaries, and set loose a chain of “small” influences that rolled on in revival momentum for months.

It must also be conceded that seldom does a planned campaign explode into the revival that the people have prayed for and that the pastor longs for. But this degree of failure is no ground for discouragement or for abandoning such planned efforts. I knew one pastor who managed to persuade his people to cooperate with him in three two week campaigns almost back-to-back-with one or two weeks rest in between-and whereas hardly a hand was turned in the first two meetings a real revival broke out in the third, which revolutionized the church and precipitated a surge of rapid growth. The pastor believed the first two campaigns were necessary preparations for the third.

A yet further value in planned campaigns is the bonding and unifying effect of an intense and highly concentrated focus of activity at the church. For this brief period of time the entire congregation directs its attention to the house of God and the special activity there. Even those who do not attend are aware of what is going on, which in itself is a powerful stimulus to the conscience. Those who faithfully participate are benefited, if by nothing else, by the discipline, self-denial, planning, organizing, and general effort put forth to be present. Children become more church-conscious, adults are compelled to reassess their priorities, and the entire body benefits by the new flow of fellowship and mutual joy-even burden which being together in church every night creates.


Yet with all these arguments in favor of the planned campaign, it must be admitted that some of them seem more disappointing and barren than they should; and sometimes there seems to be validity in the wonder on the part of board members if perhaps there might be a more effective method of outreach for the dollars invested. After all, it does cost a lot these days to hire an evangelist and music team. Therefore, if we are not willing to abandon the traditional planned revival campaign, are there ways we can make them more effective?

1. Let the pastor and his evangelism committee decide well in advance the type of meeting they need-for the building up of the church or for outreach. These types of meetings are radically different, calling for different kinds of speakers and different musical attractions. Some pastors want at least once a year a holiness convention or Bible convention type of revival, and call a teaching evangelist. The aim will be to foster revival within the church by careful instruction in holiness. The focus will be on the reclamation of backsliders, the resolution of spiritual problems in the church, the stabilizing of families , and the sanctification of believers. Probing truth will be preached, but also large amounts of encouragement, instruction, and faith building.

Then these pastors want at least one other campaign to be beamed to the outsider, and they put in place a different set of plans. Advertising is different, preparatory prayer is different, organized effort among their people for bringing unsaved people in is different. This is a more complicated and more difficult endeavor-but it can be promoted successfully (and will not require any more
overall expenditure of energy, thought, and skill than either the survey or telemarketing).

2. Next in order is the selection of evangelists. Wrong judgment here will nullify the best of plans. Not every evangelist will go over in every type of church. Pastors need to know their community and their church. Usually calling an evangelist on hearsay is risky. Furthermore, the Big Name evangelist is not always suitable for a small or mid-size church. In many cases the lesser known but experienced, proved, solid, dependable, praying man or woman, who is not loaded with stunts and gimmicks (and has only holiness books to sell); who has common sense, understands pastoral problems, is courteous both in and out of the pulpit, and who is sufficiently learned and refined not to embarrass intelligent listeners, and can preach a warm, intelligent, well-crafted sermon that is biblical and to the point-such persons will be more constructive than a platform fireball who can create excitement that intellectually and spiritually is largely visceral.

Unfortunately, it occasionally happens that an unwise evangelist makes more enemies and raises more dust and spreads more confusion than the poor pastor can undo in a year. Such a pastor may not be blamed if he is tempted to join the ranks of no-revival pastors. But this would be an over reaction. The wiser course is simply to be more sure of one’s man or woman the next time.

Although God-called, full-time evangelists should be used, at times the need of a local church can best be met by a fellow-pastor who has evangelistic gifts, or a professor or general official.

3. Much prayer and thought should be invested in deciding on a date. Naturally, to some extent this will be determined by the evangelist. Whether to take a poor date in order to get a particular evangelist, or accept a less
preferred evangelist in order to secure a good date is a question to which different answers might be given. This comment might be in order: Any date is a good one if God comes on the scene. I have known successful revivals that were held in summer, in irrigating season, in hunting season, in snowy winter weather. If search for the perfect date prevents a church from launching out, they will never venture, for the perfect date will never be found. And if the church settles on what to them is the best date, chances are ten to one that the evangelist the church wants already has that date booked!

