Friday, 28 June 2013

Are We in Revival? – Wales 2013


Ever since the Cwmbran Outpouring [1] started people have been speculating whether this is revival; whether this is “it”, the one we have been waiting for. It has prompted much discussion as to what revival really is, and it is clear people have different understandings of the word. Only yesterday Melanie Fields preaching at Victory Church felt she had to point out that the word “revival” is not in the Bible, which of course is true. To me one of the most wonderful things about a work of God is that our words are inadequate to describe it, pigeonhole it, or even easily compare it to things he has done in the past. Our God always surprises, amazes and leaves us in awe as to who he is. Perish the day we think we can understand what he does! So it is not surprising there is a big discussion about what revival is, and whether we are in “it”.

As for me I have preferred not to use the word about the current Cwmbran Outpouring, because my experience there has been dominated by Jesus, his presence and his glory. Trying to give it a label adds nothing to that experience; it is more than sufficient to taste heaven on earth. However my Church Growth Modelling project does use the word revival heavily, largely because of the way it has been used in the past 300 years, so I feel some sense of duty to unpack the word in terms of what is happening now in Wales, and of the events that have led up to this.

God does not just pour out of his Spirit for our enjoyment; they are primarily given for his glory. And his glory does not last a moment; it is being worked out over days, months, years and even centuries. I have no doubt the Cwmbran Outpouring is a phase of something else God is taking us to, and when we look back and get some glimpse of his purposes for his church, and his world, it then becomes helpful to have labels, like the word “revival”. The proviso is that we must not let those labels get in the way of what he wants to do in our lives, or use them to try and bring him down to our size.

Some Definitions

In my church growth modelling I have used the three terms, renewal, revival and awakening. However the key expression in the Bible is “outpouring of the Holy Spirit” which is an act of God where he brings powerful life into people. It is used about Pentecost: And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17). It is also used of later incidents such as with a group of Gentiles: And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also (Acts 10:45). It is clear this is something that God does to individual people, either directly, or mediated by other people such as by speaking, hand contact or baptism [2].

The definitions I use are:

Renewal. This is where God pours out his Spirit on people in the church, on believers. They become alive to spiritual things, experience the presence of God, set on fire, and as such church becomes more alive to God. Generally this work stays in the church and does not immediately get channelled into mission and conversion, though it may bring about church reformation. The specific example in mind was the early days of charismatic renewal, 1960s, 1970s. There must also have been an element of renewal in the Protestant Reformation. Renewal is a “spiritual infection” inside the church. Of course some of the church people, the believers, may well have been converted in the process of being renewed. In my models “believers” are people who belong to church, I make no attempt to identify their true spiritual state – too unmeasurable!

Revival. This goes further than renewal, as God pours out his Spirit on people in the church and makes them witnesses. Now they pass the “spiritual infection” on to those outside the church and conversions take place. God’s presence breaks out from the confines of the church. These Christians “infected by revival” are called enthusiasts in my models. The 1904-5 Welsh Revival is a classic example where the enthusiasts quickly contacted people outside the church, and the number of conversions mushroomed as many of the new converts became such enthusiasts themselves. However from 1903 through most of 1904 there was a renewal phase where the work was largely confined in the church.

Awakening. Following J Edwin Orr [3] this is where God does a work in the people outside the church, the unbelievers and makes them open to spiritual things, that is they are open to the witness of the enthusiasts, though some may well get converted without any human agency. A great example of this is in the Isle of Lewis revival 1949-53. Here the churches frequently found that after church meetings were over many of the community had been drawn to the outside of the church, under conviction of sin, without anyone having said anything to them, let alone shared the gospel with them [4].  In an awakening the presence of God is right in the community, blurring the distinction between what is “in church” and outside it. The “revival infection” knows no boundaries.

Now people may use some of these words differently, and some of their meanings may overlap. However I will not get bogged down with that. What God does is bigger than the word. Indeed “revival” is often used as a generic name for all the ideas mentioned above. In particular the word revival is especially appropriate when the impact is so big that it makes the work a sign as to how great God is. Melanie Fields made this point yesterday in the Cwmbran Outpouring, and this view was extensively taught by the late Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones [5]. So I will use the word “revival” as a summary of all three definitions when they act as a signposts to God’s majesty and power.

