The Marks of Revival

In going through a presentation I heard recently on the marks of revival, and having worked with Natural Church Development for some twenty years now, it is my conviction that any church that scores highly on the eight Quality Characteristics will be in a state of revival.

I have heard many people speak about revival (without actually defining it).

I have experienced congregations singing about it (without defining it).

What Christian Schwarz was investigating, in the largest research project on the church (1000 churches, 6 continents, 34 countries, 4.5 million bits of data), was an answer to the question: ‘What should every church and each Christian be doing in order to fulfil the Great Commission?’ Schwarz ‘uncovered’ eight Quality Characteristics that are always present in every church no matter what culture they are or what their denominational ‘persuasion’ or what person or programme they may be following.

These eight characteristics can be seen in the presentation where the speaker’s topic was: ‘The Marks of Revival.’

  1. Empowering Leadership

The speaker mentioned one revival that ceased because some high-ranking church leaders would not empower others in the church to continue their work. I think there might be a number of revivals that have ceased because those with ecclesiastical power refused to share it with anyone else; they dis-empowered those through whom God was working.

2. Gift-based Ministry

This can be easily observed in Acts 6 where the apostles delegated the work of sharing resources, while they continued with prayer and the word. God’s work flourishes when people work in the areas God has gifted them.

3. Passionate Spirituality

Revival is always accompanied by prayer and an emphasis on the Scriptures. All spiritual disciplines are carried out with passion. As the speaker said, revival creates a fresh hunger for the word of God; a new desire for prayer; a new dependency on the Holy Spirit.

4.  Effective Structures

George Whitefield lamented that he had not structured his converts as Wesley had. The Methodist church exists today because of the methodical way Wesley went about his work; but where is the work of Whitefield to be seen?

5. Inspiring Worship Service

Again, the speaker said ‘Revival brings a longing for worship.’ During revival times the people do not have to be pressed to attend worship; they are very clear on why they are attending and the whole experience of ‘church’ is totally positive.

6. Holistic Small Groups

John Wesley’s way of structuring his ‘converts’ into a small group system demonstrates the necessity and the value of meeting in this way. As someone once said, ‘Small groups are the cutting edge of the church.’.

7. Need-oriented Evangelism

As the speaker declared, ‘Revival brings an extraordinary harvest;’ and another point: ‘Revival brings a new thrust into mission.’ There is no doubt that during times of revival the church experiences exceptional growth with even the worst citizens being converted.

8. Loving Relationships

What more should be said but that church members must love one another?

These quality characteristics are like the vital organs of a human being; they each need to be healthy. If any one of them is not, it will prevent the body from functioning as it should, and that one will require attention to make it healthy again.

The health of a disciple-making church could be compared to the fitness of an All Black rugby team; most of us physically are not that fit. The same disciplines and routines that make All Blacks fit, can easily be transposed across to the health or quality of the individuals that comprise any community of faith.

Natural Church Development Principles and the Bible

A wise youth harvests in the summer, but one who sleeps during harvest is a disgrace. (Proverbs 10:5)

This is a simple example of our interdependence with God’s natural world. We do not have any control over the seasons; God has established them and we have to co-operate with, and take advantage of, the way God’s creation works. This very basic principle can be connected to every different world – politics, family, health care, finance, church – to life in general. Natural seasons are easy to see; that is why it is a disgrace if a person sleeps during the summer harvest. Seasons in other worlds are not always easy to discern; that is why we need the advice of others with the appropriate gifts and understanding. Like those soldiers who joined David’s army: “From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.” (I Chronicles 12:32) In every church it is likely there is – or was – someone like these leaders from Issachar. The question is: Are they heard? Do they have a voice?

Natural Church Development Principles in the Bible

Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest. (Proverbs 20:4)

Jesus said He always did what He saw the Father doing in both the spiritual and the natural worlds. In the world of horticulture, believers and unbelievers alike, do what they see the Father doing in the natural world. They know there is a right season to plough, and if they do not plow at that time they will come up short. There will be no food on the table. They are doing what they see the Father doing whether they believe it or not.

Several significant Principles are ignored by a lazy person like this one in Proverbs:

Sowing and reaping, Fruitfulness, Multiplication, Sustainability, Interdependence, Energy Transformation – all of these are working against this lazy person.

Fruitfulness: There will be no fruit because the ground has not been prepared at the right time to receive seed.

For Multiplication to happen, seed has to be sown and a crop harvested.

Unless someone else comes to his rescue, the life of this person will not be Sustained because he has no food.

Because he has failed to work, using the Interdependence that God has set up in His creation, he will starve to death.

This principle will also be working against him.

Energy Transformation: It is very clear that he is investing no energy whatever in doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, in the way it needs to be done, so there is zero energy going into the very thing that should be done. Investing energy in avoiding work could very well work against him in his muscles seizing up (what you don’t use, you lose); starvation (scarcity of food); strained relationships (who will continue to provide food and a bed for this sorry individual?)

These are some of the principles that God has woven into His creation and that Natural Church Development is based upon. They are always working whether we acknowledge them or not. And if they are not working for us they will surely be working against us.