A growing number of Christian leaders are suggesting that the megachurch boom equals the next national revival, or a Fourth Great Awakening in American history. You can hear this kind of analysis almost every week. I heard it in Dallas this week. Megachurches talk about it constantly, as if talking a lot about it will make it happen. And I read the same analysis in my local paper (The Daily Herald) on Monday, October 3, in an article titled: "Signs of Revival, or Premature Leap of Faith?"
For religious and social analysts the dispute about present revival movements comes down to whether or not the changing shape of evangelical Christianity in America will translate into another large-scaled awakening, much like the three national movements that took place in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries.
Some of the "signs" that are cited for revival include the following:
1. A new mega-church (more than 2,000 people in worship) is now born in America every two days.
2. Rick Warren’s best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, has sold more than twenty-five milion copies.
3. Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, had nearly 57,000 people for its worship service on opening day in August.
4. "The Passion of the Christ" was one of 2004’s greatest movie hits, with a staggering $370 milion in domestic sales.
5. The book series "Left Behind" has sold over 65 million copies. Interest in the coming of Christ is high.
6. The evangelical vote for George W. Bush was the major factor in his re-election in 2004.
7. Locally, the author of The Daily Herald article cited above adds that Willow Creek (20,000 weekly attendance), and Harvest Bible Chapel (8,000 weekly attendance), are having a large impact on the Chicago region.
This, and a number of similar points, convince church growth expert John Vaughan, of the Missouri-based Church Growth Today research center, that "We’re seeing seismic growth in certain parts of the country. It’s a great day for the country and for the kingdom of God."
If you believe that this kind of hubris and church growth rah-rah equals real evidence for revival then there is little I can say about real revival that will interest you. You should stop reading right here and chalk me up as just another pessimist. I am not "Bad News Barna" for sure, but I do not see how any insightful friend, or enemy, of Protestant revival can equate these indicators with a move of God’s Spirit that radically transforms both church and culture.
Interestingly, even John Vaughan admits that only three percent of all church goers attend a mega-church. The optimistic Vaughan is exceeded in this positive analysis by the even more optimistic Ted Haggard, pastor of a Colorado mega-church and president of the NAE. Says Haggard, "We are in a better position now than we’ve been in the last hundred years. We are on the move." What is so deeply troubling about Haggard’s comments, at least to me, is the tribalism and triumphalism inherent in his conclusion. It is the "we are on the move" statement that rightly scares non-evangelicals. Can you honestly imagine Jesus ever saying something like this? Here is how the scenario would go if we had a twenty-fifth chapter to Luke’s Gospel: "You know men, I have conquered death. We are small now but we are growing and very soon the promised Holy Spirit will come to enlarge our little group in a single day by adding three thousand converts. Then, you will know real revival in the days following. And then we will really be on the move!"
Robert Coleman, author of The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1963), still the finest book in our lifetime on how one-to-one discipleship connects with real evangelism, rightly notes that big numbers simply do not equal change in behavior. Coleman, who now teaches at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is very sanguine about these claims for spiritual renewal on a massive scale. He says, "With each gain the church has made, I’ve seen a strong counter-movement of evil. Relativism, lack of moral absolutes, these permeate our society now. I think we’re on the verge of something, but that could be judgment."
Coleman rightly adds that if we were seeing revival we should expect to see big declines in corporate scandals, the divorce rate, abortions, political corruption, and crime in general. The current data indicates no such change is going on at all.
Wheaton College historian Mark Noll got a lot closer to the truth when he commented that "There are islands of revival bit it’s not across the board." I have seen a few of these islands myself. I believe there might be one in the middle of Seattle. Time will tell. I also believe there are pockets of this on college campuses here and there. I am hopeful.
Noll further believes that a classic awakening would affect everybody, even non-Christians. He adds, "Past revivals saw one-third of the population convert to Christianity, one-third deepen the faith they had and one-third were offended by the whole thing."
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John, I really track with most of your posts, and this one’s no different. Except. You may have overstated the idea that we’re seeing no evidence whatsoever in moral/immoral behavior. I’ve been reading lately about 10 year declines in divorce, teen sexuality and abortion. Are these real? And if so, are they germane to what you’re saying?
I also know a post-millenial type in Dallas who has a big long list about the improvement in morality in the 20th century. I’ll post it later if I can find it.
Heh, when was the 3rd Great Awakening? I wasn’t aware that anyone had ever called anything a 3rd Great Awakening.
I agree 100 percent with what you wrote. I’ve seen my church go through this transformation and it scares me. While I don’t want to sound legalistic in the area of just traditions, the first thing to go in our church was the choir robes, then the organist left, then they took Baptist out of the name of the church and gave us a new name. One very senior individual and others who objected were asked to leave the church and they did. Now the messages are man centered instead of God centered. This has encouraged me to study my Bible even more in order to recognize heresy. Continue to speak out. Also the name of Jesus is hardly every mentioned. It’s as if they are ashamed of Jesus. I feel betrayed. I wonder how Jesus feels?