4. Preparations that a church puts into a planned campaign will have much more to do with its success than will dates or even the choice of evangelists (assuming basic soundness). Some rules of thumb are:

a. Talk up the meeting at least three months in advance. The coming event should be kept before the people constantly, from the pulpit, in the bulletin, in weekly mailings, with upbeat, enthusiastic promotion, until anticipation inevitably builds up to fever pitch.

However, don’t oversell the evangelist. Keep his name before the people but ration the palaver. If the people are assured that he is the greatest speaker they have ever heard and the wisest, and they come the first night expecting a seven-day-wonder only to find him quite ordinary, an emotional setback will have been given to the meeting from which recovery may prove impossible.

b. Involve as many people as possible in the preparatory process. If the pastor is the sole public relations person and does all the leg work, the people will not only let him but approach the meeting languidly, if they attend at all. They need to become emotionally involved before the meeting begins. If they have been serving on committees-prayer, advertising, ushering, hospitality, transportation, home calling, music-they will come to feel that this is their meeting and its success will be their success. There is nothing equaling a sense of responsibility to bring out the best performance in church members.

c. Multiply prayer meetings. Not one or two hurriedly arranged a few days before the evangelist arrives, but dozens, at the church, in private homes, in the daytime, evenings. This should be going on weeks in advance. We should learn from the Billy Graham campaigns. Advance managers move into a community; in the case of a major campaign, a year in advance. The first and most important thing they do is set up hundreds of prayer meetings all over the city. Many qualities about these campaigns contribute to their effectiveness, but the mysterious power that draws people by the hundreds out of their seats night after night, to go forward publicly, is undoubtedly more traceable to those months of prayer than all the other features combined.

I have never seen significant results without an intense prayer preparation. In one city I had but one Sunday to give to a church. The location was impossible-a huge public school gym with about fifty folding chairs on concrete in the center of that vast area. Every move of every chair sounded either like a rifle crack or a chain saw. The miserable acoustics made speaking difficult. But five adults knelt at the improvised altar for salvation. I understood when I learned that the little struggling group had met in cottage prayer meetings every night the previous week, including Saturday night.

d. Clear the decks. This is necessary to make room for the special prayer meetings, for one thing. The average church calendar is dense with activities: athletic events, parties, children’s activities, choir practices, committee meetings, disciplining classes, youth and adult retreats, Bible quizzing, cantata rehearsal. How can even prayer meetings be squeezed into such a packed program? Which

events can be modified or suspended to make room for the new prayer push? If there is no adjustment, the praying people will be worn out before the meeting starts.

It will not be good strategy publicly to take the position that the prayer meetings can be attended by the elderly and others not otherwise occupied. This, of course, is what actually occurs in most churches-but the meager results indict the policy. Some way the pastor must persuade the board or council to commit themselves to a policy which suspends or postpones some activities. All of these activities are important to the usual calendar of the church. But there comes a time, by some temporary adjustments in the schedule, when the board must set its values in order of priority, and decide whether having a real revival is important enough to make room for it-

As important as adjustment is before the campaign, it is doubly mandatory during the campaign. More than one meeting has been scuttled by failure here. The church operates as usual with all the normal activities, and the result is that some of these busy lay folk manage to get to a few services to hear the visiting speaker. Apparently they expect him to bring revival in his suitcase. I have actually known revival campaigns to be held when the young people were away at a retreat, long-planned social events were determinedly held, and cantata rehearsals commandeered much of the time and energy. In one case, over a hundred people were in the sanctuary practicing while the “revival” had to be chucked into a basement room. As long as pastors and churches permit this sort of diffusion of interests and scattering of attention, treating the revival as (pardon the expression) something “the cat dragged in, ‘ they needn’t expect God’s blessing. They are wasting good money and the evangelist’s time. Such fiascoes shout poor planning and poor management.