The Last 50 Years

So what has God been doing for the last 50 years or so? Was the Welsh revival of 1904-5 the last outpouring to hit this land or is there continuing evidence of his revival work? Have there been signs of God’s power to bring life to his church and convert people since then? What I will attempt to do is argue that Christianity in the UK and the USA has been in various phases of revival since 1960.

The significance of 1960 is that it is the date when an American Episcopal minister, Dennis Bennett was baptised with the Holy Spirit [6]. What was unusual was that this was a phenomenon associated only with the Pentecostal church that had crossed over into a mainstream Christian denomination. He almost certainly was not the first such person to be affected, but he became the most significant because of the attention it drew to this charismatic work among non-Pentecostals. This is a useful starting date for what became know the Charismatic Renewal which has moved through Christianity from the 1960s to this day. Remember one way of looking at a revival is a sign of God’s glory, and this movement has certainly been a sign to many of who God is and what he can do.

The movement spread through all denominations of Christianity, with Anglicans such as David Harper, Michael Green and David Watson being at the forefront in the UK. There were charismatic gifts and healings in the established church! In parallel many new churches started, notably the Restoration churches with people like Bryn Jones, Gerald Coates and Terry Virgo. They often met in houses at that point but were having a growing impact on the church.  A number of these early charismatic pioneers had been influenced by the reformed preacher Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who had preserved the older teachings on the work of the Spirit that had otherwise dropped out of fashion in the 20th century. As such the charismatic renewal had a strong element of reviving the things had been better know in the “days of the revivals” of the 18th and 19th centuries [7].

The work spread slowly through the 1970s, though the impact of the Jesus People in the USA drew massive attention to this move of God, even getting on the cover of Time magazine [8]. But in the 1980s the renewal became far more visible, new churches were springing up every week, annual teaching festivals were taking place, and the worship culture of the churches was changing with new songs appearing faster than they could be learned [9]. Even though older leaders were passing newer ones, such as John Wimber, were replacing them. His Vineyard Movement brought many traditional evangelicals into the charismatic work of the Holy Spirit [10].

Each time the work slowed, another move took place. Revival tends to come in peaks and troughs. God does not get tired, but we do! Then in 1994 the Toronto Blessing occurred, and the whole debate about “was this revival” opened up. But God had been renewing the church and using it to make converts since 1960. By my definitions above it had been in revival for over 30 years! There was no shortage of places to go and get revived! If the events that came from Toronto were of God then it was a peak in an ongoing work, not something new [10,11].

A quick pause for breath. The accusation could be made it this point the church cannot be in revival because it has declined steadily since the war years. It is true church as a whole was (and still is) declining in the UK, but not the parts that were being renewed. They grew, some transfer growth, some conversions. The aggregate figures for church are a poor measure of a work of God, and revival rarely ever affects the whole church.

Back to 1994, and one of the churches affected by the Toronto Blessing was Holy Trinity Brompton, an Anglican church in London. From that point on their Alpha Course started its phenomenal growth. Exported to churches of many denominations this is arguably the most effective evangelistic enterprise the church has ever seen in the West. To date over 3.3 million people have been through this course in the UK, and many conversions have taken place, as well as people brought into charismatic experience [12]. Yet again this fits the definition of revival.

Many other events have occurred since in Pensacola, Smithton, and most recently Mobile Alabama. But even more significant has been the way that charismatic renewal has fed back into the Pentecostal church it started from, making them in the USA and the UK some of the strongest and liveliest parts of the Christian church, and I suspect where much of its near future will lie.

I must admit from about 2007 onwards I had thought charismatic renewal was really running out this time, but far from it. As the events at Cwmbran are showing, yet another peak in a mighty 50-year work of God is occurring. It is the gathering of much that God has done over those years, intensified to a degree I think most have us have not experienced before, and it will clearly be a catalyst for what God will do next. In a few years time we may look back and see that Wales in 2013 was not a peak but merely the start of a much bigger awakening that God is bringing.