I’m not convinced that mega-churches should be included at all in “awakening” discussions. As Bubbles mentioned, they often fall into the man-centered, feel good approach to bringing in the masses. Evidence abounds for that.
A true awakening begins on a heart level, and a heart change requires boldly teaching God’s Word.
“OLD WELLS, FALLEN MANTLES and NEW FOUNTAINS”
[A vision given during Winter 2001]
~by Michael Edds.
I moved to U.S. city in June 2000 to assume the position as Head of School for an interdenominational Christian High School. The school was new but had severe problems. Prior to my arrival, a teacher had been arrested for a serious crime. Upon my arrival, the incident had become front-page news in the community. To say the least, I was shocked at the magnitude of the problem and the work that needed to be done. I became angry with God and questioned His direction.
Late one night I could not sleep. I was exhausted from the stress of the challenge before me and still angry with God. Around 2 am, I got up to sit on the couch and pout. In spite of my upset state, anger and disgust, the Presence of the Lord settled in the living room. God did not even pay attention to or address my complaint. Instead, His presence was so strong that I physically trembled. He spoke these words, “Old Wells, Fallen Mantles, and New Fountains.” He instructed me to get my Bible. By that time, I too had set aside my complaint. His Presence was so great that I did not know if I could survive it.
I opened my Bible to Isaiah 35: 3-7: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing, for IN THE WILDERNESS SHALL WATER BREAK OUT and streams in the desert. AND THE PARCHED GROUND SHALL BECOME A POOL and the thirsty land SPRINGS OF WATER.”
I was directed to verse 19 of [Isaiah 43]: “Behold I WILL DO A NEW THING. Now it shall SPRING [BURST] FORTH . Shall ye not know it?”
The Lord was moving so quickly through the scriptures that I could hardly keep up. His presence was incredibly strong. I felt like I was floating. Leaving Isaiah, the Lord took me to Joel 2:23: “He will cause to come down for you the rain, THE FORMER RAIN AND THE LATTER RAIN IN THE FIRST MONTH.” Then Joel 2:28 was given which states: “It shall come to pass afterwards that I WILL POUR OUT MY SPIRIT ON ALL FLESH. Your sons and daughters shall PROPHESY, YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS and your YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS.”
Finally, Genesis 26:18 finished the scriptures that the Lord was rapidly giving me: “AND ISAAC DUG AGAIN the WELLS of water which they had DUG IN THE DAYS OF ABRAHAM HIS FATHER.”
The Lord revealed the meaning of this vision:
The Early Church experienced the fullness of God. They had the fullness, the gifts and revelation of the Holy Spirit. They were full of boldness, power and anointing. God turned the world upside down through them. The dead were raised, the blind received sight, the possessed were set free, the sick healed and the Gospel was preached to the poor. The anger of Hell was violently aroused. The more the devil persecuted and killed them, the more they multiplied and spread. So Satan changed his tactics. By 300 AD Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. What Satan could not do through persecution, he accomplished through promotion, position, power, prestige, acceptance and prosperity. They SOLD OUT! The Church backslid and the all humanity fell into the brutality of the Dark Ages.
The purpose of each Great Awakening or the bursting forth of a spiritual well was to restore an element of truth that the Early Church possessed back to the church. Luther restored ‘the just shall live by faith’. Wesley, Whitefield, Edwards and the First Great Awakening restored repentance, inward holiness and “Christ in you.” The Second Great Awakening with Barton Stone at Cane Ridge in the West and Francis Asbury in the East brought restoration in society through evangelism, missions, and great social renewal such as abolition, child labor laws, and suffrage movement. The Third Great Awakening of 1857 restored the power of prayer. Azusa Street Outpouring of 1905 restored the infilling and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Lord stated that He was going to reopen all of the “old wells” of revival in order to restore TOTAL truth to His church.
Fallen mantles of ministry and anointing that rested upon the great men and women of God of old would be picked up and placed on godly men and women today to finish what was started long ago. They are the “Isaacs” that will revisit the old wells of revival and reopen them. The mantles of ministry did not die nor were they buried with Asbury, Wesley, Stone, Amanda Berry Smith and others. They have only been “on hold” until a generation would be born that could relate to them and pick them up. Isaiah 58:12 refers to them: “And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places, thou shall raise up the foundations of many generations, and thou shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.” The Lord said, “What once was shall be again.”
Malachi 4:5 prophecies that “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” He said this was not just a generational reconciliation between the old and the young. It is a restoration of His people to the Faith once delivered to the Saints, the Faith of our fathers. The Lord said He was tired of the apostasy, deadness, programs, personality cults, plans and politics that have nearly destroyed His church. He is going to restore HIS church by returning the “Faith of our Fathers to their children (descendants) and the children (descendants) to the Faith of our Fathers.” The old wells will BURST forth and the fallen mantles will be picked up. This will be a “suddenly”. Isaiah speaks of it occurring in the desert places and on the barren heights. In other words, it will happen in the most unlikely of places. The Lord continued His interpretation of the vision by explaining to me that “NEW FOUNTAINS” would gush or break forth also.
