Monday, 16 September 2013

Update on the Welsh Outpouring 2013


It is now  5 months since the phenomenon that has become known as the Welsh Outpouring started in Victory Church Cwmbran, Wales. Although I, and others, have referred to this as the “Cwmbran Outpouring”, Welsh Outpouring is a better description as this has always been about what God intends to do in Wales, not just in Cwmbran. The weekend  6-7th Sept was very much a watershed as the church hosted the Wales for Christ conference in the St David’s theatre Cardiff.

Wales for Christ

What was remarkable about this conference is that the same power and presence of God experienced in the warehouse in Cwmbran was present in the St David’s theatre Cardiff. There were different speakers, different worship bands, and very different surroundings, but it made no difference, God blessed exactly the same. Even though there were breaks between sessions, we just came back in to the same presence each time. On top of that the meeting did much to motivate and inspire people to do what is needed: take Wales for Christ, to spread the gospel and see conversions in our land. It may have been a conference but it was like back-to-back outpouring meetings!

It would be unfair of me to give a review of the talks as I may misrepresent the speakers. Hopefully the church will make the talks available online for people to hear for themselves. There are however two things I want to pick up that connect with my church growth work.

Firstly, Andrew Parsons, a pastor at Victory church, expressed the longing to see “more going to heaven than going to hell”. I certainly can’t fault the sentiment, but it got me thinking – has this happened in the past? Of course we can’t measure how many people are going to heaven, and until recently it has been hard to measure how many attend church, but we can measure how many belong to a church.

Let’s go back to the 1904-5 revival in Wales. In 1903 the combined membership of all protestant denominations in Wales comprised some 47.4% of the Welsh adult population [1]. After the revival in 1905 the membership stood at 53.4%. In the two years of the revival the increases in membership of the churches were 5.4% and 11.5% respectively. Compared with typical increases of around 1% per year before that it is clear the 1904-5 revival had a remarkable effect on church membership. If we were cheeky and said that all church members were on the way to heaven and the rest were not, then the Andrew Parson’s comment was actually achieved by the 1904-5 revival! But I admit that is a bit cheeky; there are a whole host of reasons why that identification cannot be made. But it sets the context for a longing for more to be saved than not saved.

What should be remembered is that a church membership of 53.4% of the adult population was the largest ever achieved in Wales since records have been kept from the early 1800s. The 1700s would have been much lower still. Indeed the current participation rates of less than 10% in church are more typical history than a 50% membership/commitment. England did not get anywhere near that figure! To expect more in church than not in church is very unrealistic, unless like the 1905 figure for Wales, it had been preceded by outpourings of the Spirit and much hard work by the Christians in the church. The 1904-5 revival was the pinnacle of what God had started in 1735, and a church of enthusiasts worked with God’s Spirit to achieve it. Given that we are now going though an outpouring, and the Wales for Christ weekend showed how committed many people are to spreading the gospel, I would say the Andrew Parson’s longing for more going to heaven than hell is an achievable aim, despite the current desperate attendance figures of the church. God is moving again, he did it before, so he can do it again! It may just take a bit of time.

Secondly, one of the afternoon speakers, evangelist Mark Greenwood, was talking about the unusual and enthusiastic forms of witness among Christians, the ones who are “bonkers” for Christ. He longed that people would be bonkers for Him again and take “risks” with their witness. He then said about such people, somewhat ironically, “2 years of discipleship class will squeeze that out of them!” I.e. their enthusiasm would have been diminished through the institution of church!  I have fitted my church growth models to a wide variety of denominations in the UK, USA and some other countries and 2 years is about the typical length of the enthusiastic period that comes out of nearly all of them [2]. So it may have been an offhand comment by Mark Greenwood, but I have plenty of data to back it up.

The reasons for enthusiasm only lasting 2 years after conversion may be much wider then the stifling influence of an institution. Often it is that people get more involved in church and lose their unconverted friends, or that those friends have got used to the way the new convert behaves. They are no longer new. But one of the effects of an outpouring is to renew existing believers, even old-timers. So it may be after the last five months many Christians are about to go “bonkers” for Christ!