Impact of Past Revivals

I did not really need to start at 1960; I could go back further. How did Pentecostalism itself come about? It was the culmination of many renewal and revival movements of the 19th century, with the final spark being lit by the 1904-5 Welsh revival [13]. The same Welsh Revival sent missionaries all around the world and set off revivals in Korea, India and East Africa to name a few places. In Korea I was once thanked by someone for “bringing Christianity to his country”, just because he knew I was Welsh! And I have had similar experiences in the rural churches of Uganda. It is humbling to see how God spreads his fire throughout the world.

So when people ask me “why did the 1904-5 Welsh Revival end”, I say it just changed its phase. In reality it brought 100 years of worldwide Holy Spirit revival, renewal, awakening and massive revival growth. God knows what He is doing! There are no mistakes, no accidents, the different phases of what we call revival are just God unfolding an amazing plan of fulfilling the great commission through his church. I am so thankful he gave this sign in 1904 that has given us such hope for the greater revivals to come.

Wales 2013

 So when I am kneeling on the floor of a converted warehouse in the valley of crows[14], oblivious to all bar the presence of Jesus, I know I am part of a plan of God sweeping throughout history, a plan that is extending the Kingdom of Jesus until it “stretches from shore to shore”. If the word “revival” is a useful word for those times when God draws significant attention to this work, such as we are clearly experiencing at present, then I am happy to run with that. Revival is not just a repetition of Pentecost, but also a pointer, a sign, to what it will be like when Jesus reigns throughout the earth and will finally return in glory. This is the Christian hope, that the worldwide success of the gospel will be realised by such repeated outpourings of the Spirit [15]. When we look at what God has done in history, what he is doing now especially in this corner of South Wales, and what he is about to do, it is utterly awesome and breathtaking in scope. “How great is our God, sing with me, how great is our God!”

References and Notes

[1] See Victory Church http://www.victorychurch.co.uk/.
     My previous blogs

[2] James Dunn, makes the case that “the Spirit poured out”, “baptised with the Spirit”, “received the Spirit”, “filled with the Spirit”, “Spirit comes upon”, “Spirit is given”, “Spirit falls upon” are synonymous in the Acts of the Apostles. Luke uses different names for the same thing. The greater the intensity the more terms Luke throws at it. Thus Paul’s and Peter’s preaching have just one, the incident in Ephesus has two, Samaria uses three, Cornelius and his Gentile friends are described with five, and all seven are used of the day of Pentecost! Revival has many names. But in all the incidents the Spirit is mediated differently; Pentecost is direct from God, but in most He is mediated through people. JDG Dunn, (1970), Baptism with the Holy Spirit, SCM.

[3] J Edwin Orr, (2000), The Outpouring of the Spirit in Revival and Awakening and its Issue in Church Growth, British Church Growth Association, reproduced by Church growth Modelling, with permission.

[4] A Woolsey, (1974), Duncan Campbell, Hodder and Stoughton.

[5] DM Lloyd-Jones, (1986), Revival, Kingsway Publications.

[6] Dennis Bennett, (1974) Nine O’clock in the Morning, Kingsway Publications. 

[7] P Hocken (1997), Streams of Renewal, Paternoster. T Saunders and H Sansom, (1992), David Watson: A Biography, Hodder and Stoughton. T Virgo, (2001), No Well-Worn Paths, Kingsway Publications.

[8] RM Enroth, EE Ericson and CB Peters, (1972) The Jesus People, Eerdmans. See also
http://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/the-jesus-movement-turns-40/ for a picture of the cover of Time magazine from 1971. The “official” period assigned to the Jesus people is 1967-1979.

[9] A Walker, (1989), Restoring the Kingdom, Hodder and Stoughton.

[10] B Jackson, (1999), The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard, Vineyard International Publishing.

[11] M Poloma, (2003), Main Street Mystics; The Toronto Blessing and Reviving Pentecostalism, Altamira Press.

[12] Figures on the Alpha Course: http://run.alpha.org/facts%20and%20figures. In other parts of the world the Jesus Film has had a massive impact, especially in church planting. I would guess the people reached is larger worldwide than the Alpha Course, but I am not sure how that could be measured.

