- The term revival, in its most general sense, refers to a period of renewal within a Christian country or community during which many nonbelievers become believers, and many of the faithful find a new level of religious commitment. More narrowly, it refers to organized events, usually large communal gatherings where preaching, prayer, and singing are used to reawaken the attendees to a relationship with God in Jesus Christ.The early Protestant era was a time of religious awakening for many people in Europe. It was carried out in a context in which nearly the entire population was considered to be Christian, having been baptized as infants and confirmed in their youth. In this context, revival meant an intensification of religious faith.By the 18th century, the situation had changed considerably. In Europe, groups such as the MEN-nonites and Baptists believed that the true Christian church consisted only of adult believers who had professed faith and chosen to join a local congregation. In the American colonies, especially New England, a large percentage of the population had little or no connection to the established churches. In this context, revival could mean a renewal of religious faith, practice, and affiliation among the unchurched.The Pietist movement in Germany and the Puritan movement in England stressed the need for personal faith and the work of the Holy Spirit among individuals. Both movements brought a revival of personal religious commitment. In Scotland and Ireland in the early 17th century, revivals were often accompanied by outward manifestations such as moaning and withering on the ground. The transition to a new form of revivalism emerged with the Wesleyan movement in England. John WESLEY traveled throughout the British Isles building communities of individuals who had experienced a renewal of faith such as his own. He saw his work as awakening Christians who already belonged to his own Church of EnGLAND, and, to a lesser extent, to the dissenting churches. The emphasis changed in America, where Wesley's Methodist followers worked to call people to an initial faith, especially Africans who had never been exposed to Christianity. The evangelization of African Americans helped reorient Methodism from the task of awakening Christians to that of converting non-Christians.Revivalism was transformed once again with the First Great Awakening, as George Whitefield traveled the American colonies in the 1740s. Whitefield saw his task as spreading the Methodist awakening in America, using its new hymnody and preaching style. Jonathan Edwards, then a pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts, recorded many keen observations of the revival, especially the many physical manifestations that so disrupted the traditionally orderly worship in Congregationalist churches as well as his own theological reflections on the nature of revivals in general, trying to place them in the context of his Calvinist faith.Once the United States became independent, and churches were disestablished, only a small minority of the public remained affiliated with a church. Religious activists needed to find effective methods to call people to faith and church membership. They were quickly found. Possibly the most fruitful method, at least on the American frontier, was the camp meeting, in which people from across a sparsely populated region could come for a week or more of preaching, singing, prayer, and a general time out from normal activities to consider religion. Camp meetings emerged at the beginning of the 19th century and were a major aspect of revivalism for the remainder for the century.Revivalism became the most important activity of Methodists and Baptists. When older denominations rejected revivalism, some of their members broke away and formed new denominations such as the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Disciples of Christ. Later in the 19th century, the drive to convert the nation was once more invigorated with the innovative and successfully evangelistic ministry of Charles G. Finney. Finney completed the theological transformation of revivalism from its origins in Calvinism, with believers praying for God to act, to a perspective derived from Arminianism, in which evangelists called on sinners to take the initiative and repent. Finney also is noteworthy for the introduction of a number of innovative techniques (the new measures). This new era of churching the frontier has often been called America's Second Great Awakening, though it lacked the cohesion as demonstrated in the first Awakening of the 1740s.Finney taught his students the techniques of conducting successful revival services. His Lectures on Revivals of Religions (1835) was long a standard handbook.Rural camp meetings continued in the post-Civil War era; they played an important role in building the Holiness movement. But a new form of evangelism appeared as well in the great urban crusades of Dwight L. Moody. Aided by a team of professionals, Moody would lead a series of meetings in different cities including preaching, prayer, and the latest in gospel music. Moody's emphases would be carried forward by evangelists such as John Wilbur Chapman (1859-1918), Rodney "Gipsy" Smith (1860-1947), and former baseball player Billy Sunday (1865-1935).While this new revivalism was primarily an American phenomenon, it was eventually introduced to the British Isles as well. Itinerant Methodist Lorenzo Dow introduced camp meetings there soon after they emerged in the United States; the Primitive Methodist Church took shape in that environment. Moody himself held some of his most memorable crusades in England and Scotland.In the 20th century, revivalism went into a slow but steady decline in the larger Protestant churches, surviving primarily in the American South and among Holiness churches. Revivalist energy was now channeled into Pentecostalism. Pentecostals adopted the camp meeting from the Holiness churches and became its last bastion. A number of independent evangelists kept Moody's techniques alive, if on a smaller scale. They ran tent revivals, touring the country to hold revivals at predetermined locations. Tent evangelism facilitated Holiness and Pentecostal growth through the mid-20th century. It was also exported to mission fields in Africa and South America.Tent evangelism declined drastically after World War II, killed off by competition from outdoor movie theaters and then by air-conditioning. The end of tent evangelism, once the backbone of the ministry of such preachers as Oral Roberts, hastened the development of religious broadcasting. Revivalism survived and found a new life in the large civic auditoriums that appeared across America. They became major staged entertainment events, as typified by the urban crusades of Billy Graham. The 21st century began with revivalism at a low ebb in most churches.Further reading:■ Jonathan Edwards, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (Boston: James Lor-ing, 1831)■ Charles G. Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion (New York/Boston: Leavitt Lord/Crocker & Brewster, 1835)■ W. G. McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (New York: Ronald Press, 1959)■ George L. Mariott, Religious Revivalism in America (New York: Greenhaven Press, 1978)■ William Warren Sweet, Revivalism in America (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1944)■ B. A. Weisberger, They Gathered at the River (Boston: Little, Brown, 1958)■ R. A. Torrey, How to Promote and Conduct a Successful Revival, With Suggestive Outlines (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1901).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.