This saying is credited to John Wesley: “Fanaticism is

expecting results without giving due attention to adequate causes.” Into what category, then, shall we place the pastor who permits his church to sink hundreds of dollars into a campaign for which he has not thoroughly prepared?

e. Finally, the church needs to have developed a prospect awareness. For months preparatory evangelism should be carried on in anticipation of the forthcoming campaign. This should include friendship evangelism, hospitality evangelism, personal witnessing, literature seed-sowing. Prayer meetings should focus on the salvation needs of real persons for whom church members are carrying a genuine burden. The advance prayer meetings should not be permitted to be preempted by Uncle Joe’s asthma or Aunt Sally’s flu. Such needs dominate the prayers of the typical church group all year. There surely should be one season when the prayer warriors are permitted to intercede for the lost. This is not hardheartedness or indifference to the physical needs and financial problems of people, but it is a declaration that more urgent concerns claim our attention right now.

This kind of praying combined with the various outreach activities that have been going on will bring into the sphere of the campaign a large number of people already under conviction, upon whom the Spirit is already moving, who are already responding to the love and interest of this church. There should be a loving web of influences which the Holy Spirit has to work with. There will be if there has been in the life of the church what some have called the right mix of evangelistic activities.


There are purists who insist that the word revival should be restricted to what happens to the church, while
evangelism should be the term used to designate an outreach campaign. However, the history of “revivals” describes great powerful movements of the Spirit that revive the church and sweep hundreds of sinners into the kingdom almost simultaneously. Sometimes these historic revivals occur with little advance planning or organizing. At other times they erupt out of campaigns that start out as very ordinary. Naturally, every church and pastor hope that the campaign they are about to launch will prove to be such a demonstration of divine power. When this happens rapid church growth normally follows for months, sometimes years; and because it is God’s work it will be easier to mold and disciple the converts.

Churches that experience profound revival never forget it. They are almost immediately propelled to a higher level of spiritual energy and a deeper grounding in spiritual values. Such revival provides a standard by which children, youth, and adults come to measure all religious activities there after. When restlessness seeps into a church, and praying people feel uneasy, it just might be not the fermentation of a critical spirit, but a memory and a longing. There is validity in the cliche, “I was born in the fire, and I can’t be happy in the smoke.”

As a teenager, I witnessed a spiritual movement that touched as altar seekers some five hundred people. It began after weeks of special prayer meetings of teenagers, and as the courageous faith-action of a lay woman who simply announced one Sunday night that a tent meeting would begin Thursday night. She had no tent, no benches, no hymnals, no evangelist, and there was no advertising-ever. But when we sauntered over to the announced location on Thursday evening, we found a tent set up and people crowding in; three nights later a second tent had to be added. The double tent was packed every night for weeks. People came-without advertising-from a radius of fifty miles. The laywoman’s husband led a bit of singing, exhorted a little, and people swarmed to the altar. When they began to testify, another group line the long altar. It was a spiritual turning point in my life as well as in the Lives of many others. Becoming an unbeliever would be difficult if not impossible for those of us who witnessed firsthand such a degree of God’s power.

In contrast, sometimes a set, planned campaign sparks the overspreading flames. This was the case with the revival of 1972 that began in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and swept across Canada and dipped into the States. The evangelists carried out their commitment, then left, but not before they became aware of a spiritual prairie fire. The movement transcended denominational lines, mended homes, re-fired churches, and was characterized “by spontaneous all-night services. The four pastors most
immediately in the vanguard testified that it was fundamentally a holiness revival-with an emphasis on confessing sin, making restitution, putting all on the altar, and asking for and claiming the fullness of the Holy Spirit. ‘

Yet lesser revivals are not to be scorned. A revival can be genuine and life-changing which does not reach such spectacular proportions. Let a pastor and his people therefore invest all they have in the planned campaign and be thankful for even limited showers of blessing. Some hearts will be revived. Some chronic seekers will become grounded. Some problems will be solved. Some floundering new or young Christian will receive just the light he needs and will go on with renewed commitment and
assurance. All things being equal, the churches that refuse to give up on the revival campaign but continue to make a place for it in their annual planning will not only grow in numbers but develop in strength and depth as viable holiness churches.”