[13] For some evangelical Christians in the USA the 1904-5 Welsh Revival was seen as the revival to usher in the end times and Christ’s return. Some church leaders from Los Angeles visited Wales in order to take the fire back, and leaflets from the Welsh Revival were distributed in various parts of the USA. Also of significance was the correspondence between Frank Bartlemann who became an early Pentecostal pioneer and Evan Roberts. F Bartlemann, (1980) [1925], Azusa Street, Logos. V Synan, (1997), The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, Eerdmans.


[14] “Cwmbran” is Welsh for "Valley of the Crows". Victory Church meets in a converted warehouse.  
[15] IH Murray, (1971), The Puritan Hope, Banner of Truth, p.99.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Spread of Humanism


This week the Girl Guide movement in the UK decided to drop reference to God from their promise [1]; it is now sufficient for a guide to promise to “be true to myself and develop my beliefs”. The change was welcomed as a “progressive step” by the British Humanist Association, who have been long campaigning for this change, and were involved in the consultation process with the Girl Guides that led to this change [2]. This led me to wonder about the extent of the spread of humanism in the UK and whether it could be measured. I have modelled the growth and decline of churches, Islam, political parties, minority languages and rioting, among others, but could the spread of humanism be modelled?

What is Humanism?

Let’s start with a definition. The name humanism is applied to a number of movements in history notably during the Renaissance, but I wish to confine myself to the version that affects us now, so I will limit my definition to that of the British Humanist Association (BHA). In summary a humanist is someone [3]:

1.     Trust the scientific method and rejects supernatural explanations;
2.     Makes ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and concern for human beings;
3.     Believes in the absence of an afterlife, that the universe has no discernable purpose, thus human beings give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness and helping others to do the same;

In addition the BHA say that a humanist looks to science instead of religion as the best way to understand the world.

Two things jump out: Humanism has an exalted view of science, and deems religion unnecessary. Indeed it is clear from the BHA’s campaigns against faith schools and bishops in House of Lords that humanism is opposed to religion. From the atheist bus campaign run by the BHA, a clear impression is given that humanists do not believe in God [4].

At its heart humanism is man-centred rather than God-centred. That comes out clearly in the revised Girl Guide promise, with “true” being defined by “self” and “my beliefs”, rather than reference to God. “Being true” is something the person can define rather than it being defined for them.

Is Humanism a “Religion”?

I ask this question as most of my modelling is in the context of churches and religion. So in order to understand how humanism is spreading it would help to see the similarities and contrasts with religion.

Humanism is a belief system; as such it does have some of the traits of a religion:
·      There is a set of beliefs that define orthodoxy. More fluid than those that define say evangelical Christianity, but sufficient to set boundaries so a person can know whether they are a humanist or not.
·      There are humanist ceremonies and celebrants for weddings, funerals and naming of children.
·      There is a missionary zeal to see others become humanists, as displayed on the BHA website. Dean Kelley sees missionary zeal as a trait of a strong religion [5].
·      There is an enemy to oppose – in this case religion, but also pseudoscience, anything that does not exclusively use the scientific method.
·      There are local groups for mutual encouragement. But these function more like local political party branches rather than a “congregation”. However note there is now an “atheist” gathering a bit like a church [6].
·      There is an external authority. Not a book like the Bible but science and its methods [7].
·      There is a certainty that the humanist view is correct and that they have the truth, as opposed to the poor misguided people who follow religion. This absolutism is similar to the trait of a strict religion [5].
·      There are campaigns of a moral nature. The BHA has campaigned vigorously for assisted dying and same-sex/equal marriage.
·      There are testimonies. The ones on the BHA website are mainly famous people and a significant number of intellectuals and scientists.
·      There are charismatic leaders to follow, such as Richard Dawkins and some of the others in the BHA. Unlike Dean Kelley’s trait of a strong religion [5] there is no requirement to follow these leaders un-questioningly. But among the humanists I know, there is an element of hero-worship, champions of the cause.

Clearly there some big differences between humanism and religion as well, most notably that of participation and organisation. It is this that will make it hard to model its spread

Measuring the Spread of Humanism

The spread of Christianity is relatively easy to quantify by measuring the number who participate. The two standard measures are membership, and if possible attendance at worship. Of course it is a feature of Christianity that regular attendance at worship is part of the defining characteristic of a Christian, more so than any other religion. Thus there is relatively good data for its growth in many countries, and its decline in Europe in the last 100 years can be easily measured.

