The Difference Between Revival and Evangelism

Many times the term revival is thought of as an evangelistic service. Hold a revival meeting, people will come, and people will get saved. The term revival meeting has become sort of a catch all term that basically means bring in an outside speaker and let him tackle topics that the local pastor can’t speak on for fear of offending regular attenders.

There isn’t anything wrong with revival meetings if we know what to expect from them. A special speaker is capable of dealing with hard hitting subjects and if someone is offended nothing is lost because the speaker will be gone in a week.

The first question that must be asked however is “Who is the intended audience?” This may sound stupid but it is very important. Yes the audience is people in church but what is the goal? Is the goal to “revive” regular Christian who have become caught in a religious rut or are dealing with issues of sin? Or is the goal to evangelize the lost and bring them into the kingdom of God? You need two very different types of approaches.

You may think sin is sin and as long as the speaker talks about repentance and forgiveness it will reach everybody because we all struggle with sin. Well, this may be true but the Christian knows that they struggle with sin and simply being reminded of their sin and what God’s Word says about it may be enough to convict. A non churched person may have no clue what they are doing is sin and may see no need to stop. Just because some 2,000 year old book says some things are bad doesn’t mean that they find relevance in the message.

Of course the bigger question of who the service is for is how to get them there. If you are aiming to revive church members, it is enough to get a big name speaker and promote in the bulletin and on the radio or newspaper and people will be interested and want to come. It will be other Christians who come from your church and local churches, but they’ll come.

The same approach will not work with non Christians. I dealt with a church that tried this approach. Their Outreach and Evangelism commission was planning the yearly revival meeting. They decided that they needed a big name to draw the interest of non churched people. First of all, their big name I had never heard of before so I have no clue why those outside of the church would have heard of him. Secondly, Billy Graham is probably about the only name that would be well known and respected enough by non Christians to bring them to hear what they know is going to be an evangelistic message.

To reach non churched people, the church needs to offer them something that they feel they need. This will depend greatly on your area but there are ways to connect to the needs of the community. You can offer Christian debt counseling to those who have debt problems. You may have something that reaches the needs of single moms or speaks to men who are involved in hunting.

The options are almost limitless but if evangelism is the goal you need to ask yourself the question of what will draw people in. Remember though, you’re not using the “bait and switch” tactic. Don’t trick someone into coming to an event that they believe will be worthwhile only to find out that it’s just a gospel presentation. This will leave people upset and wary about any future function that may take place at the church. Instead use these types of events to make connections with people outside of the church, let them know that not all church people are weird but instead have similar interests as them. And let them know that the church is there and wants to help them if they are ever needed.

And yes, the gospel can be presented or Christian values can be taught, just don’t make something think that they were tricked into coming to church.

Revival should be aimed at people who have something to truly revive. Evangelism should be directed at people who need to hear the gospel. Confusing the two is going to leave at least one group frustrated and feeling left out. At best you’ve wasted your efforts and at worst you’ve left people wary of future church events.

Where is the Power in Revival Meetings?

Church revival meetings used to be big events. They have taken numerous forms over time but all come down to a big meeting that draws in outside people to the church. In the 1700’s they were barn meetings held literally in someone’s barn that was big enough to hold a large group of people. In the 1800 and 1900’s the meetings moved into the church and sometimes went on for weeks.

Without a doubt people got saved at these meetings. The gospel was preached boldly and people came forward in droves. Revival meetings were standard at churches through the 1950’s until late in the century. Today, many churches do not hold revival meetings at all. Those that do usually only last a week and some have cut back to three or four days.

Of course many reflect back to the “good old days” when these revival meetings were still in full swing. Without a doubt, the power of the gospel has not diminished. And it is doubtful that modern day preachers have become less effective than in years gone by. Yes, undoubtedly some preach watered down, touchy feely messages but there are still many who speak the word of God plainly.

So this brings us to the fact that culture has changed. The gospel has not changed. Its ability to change lives has not changed. There is no substitute available that comes close to filling the void in people’s lives that Jesus does. The problem comes in getting people to revival meetings. There are many things competing for our attention and a person can’t hear the gospel at a revival meeting when they are at home watching one of their 700 satellite channels.
The attendance boost from revival meetings is usually from church members inviting members of other churches. When the gospel is presented, it falls on the ears of people who do not need it because they are already saved.

Of course there are occasions that unchurched people attend revival meetings and hear the gospel and respond to it. It is unfair to discount these occurrences. But they are fewer and further between these days because fewer and fewer non churched people are showing up at revival meetings.

The power of the gospel has not disappeared from revival meetings, there are just less people for it to reach. Can a church meeting compete with popular culture whether it’s watching tv or taking kids to sporting events? The answer is no and it shouldn’t have to. The true power of the gospel is in impacted lives. Show non churched people how a life has been changed by Jesus Christ and they are going to notice. They won’t need to attend a revival meeting to experience the power of the gospel but they may be more willing to come when invited the next time they are asked.