The Future of the Welsh Outpouring

 In the last week Victory church have announced that they are reducing the number of outpouring meetings from five a week to two. Clearly the people involved are tired, the commitment by the church has been immense and I am very thankful for all their hard work. Some people, particularly the outpouring’s detractors, may see this as a fad that has passed, but far from it. The purpose of an outpouring is to move people out into the communities, spread the gospel and make converts and disciples. The outpouring does not end because time is released to pursue the mission; it just enters a different phase. The same happened in 1904-5 revival, the special meetings passed in 1905, but new churches with an emphasis on the work of the Spirit were started and established over the following 20 years or more, the work of the Spirit did not stop, but spread, in that case all over the world.

In the Acts of the Apostles, the church did not stay in Jerusalem, the place where the blessing was first received, they moved out into Samaria, Judea and the ends of the Earth, even if God had to give them a bit of a shove with persecution. They could not continue going to the temple and meeting in rooms each day, however powerful the blessings. Remarkably God did more wonders through them among the population than he did in their gatherings – the meat is on the street, as the late John Wimber was fond of saying. Even more remarkably there were public outpourings of the Spirit on people, as shown in Samaria, Caesarea, and Ephesus. The outpouring moves to a different phase, no longer tied by location and worship meetings, but in the market place, just about anywhere.

A similar pattern of outpouring and expansion can be seen in the 1700s in Wales. Early on the Spirit was poured out in Llangeitho, through the conversion and ministry of Daniel Rowland. A similar move took place at Trevecca with Howell Harris. But the work did not stop at those centres. Slowly various groups of Methodists were established in different parts of Wales. The centre of the outpouring remained at Llangeitho, sometimes people would visit for a couple of weeks at a time, but at the same time new fellowships were being planted across Wales. The result was rapid church growth up to the mightiest revival of all in 1859. The sequence: outpouring, plant, build up, was repeated for over 100 years. Certain periods, where the work of the Spirit was so intense, have become known as the “revivals”, but the outpouring rarely stopped in that period [3].

The vision put out by Wales for Christ at the conference is for such a church planting initiative. This was of course planned before the outpouring started, but the outpouring has now given more momentum to the plans. Indeed what outpourings do is create hunger and expectation in visitors from other parts of the country, so that when the church plant takes place there are local enthusiasts, touched by the King in the outpouring, ready to be part of the church plant. In addition the new plant widens the pool of unbelievers the church can reach, the susceptibles in epidemiological terms. This can put the church back over the tipping point for revival growth. Outpourings generate the needed enthusiasts; church plants tip the church into revival growth. This is how the 18th and 19th century Welsh Methodists took Wales for Christ, it is how the New Frontiers and Vineyard denominations have been growing in the last 20 years, and this is the direction of Victory church now. Thus scaling down the outpouring meetings makes perfect sense. Incidentally church planting is not a strategy Victory church are expecting to do alone, and they hoped that other churches in Wales would do the same [4].

Characteristics of the Welsh Outpouring

Certain characteristics of the outpouring have struck me as being typical of revival:

1. Experiencing the outpouring is like being saved again. I know you can only become a Christian once, but when the Spirit moves even the most mature in Christ realise their sins and find refuge at the cross again. This for me has been a feature of every meeting I have been to at Cwmbran.  I have heard people say they have felt they have been born again “again”. There are similar experiences in the Bible [5] and in past revivals [6].

2. The emphasis on the blood of the Lamb. It was the late Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones who said one of the signs of an authentic revival is that there is a renewed emphasis on the blood of Christ [7]. That is, there is a return to the cross as the only means of salvation through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. It is fair to say this is probably one of the most unpopular doctrines in the Christian church generally and Christians of all churchmanships either dismiss it or revise it. But when the Spirit moves, back it comes. This has been the experience at Cwmbran, as shown by the types of songs and hymns that have been sung, and the constant cross-centred sermons.

3. The after effects of the meetings. I have referred to this in previous blogs [8], Jesus being even closer in the days and weeks following a meeting. This is the difference between a human-led meeting, which can excite for a moment, and a Spirit-led one, which makes permanent changes. Examples of this can be found in many of the revivals of the past [9].

4. The number converted. For this we can only go on the number of reported first time commitments, which was 1157 after outpouring meeting 157 [10]. There have been more since. This may seem small compared with the 100,000 converts in the 15 months of the 1904-5 revival, but the current “Welsh” outpouring is one church; there were hundreds of churches involved in 1904-5. So over 1000 first time commitments is remarkable, even if all were not actually converted.