This does not translate well to humanism, because apart from a few exceptions [6] there is no need to gather for anything similar to worship. Participation is limited to pressure groups like the BHA. They claim their membership has grown over the last few decades, but at a current value of over 28,000 members they are merely 10% of the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK, a fairly marginal religious group. The BHA is dwarfed by the participation in Christianity; indeed the recent Cwmbran Outpouring has had a larger attendance in 2 months than the BHA can boast in its entire membership [8]. Clearly the strength of humanism does not lie in its membership numbers, so alternatives need to be found.

Two possible sources of data are in weddings and funerals, both of which can now be taken by humanists, who provide celebrants. In a report in 2011 the Cooperative Society identified 12% of their funerals as humanist with no religious component, compared with 67% religious [9]. Also of significance was that 21% of funerals emphasised the celebration of the life of the person, very much a  humanist concept, as a funeral is really about what happens next! Looking forward rather than backward.

For weddings there are some telling statistics from Scotland. Here it is the person who licensed to marry, not the building. Humanists obtained this right in 2006 and conducted 434 weddings that year [10]. Since then the figures have risen 710 (2007), 1026 (2008), 1544 (2009), 2092 (2010) and 2486 (2011). Compare the 2011 figure with 5557 for the Church of Scotland and 1729 for the Catholic Church and humanists have the second largest “religious” weddings in Scotland. Civil weddings are still much larger, 15092, but humanism has made significant inroads into the marriage market in Scotland.

However the strength of humanism lies in its influence at high levels. The first 3 centuries of Christianity were very much a bottom-up movement, people on the ground associating and spreading their beliefs despite opposition from the state authorities and the majority of the population. It was only later that Christianity became top-down, with the state dictating to people what they should believe. Even when Christianity was established, revival movements were largely bottom-up. Leaders like Evan Roberts and Howell Harris were lay people, and ministers like John Wesley, David Morgan, Duncan Campbell and John Arnott, were very much on the margins of their church denominations.   

However humanism is very much top-down, influencing state and media to adopt its beliefs, something it has only been able to do because Christianity has become so weak. Thus it doesn’t require any mass participation. This lack of a bottom-up movement is particularly seen in the recent move for same-sex marriage in the UK, one of the central campaigns of the BHA.  Writer Brendan O’Neill, in his contribution to the House of Commons committee on the proposed legislation, remarked that same-sex marriage was an issue that “came out of thin air, and it is largely being pursued for the benefit of individual politicians and campaigners”, and that it “animates only people within the political and media classes”. He noted that it had no roots in social activism, and there had been no public protests demanding it, unlike previous gay rights issues.

I think this typifies the way humanism spreads from the top, changing institutions whose existence came about through a Christian worldview that has largely faded. If the church had been stronger, and had retained its participation levels of the 19th century, then humanism would have remained a marginal belief system for mainly intellectual people. Instead there is a “belief vacuum” in the UK with the vestiges of religion remaining. Thus humanism can exert an influence out of all proportion to its number of committed believers. This will make it very hard to model its spread, but when time permits I will give it a try.

Humanism in the Church

Perhaps even harder to model is the spread of humanist ideas within the church itself. Faced with falling numbers and decreasing influence in society, churches are very conscious of the need to be connected to society and to be relevant. Indeed seeker sensitive churches are a deliberate church growth strategy. “Look at us in church, we are just like you outside – come and join us!” The danger lies in confusing relevance with popularity. The need to be popular and liked is a basic human need and can easily drive churches to adopt aspects of the surrounding culture that diminishes its own beliefs. 

There is no space to develop these ideas for now, let alone work out how such changes within church could be measured and modelled. Sufficient to say that the biggest danger facing the church is not the spread of humanism outside, but the spread of humanism within it. As church strives harder and harder to be relevant to a humanistic society it risks becoming little more than “humanism with candles”.

References



[2] British Humanist Association.  

