This past week I had a private dinner with a prominent African bishop who was involved in a mighty national awakening in Uganda. This dinner, and the fact that last week was the National Day of Prayer in my nation, the United States, made me think of the subject of revival, awakening and how it could happen again in my nation.
Along these lines I have spoken to many who believe that global economic and political conditions will continue to deteriorate; because of this, many are receiving a great burden to pray for a global awakening.
As I have spent much time reading the accounts of the First, Second and Third Great Awakenings in the United States, the 20th century Azusa Street Revival, and renewal outbreaks such as the Latter Rain Movement of the late 1940's, Charismatic Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and some smaller renewal movements emanating out of local congregations (Toronto Airport, Pensacola), I have come to conclusions regarding some of the greatest cultural, societal hindrances to seeing a major outbreak of awakening (as opposed to a localized congregational awakening) akin to what the United States experienced through Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards, Finney and the like.
Furthermore, there have been mighty revivals and awakenings in various parts of the Global South (Africa, China, Indonesia, and Latin America) that have trumped any of the aforementioned movements. Because of this, I have asked myself many times: Why hasn't anything like this happened recently in North America or Western Europe? Truly, culture trumps the anointing and can even nullify the word of God (read Mark 7:13).
That is to say, there are presently major cultural hindrances and challenges to seeing the same kind of awakening the United States experienced in the 18th and 19th centuries. We either have to find solutions to overcome these cultural challenges or we have to ask God for another way to penetrate the culture in a more subtle fashion. Either way, we cannot just continue on the same path, expecting a national awakening without addressing some of these pressing issues:
The following are some of my thoughts regarding challenges to national awakening:
1. The fragmentation of face-to-face contact due to social media. People are simply not engaging in much face-to-face contact anymore. They are connecting via text, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of online social networking. This is hindering the ability of the gospel to effectively gain the attention and focus of young people (and older people as well) because our thought processes are inundated with trivial and often destructive social interaction, as well as Internet pornography, video gaming and other things that sap spiritual life and energy from a generation of people!
Consequently, kids are not as socially skilled as previous generations and are not as inclined to spend time studying, reading books, hearing sermons, and thinking of things deep and enduring. (Of course, there are many exceptions to this among our young people.)
2. The independent rather than communal mindset of American culture. As I hear stories about the revivals in South Korea, China, Africa, Columbia, and the like, I can't help but think these nations have less cultural challenges than we do here in the USA. These cultures have a more communal mindset, in which they would tend to conform to the norms placed before them by a strong leader and/or a group of people, as opposed to the mindset of rugged individualism in America, which has been accentuated and made worse by the advance of technology.
Thus, it is harder to get the typical American to hold to the structure of attending a small group, getting up to pray at 5am every day, attending church services five nights a week, following a set of goals for evangelism, etc. This is why church growth and evangelism strategies, like G12, have not worked in America. (Not even the founder of G12 has experienced massive church growth and success launching a local church in Miami as he did in Bogotá, Columbia!)
We in America have to find strategies that work in the context of our own culture, not just imitate strategies that are effective in communal cultures and contexts.
3. The lack of geographic cohesion in modern cities. The days of Finney, Wesley, Edwards, and Whitefield preceded the Industrial Revolution, when men and women left their rural farm communities to secure jobs in cities. Thus, in those days, the average person never travelled far from home, had the same 15 friends from the cradle to the grave, lived with or in proximity to their family, and had nothing to do at night but get together with the rest of their community for socials like dancing, card playing, etc.
Thus, when an evangelist like Finney held a revival meeting the whole community came out every night for weeks. Both the Holy Spirit and the evangelist had the undivided attention of a whole community, resulting in mass revival which eventually spread to the whole region.
Nowadays people do not associate their lives with their communities or even their block. Thus we are not connected to the lives of our neighbors but have divergent interests. This means that we could live on the same block as another person for decades in a city like New York yet never know their name!
In this kind of social disconnect a church could have a meeting across the street from their neighbors yet have a very difficult time getting everyone on their block to attend the meeting. The effect of the gospel is diluted.
Also, churches are not often community-centric but often have attendees who travel from different communities in their region. This fragmentation results in a lack of cohesion and is a huge challenge to community-wide revivals and awakenings.
For several years during the beginning of my evangelistic ministry in 1980 we were able to break down these barriers in my community because we would close off whole blocks and show gospel movies like "The Cross and the Switchblade." The result was a Finney-like revival; we would see many people living on the same city block come to Christ! It was like something out of a history book: we would show the movie, I would preach an evangelistic message for 15 minutes, have an altar call for salvation, and 50-70 people who lived on the same block would make a decision for Christ! We saw great revival and recommended people to many different churches because our mother church was far away. Of course, this was before the advent of home videos, computers, the internet, etc. Thus, it would be much more difficult in today's world to get everyone on a city block to be interested in seeing a movie—especially low-budget Christian films with B actors!!
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