Final Thoughts

It should be noted that this outpouring is home grown, that is, it is Welsh! One of the great joys of this outpouring is that it started in Wales, it was not something brought in from outside! Before you think this is a strange outburst of national pride, let me explain why this is important to me. Back in 2002 an Anglican clergyman gave a prophecy to my own church at one of our renewal days about the situation in Wales. He said, “the problem in Welsh churches is that people are always waiting for someone, like a big name preacher, to come to Wales to bring a blessing, to light the fire. You hear it in the prayers for revival. But I say don’t wait for others, light your own fires.” We took that to heart as a church and got down to the work of renewal.

The Welsh Outpouring is an example of “lighting your own fires”, but on a much larger scale. God works through us to revive his church, we do not need to wait for a celebrity preacher to come. Indeed the most powerful meetings in the Welsh Outpouring have been the ones led by the local pastors and worship groups, not the visiting preachers.

Perhaps the fact that Welsh Christians “lit their own fires” will help us regain our confidence that God will work powerfully in this land, and banish the low esteem in Welsh churches [11].  I am deeply grateful for all commitment the people at Victory church have shown in this outpouring; those who have been “lighting the fires”. Outpourings are of God, but our response is hard work.  I have learnt more about the work of God in revival in the last five months than in the last thirty years of Christian experience, and more than I could ever learn in a lifetime of reading books on revival! I am very much looking forward to seeing how this move of God develops.

References and Notes


[1] See Explanatory Notes on "Mathematical Modeling of Church Growth”.
Church membership and Anglican electoral role were not open to children so they have been excluded from the figures. The Roman Catholic Church was relatively small at the time, and as my data source did not have accurate figures for them they are also excluded.

[2] The enthusiastic period in the 1904-5 revival was much shorter, a matter of weeks. This is because the actions of the enthusiasts that drove the growth, such as invites to the revival meetings, was very different to the normal measured pattern of witness in the family and work place. The revival was about “come to tonight’s meeting”. Most people who could be invited would have been invited within a couple of weeks of the first experience.

[3] J.C. Ryle, (1978) [1885],  Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, Banner of Truth. E. Evans (1985), Daniel Rowland and The Great Evangelical Awakening In Wales, Banner of Truth.

[4] Victory Church has announced another church plant. They have six churches so far. Someone from another Welsh church of a different denomination told me they had a new plant in Wales coming soon, with another in the planning stage.

[5] Psalm 51 is a classic account, and the life of the apostle Peter shows similar post conversion experiences of conversion.

[6] David Matthews (2002) [1951], I Saw the Welsh Revival, Ambassador Publications, chapter 9. His personal experience of what the revival felt like for him is essential reading for all Christians seeking a move of God. This will let you know what to expect!

[7] D.M. Lloyd-Jones (1986), Revival, Kingsway, pp.47-49.

[8] When the Presence of God Persists.

[9] David Matthews (2002) [1951], I Saw the Welsh Revival, Ambassador Publications, chapter 6, pp.46-47. David Matthews was very fond of “quality” church music and viewed Sankey hymns with disdain. But the revival changed that and he found himself leaving the “heavenly atmosphere” of a meeting at five in the morning, whistling the hymn, “Throw Out the Lifeline”. Remarkably he heard someone else that night whistling it with him. It was a policeman, also indelibly changed by the revival. The policeman asked him, “Have you caught the revival fever too?” Indeed Matthews had caught it, and the effects of the revival persisted with him for the coming months and indeed the rest of his life, as his book illustrates.

[10] Given out at the Wales for Christ weekend 6-7th September 2013.

[11] I often preach on revival in churches and I get the same message back wherever I go, “the last revival immunised Wales against revival, it won’t happen again”. There is a great need for people to move from reading stories of what God did in past revivals to believing what he can do now. Hopefully the outpouring will do this.

4 comments:

  1. I wish that I could have been there in St. David's Hall. I agree that the presence of God goes with you after each visit to Victory church. It's then our responsibility as Christians to keep close to His presence by daily prayer, devotions, Bible reading and sitting quietly and waiting to hear from God. Oh, how He loves us!
    I rea that Victory was considerign and prayign about a plant in Bridgend.

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  2. Sorry, I should have spell checked the last sentence----I read that Victory was considering and praying about a plant in Bridgend

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  3. Fantastic analysis. I visited Cwybran from Cambridge, with my family, and we were truly blessed. Please keep on writing such thought provoking material! Looking forward to more...

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  4. The Bridgend church plant is launched on the 23rd Feb 2014. Along with 2 other church plants, Blackwood and Cardiff City. Wales for Christ all be at St Davids Hall again this year 2014 in September

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