[3] British Humanist Association.   http://humanism.org.uk/humanism/

[4] The slogan in the buses was: “There’s probably no God”.  http://humanism.org.uk/about/atheist-bus-campaign/ . The word “probably” was inserted for legal reasons, and for scientific clarity as they admit no-one can be certain there is no God using a scientific method. “Probably” was interpreted as “almost certainly”.

[5] Dean Kelley, Why Conservative Churches are Growing, Rose edition, p 84 chart D, Mercer, 1986.

[6] The Sunday Assembly http://sundayassembly.com/

[7] As someone who has been a scientist for over 35 years I find the exaltation of science to be a sole authority in the search for truth a bit too optimistic and a type of fundamentalism. The issue is about increasing confidence in the truth of something. The different branches of science can play their part in that process, but it is only a part. Gaining confidence is an incredibly complicated process as it involves weighing different types of evidence, some quantitative, some qualitative and then trying to use it to convince many people. Science alone just does not have that power as the debates on climate change and genetically modified crops show. Managers of companies, politicians and policy makers cannot make decisions using science and rationality alone. Rationality is bounded, a fact which is central to the system dynamics modelling methodology (see: John Sterman, Business Dynamics, chapter 15, McGraw Hill, 2000; John Morecroft, Strategic Modelling and Business Dynamics, pp. 209-212, Wiley, 2008.)

[8] An estimated 40,000 have attended the Cwmbran Outporing since the middle of April 2013. Data given to me on my visit 20/6/13.

[9] The Ways We Say Goodbye: A study of 21st century funeral customs in the UK. Report of the Cooperative Funeral Care, 2011.

[10]  Scotland’s Population 2011, SG/2012/113, General Register Office for Scotland,      published  2 August 2012.

[11] Brendan O’Neill’s response to the House of Commons committee stage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2012-13 is reproduced on his own blog:

Sunday, 16 June 2013

When the Presence of God Persists …


Models and Reality

People sometimes ask me how I can model church growth, using mathematics, given that it is God who grows the church. I can answer that in two ways. Firstly we construct mathematical models of many things in the world, e.g. in  physics or economics. All are open to a quantitative understanding, nevertheless are all are under God’s control and made by Him. We can model the motion of the planets, but it is God who is moving them. He is just doing it in a way we can understand – sometimes. Church growth is no different, except we understand even less!

However, and more importantly, a model is only an attempt to understand reality. It makes assumptions that make reality easier to understand. But the model is not the reality. The two are very different. We construct the model, but God constructs and controls the reality!

Cwmbran Outpouring

I must admit this was not the blog I intended to write. However the events of the Cwmbran Outpouring are daily turning my thinking on its head. As soon as I have one idea, another replaces it. Reality has overtaken the model!

After my latest visit to Victory church something really profound struck me. Not only is there a powerful presence of God at the meetings, it is even more powerful in the days following. The presence of Jesus persists. It is almost impossible to do anything without thinking about Him, praying and worshipping. As if one want to do anything without Him anyway! His “presence” persists and persists. This is the hallmark of an authentic move of God and, as I will try and explain, the hallmark of revival.

To explain how the persistence of God’s presence is connected to revival and church growth I am going to use a model. So this blog is not about my experiences at Victory Church this time, but it comes out of my experience. There are now many accounts of the outpouring on the Internet so if you are unfamiliar with this outpouring please chase up the links [1].

So what I wish to show is than when the presence of God persists church growth is rapid and reaches high levels.

Church Growth

To the model. The central hypothesis is that growth in the church is driven by enthusiasts. These are the Christians who pass the faith on to unbelievers who then get converted. Enthusiasts are contagious Christians who spread faith in Christ a bit like a disease is spread. Some, but not all, of the new converts become contagious themselves, not just Christians but enthusiasts. This is the limited enthusiasm model of church growth [2]. The more enthusiasts, the more converts, thus the more enthusiasts – the feedback loop of growth:
The R is for reinforcing as it accelerates growth.

Enthusiasts do not stay enthusiasts, not so much because they lose their love for the Lord, but because they exhaust their network of unbelievers, or even lose them as friends as they participate more in the church:
The B is for balancing as it opposes growth. The key to church growth is for enthusiasts to reproduce themselves faster than they are lost.

