A district superintendent invited me to bring a brief devotional message at his monthly pastors’ fellowship.
After the meeting, a pastor in his 30s asked me if I would come to his church. I replied, “Sure! Do you want services Sunday through Wednesday or Friday through Sunday?”
He responded, “Friday through Sunday will be enough.”
He said that he would talk to his church board and call me about the dates. When he phoned to confirm the dates, I was a bit surprised at his description of the board meeting. He told them, “I want to have Norman Moore to come for a revival."
They responded, “What’s a revival?”
The pastor’s reply was, “I don’t know. I’ve never been in one.”
This conversation is not unlike many conversations about revival in many Nazarene churches today. This prompts the question: What is the current state of revivals in the Church of the Nazarene in the United States and Canada?
Times Have Changed
Our best analysis from pastors, district superintendents, global ministry leaders, and evangelists reveals that a majority of our churches do not have any specifically scheduled revival services each year. Further inquiry indicates that revivals are fewer and shorter among those churches that still schedule them.
The various causes of this trend are complex. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but here are some things I’ve observed based upon decades of serving as a full-time evangelist in the Church of the Nazarene:
1. It is difficult for some people to attend weeknight services. In many homes, both parents are employed and have a long work commute. There are also more things competing for families’ limited time.
2. Many churches do not feel they can afford to spend resources on revival services. According to recent reports from Nazarene Research, 75% of Nazarene Churches in the United States have a Sunday morning worship attendance of 99 or less and have an annual income of $150,000 or less. An increasing number of pastors are bivocational.
3. Some churches have had a negative experience with an evangelist, so they don’t schedule revivals anymore. Unfortunately, this has also caused mistrust of evangelists in general among some churches.
4. There has been an overall de-emphasis regarding traditional revival services in aspects of the Church of the Nazarene and in other denominational groups.
Rethinking Revival in Light of Trends
Though this is not an exhaustive list of the converging influences, it can help us begin to rethink revival. Tod Bolsinger’s popular book, Canoeing the Mountains, cites the following insight from Ed Friedman: “For a fundamental reorientation to occur, that spirit of adventure which optimizes serendipity and which enables new perceptions beyond the control of our thinking process must happen first.” Bolsinger reflects upon this quote in the following way: “What is needed? An adventure that requires adaptive capacity” (p. 33).
As we rethink revival, we must prioritize the pursuit of adaptive, practical, and effective opportunities where God’s people can experience a focused time of evangelistic, renewing, and edifying preaching. We must refuse to place blame and to compare today’s culture to the culture of 1959. Instead, we must take initiative to begin new, respectful, and candid discussions among pastors, evangelists, district superintendents, and other leaders in the church about the realities of today and the place of evangelists in the life of the Church.
Perhaps this will allow us to take new risks, experiment with methods, and invest in new efforts toward revival. It would be a good idea to discard the inaccurate notion that revivals are simply an outdated idea. Lost people still need to be saved, believers still need to be sanctified, and the Church still needs to be revived. Pastoral and lay leadership still need to be encouraged in their ministries.
Scripture reminds us that “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). There is still a place for a God-called evangelist to come alongside the ministry of local church leaders and help them move forward with new passion for the lost.
How Evangelists and Churches Can Adapt
Sometimes I’m asked how I have sustained my evangelism and revival ministry since 1979. From the start, I never expected that a freewill love offering, with no minimum required or guaranteed, would provide the equivalent livelihood of a pastor with similar education, experience, and ability. In an environment where 75% of our congregations have a Sunday morning worship attendance of 99 or less, in order to continue for decades, I would serve many smaller churches, and some of whom would have limited finances. I am absolutely convinced that there is no correlation between the size of a church and the working of the Holy Spirit. It is an honor to preach God’s Word anywhere, anytime, to anyone, whether in a church of 20 or 2,000!
If an evangelist is not independently wealthy or is not supplemented by a spouse’s income, then he or she is usually bivocational, or, as I have done, has developed a team of ministry partners—family and friends who have supported the ministry with prayer and financial support.
A support team can allow the evangelist to serve in other contexts: foreign missions, inner city compassionate ministry, church planting, mass media, and ministering as a pastor or staff member of a local church. These partners develop over time as the result of prayer, conversations, and by simply providing availability for those who feel led to participate.
Another sustaining factor is my relentless conviction of my call to itinerant evangelism. In her poignant book, Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance, Angela Duckworth offers valuable insight: “In sum, no matter the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hard working.
Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction. It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special. In a word, they had grit” (p. 8).
So, what is the way forward? Perhaps pastors and evangelists can receive help from Marshall Goldsmith’s advice to coworkers in the book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He presents his coworkers with “The Four Commitments.” They are:
1. Let go of the past.
2. Tell the truth.
3. Be supportive and helpful—not cynical or negative.
4. Pick something to improve yourself, so everyone is more focused on “improving” than “judging” (p. 114).
Open-minded, kind, respectful conversations that explore fresh options can help us to rethink revivals, follow through with specific actions, and (most importantly) allow God to use a wide range of options to usher in renewals to our churches.