Some fifty years ago, 85% of American children attended church on a regular basis. Today, only 4% attend regularly. When the pastor made that statement, I remembered my own upbringing in church, particularly my “Jesus Movement” days. During the early ‘70’s, I was active in Campus Crusade for Christ, even volunteering at the headquarters of Explo ’72, the largest gathering of Christians at one time (in Dallas). The Jesus Movement of the ‘70’s was one of the “Great Awakenings” (and the last) in America.
America has witnessed four Great Awakenings. The first, from about 1740 to 1742, was led by preachers such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield. Around fifty thousand people were added to the churches of New England during the First Great Awakening, significant for a new country with population of about 300,000.
The Second Great Awakening, from the 1790s to around 1840, was led by many, including Charles Finney. Camp meetings in tents with sawdust floors were plentiful during the Wild West, where itinerant preachers shared the gospel. Many thousands of Americans came to faith during this period.
America’s Third Great Awakening, from 1857 to 1859, had a unique beginning. A forty-eight-year-old businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier began a prayer meeting in New York City. Though small, it exploded after the stock market crashed, and within six months, ten thousand New Yorkers were gathering daily for prayer. Around one million people came to believe in Jesus during the Third Great Awakening.
The Fourth Great Awakening (and last) in American history was the Jesus Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was a tumultuous time culturally and politically. America was hungry for revival. During each of these periods there was rapid growth and spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In between each of these Awakenings, there were smaller revivals. The spread of the Gospel kept marching forward.
I hear people say all the time this country needs a revival. Are we ready for another Great Awakening, or are the best days of America behind us? I believe God wants to send revival. As I see it often we pray for prosperity in our nation and in our own lives, but the fact remains that revival often explodes when there is calamity. The Third Great Awakening happened after the stock market crashed.
Those of us in the Jesus Movement are now grandparents, yet we live under the same circumstances — riots in the streets, racial unrest, drug epidemic, and hopelessness. Billy Sunday, one of America’s great evangelists, once said, “They say that a revival is but temporary; so is a bath, but it does you good.” A revival may be only temporary, but we need one right now. Revival starts with you and me. Then it affects the church, and then the church affects the nation.
I’m ready for the next Great Awakening! Are you?
Romans 13:11 “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.”