Revival

There are many definitions of revival. At its heart revival is when the presence of God is revealed in the souls of people. The word is usually used when many people are so baptised in the Spirit at the same time [3]. It is also used when a whole community is saturated with God [4]. However there is always an individual experience of God, a touch from the King that changes everything [5]. Indeed if we are being revived, then it is revival [6]. When the presence of God is manifest in the soul of a person such that their life is transformed, their spiritual life renewed, then there is revival. So don’t ask, “is it revival?” But ask yourself, “am I being revived?”

Revival Growth

The Biblical name for revival is an “Outpouring of the Spirit”. The revival historian J. Edwin Orr, made the case that when man cooperates with such outpourings, rapid church growth follows [7]. This is “revival growth”. Revival is the spiritual work of God in man, the manifestation of His presence in the soul; church growth is the result.

Now I must be clear here, we do not seek the presence of God to obtain church growth, we seek Him because of who He is. The church growth is the result, a wonderful result all the same. It is a double blessing: we enjoy Jesus at a personal level, and we see people saved as the church grows.

You can have church growth without revival. Principles can be applied that enhance growth, just like any organisation. This is OK as far as it goes, but when you have principles without the presence, you have a kingdom without a King [8].

You can have revival without church growth. But God revives his people not just to bless them, but also to save the world. So the intention is that church growth results from revival.

Revival growth is remarkably rapid as enthusiasts reproduce themselves far more effectively than in “normal” times. They also make enthusiasts out of existing believers, even old-timers, and they are very effective in conversion, all the work of the Holy Spirit of course, in believer and unbeliever alike. What I want to show is that the more the presence of God persists in the believer, and His church, the more the church grows.

Presence of God and Church Growth

When the presence comes upon us it manifests itself in our spiritual lives. Not only is our experience of Him heightened, but we pray more, read the Bible and practice it more, we witness more, we talk about Him more. Our whole life is affected and we can’t get enough of the things of God. Anyone who has been at the Cwmbran Outpouring can testify to this.

But this affects the spiritual life of a church. Its spiritual temperature goes up. In this there is another feedback loop: the more enthusiasts, the more who gather, pray and seek God’s presence, the more his presence [9] the more spiritual life in the people, the more life, the more passion for the lost and thus the more effective they are in conversion giving even more enthusiasts. The church and its people get spiritually hotter and hotter. Pray -> presence -> life -> passion.  At the end of the day, Passion for the lost is the only key to church growth [10]. When the presence of God persists ….. the passion for the lost persists and sees conversions.

This feedback loop is also reinforcing and looks like:
The effectiveness of this additional feedback loop depends on how much the spiritual life persists in the enthusiasts, and that depends on how much His wonderful presence persists in us. It is this persistence of Gods presence that I have noticed about Cwmbran, it persists long after the day of the meeting has gone. And when the presence of God persists …. ?

A research student of mine built this new feedback loop into the limited enthusiasm church growth model, and the results are remarkable [11]. The limit to the church’s growth depends on a number of factors but one is how long the spiritual life in a believer persists at a high level. The longer the life persists the more the growth. When the presence of God persists …..   church growth is dramatic.  

To some computer simulations of the model. The first graph is of a church in revival growth where the spiritual life in enthusiasts fades quickly. The church grows from 10% to 15% of the community over 3 years, growth ceasing when the church’s life has gone:





Let the spiritual life persist in each enthusiast a little longer and fade moderately, there is little difference. Growth stops at 17% of the community:



Let the spiritual life persist a little longer again, so it now fades slowly. The change is dramatic with the church going from 10% to 75% of the community in the same time period:



The bulk of the community has been converted and the average spiritual life in the enthusiasts has shot through the roof about 18 months in. When the presence of God persists there is rapid growth and a church that is absolutely on fire. A dramatic tipping point [12] has occurred!


A Few Things May Puzzle You

Why does the spiritual life always disappear? Answer: Because over longer time periods we would need births and migration (left out of the model). In practice there is always some level of spiritual life, and in rapid revivals the peaks in that life end up coming in bursts. Remember activity has not ceased, just the work of God in the soul that drives people into mission. People may be doing many things, they may even feel spiritual, but it is not channelled into conversion, a passion for the lost [10] and making new enthusiasts.

Why should the presence of God fade in us? Answer: That is the human condition. We may spend time seeking the presence of God, have a wonderful experience and think “that is it”, and move on! Instead we should go on seeking His presence: One thing I ask, this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon his beauty, Psalm 27. So do not criticise people who keep going back to centres of outpourings, like that at Cwmbran at present, this is essential for spiritual health.

70% of the community in church seems massive. Answer: The trouble here is the scope of the word “community”. For many churches their community is much less than the size of their own town or neighbourhood. It is God’s responsibility to pour out of His Spirit. It is our responsible to make sure we contact as many people as possible so they may also share in what He is doing – i.e. expand our community of influence.

Conclusion

When the presence of God persists …. we have revival, enthusiasts, conversions and church growth.  The presence of God persists in us when He, in his mercy, shows his favour towards us. Dare we believe that he is showing his favour to Wales again? It is so easy to be cynical and say “no its not revival, just another set of meetings and hype”. And believe me the there are number of “Jonahs” saying this on the Internet. But ask yourself, what do you want? Do you want His presence? Do you want it to persist? Do you want a deep spiritual life in Christ? Do you want a church on fire? Do you want to see people saved – conversions? Then get to an outpouring meeting, whether Cwmbran, or elsewhere, and let Him make you the enthusiast that He needs for His revival.

P.S. A bit of a more technical post than usual. If there are things you did not follow, post up your questions and I will answer the best I can.

[1] See Victory Church http://www.victorychurch.co.uk/.
     My previous blogs

[2] See the publications page of church growth modelling http://www.churchmodel.org.uk

[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones , Joy Unspeakable, chapter 3, “I would define a revival as a large number, a group of people, being baptised by the Holy Spirit at the same time”. Kingsway Publications.

[4] “A community saturated by God” was Duncan Campbell’s favourite description of revival. Quoted from Brian Edwards, Revival, chapter 1, Evangelical Press.

[5] The song “Just One Touch from the King” by Godfrey Birtill has been the anthem of the Cwmbran Outpouring.

[6] Tweet by David Pike (@daipike). “If we are being revived, then it is revival.” 9/6/13.      

[7] J. Edwin Orr, The Outpouring of the Spirit in Revival and Awakening and its Issue in Church Growth, British Church Growth Association, available at Church Growth Modelling, by permission.

[8] Tweet by MrClydeT (@MrClydeT) (a pastor at Victory Church Cwmbran. “When you have principles without the presence, you have a kingdom without a king!” 9/6/13.

[9] Fear not we do not attempt to model the presence of God! We take the link directly from enthusiasts to spiritual life. How could one measure his presence? Having said that a former student of mine has been at the meetings 2-3 days a week since the start. When I asked her what was different about these meetings, she said they were taking the presence of God to a whole new level. So there is a sense it can be “measured” not by numbers but by comparison to past experiences.

[10] Tweet by Richard Taylor (@swifttaylor) founding pastor of Victory Church Cwmbran. “Passion for the lost is the only key to growth. Without it you have no-one to disciple”.15/6/13. https://twitter.com/swifttaylor/status/346006002832912384

[11] J. Hayward and L. Howells. Church Growth and Spiritual Life. Future First. April 2011, published by Brierley Consultancy

[12] In mathematics this is called a bifurcation (See Blog by Tom Fiddaman). The next comments are for mathematicians only! Epidemic models are rich with bifurcations. Most have a forward (transcritical) bifurcation between the disease-free state and endemic state. In church growth terms it means that for different parameter values churches either survive or go extinct. It does not sound so profound when put that way! However once other elements are added the models also exhibit backward bifurcation where more than one stable endemic state can exist (subcritical) and the high states can suddenly disappear or appear (supercritical). This is a feature of the way people interact in groups, common in many epidemic models. It is a phenomenon similar to this that happens in the church growth model with spiritual life, a small change in the persistence of that life in the believers and a high value of church “appears” and rapid growth results towards it. In system dynamics terms an extra reinforcing loop kicks in that accelerates growth. In spiritual terms the presence of God is deep, amazing and persists. Heaven on Earth!