Something that has never occurred in any Great Awakening or in any historic move of God will exploded upon the scene in our day. Joel 2:23 speaks of God sending the former rain (the Old Wells of revival) and the latter rain (The New Fountains) in the SAME MONTH!!! In other words, all of the moves of God and fallen mantles from Pentecost until now will be reopened and picked up and combined with a totally new thing from God. It will literally shake the church and the world. HE WILL RESTORE A CHURCH WITHOUT SPOT OR WRINKLE! He will not allow the church to go out defeated. HE WILL ARISE FOR HIS OWN NAME’S SAKE!
God has been preparing a “Joseph Generation” that has been enrolled in the ” School of Dung.” In this schooling, they have endured the pain of rejection, slander and isolation. The ‘Word of the Lord’ has tried them severely. They cry out, “God why? All I wanted to do is serve you. All seems to have ‘gone to hell in a hand basket’. It seems just the opposite of what You promised. I am lonely, the organized church thinks I am crazy, a fanatic, out on a limb. They have rejected me and hated me because of my love for you. WHY, OH LORD?”
God has been preparing and perfecting these Josephs in the darkness and in the prison houses of loneliness and isolation for a day and hour that they will be unleashed as a secret weapon on the kingdom of darkness. He has allowed all of these things to happen to them for their good. He has prepared a people that He can trust with His power, gifts, and anointing. In holiness, humility and boldness they will fulfill His plans in our day. They will give HIM the glory. They will give HIM total control of the coming Great Awakening. The door of their prison house of utter loneliness and rejection is about to open. Their “word” is about to come. That word is “the King has need of thee.” In a moment, they will be ushered from prison to position. In a moment, they will fully understand their long and severe sufferings. In a moment, they will be brought out into the light of God’s divine destiny for them. God will use them to lead the Coming Great Awakening.
Along with this final Great Awakening is coming Divine Judgment. Isaiah 35:4 declares, “Your God shall come with vengeance, even God with a recompense.” God is going to overthrow the abuse and control of man in His church. He’s going to take back the ‘ship’ that has been turned into a luxury liner and restore her back to her original state: a ship of war. HE IS GOING TO TAKE BACK CONTROL OF HIS CHURCH!!! The Church is HIS bride, not someone else’s. Additionally, this nation is going to be greatly shaken.
The First Great Awakening preceded the American Revolution. Before the Second Great Awakening began at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, a massive epidemic of Cholera occurred. In its early days, the Third Great Awakening saw every bank in the nation collapse. This awakening was followed by the greatest disaster in American History when the nation was ripped apart and 600,000 Americans perished in the horrific War Between the States. A great earthquake hit California at the same time as the Azusa Street Outpouring. He is going to shake the Church and this nation. Only that which is of Him will be left standing.
A great hunger for repentance, seeking God, seeking holiness and seeking truth has exploded within the “Joseph Generation”. They have studied, researched and sought out the Old Wells of revival. They intensely hunger for God to do it again! They cry out, “Just one more time, oh Lord!” Programs, politics, personalities, manipulation, and plans in the church sicken them. THEY MUST HAVE GOD! They MUST be in His presence! They are meeting in the homes, in the fields, in the woods, in their prayer closets and any place that they can totally seek His face. Their despair has turned into an all-consuming hunger that says, “Give me God or let me die.” GOD HAS HEARD! He is about to reopen the old wells of revival, He is picking up the fallen mantles and placing them on men and women, and He is about to do a new thing!
Every Awakening has incurred the wrath and persecution of man. When the Presence and holiness of God confronts mankind, they must make a decision for or against Him. When they choose to reject Him, they lash out and fight against His messengers. In the mid-1700’s, the Baptist in Colonial Virginia were beaten, imprisoned, and killed for preaching the Gospel. The Methodist circuit riders were jailed, tarred and feathered, beaten, abused and martyred for the message of God. The reason there is little persecution against the Church in America today is that there is so little of the Presence and Message of God to confront mankind. The world has heard how to get rich, how to prosper, how to have self-esteem, and to feel good. They have not heard the message, “Repent or perish.” They have not heard the anointed Word of God that demands a decision. Be forewarned, The Final Great Awakening will usher in a wave of persecution against the true Church of God. Old Wells of Revival is on the threshold of being reopened. Fallen Mantles of ministry are being picked up. New Fountains are rumbling beneath the surface and about to burst forth. Frank Bartleman (chronicler of the Azusa Awakening) once said, “To understand what God is going to do, we must understand what He once did.” The most incredible move of God will suddenly explode upon the scene!!
Judgment and a great shaking are coming to the land and to the church. Persecution of the Isaacs and Josephs, the true saints of God will occur. However, they will be covered with such zeal and boldness, they will be like the Fathers of old: “And they loved not their lives even until death.” (Rev 12:11) God will harvest a holy remnant from this generation. He will have a church that is without spot or wrinkle, a pure bride for His Son. Be encouraged. Lift up your heads. Your God has come! “The King has need of thee!”
About a possible “Fourth Great · “The Fourth Great Awakening or Apostasy?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2001Awakening” see: