Tennessee Baptist vocational evangelists offer their opinions on revivals and evangelism
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
JACKSON — In a day when the word “revival” is making a comeback, usually in the secular sense, fewer and fewer Southern Baptist churches are having multi-day revivals. And, even one-day “harvest revivals” aren’t as in demand as they once were. As a result, the number of vocational evangelists across the Southern Baptist Convention has dropped significantly over the past four decades.
The question is why?
Approximately 15 Southern Baptist vocational evangelists met in early March to discuss their profession and calling from God. Among them were five evangelists from Tennessee with a combined 173 years of experience in vocational evangelism — Phil Glisson, Memphis; Jerry Drace, Jackson; Keith Cook, Springfield; Ron Herrod, Sevierville; and Richard Hamlet, Memphis.
Glisson recalled that in the 1970s there were more than 600 men and women nationwide who were affiliated with the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE). Today, that number is down to about 100, with only 50 or so who remain full-time, Glisson said.
Many evangelists have adjusted what they do to offer family conferences, speak at wild game dinners, and conduct block parties and other events to compensate for the lack of traditional revivals.
The bottom line is churches are holding fewer revivals than ever before. Yet, the decline did not happen overnight, Glisson said. It has been a slow decline over many years, he observed.
“If a church is going to have a revival today, you can count on it being a smaller church,” Drace added. “Churches just aren’t doing as many revivals and they aren’t using as many vocational evangelists,” he continued.
The evangelists agreed that one of the primary reasons churches have fewer revivals is that young pastors have never experienced revivals.
Herrod related an experience of a revival he led recently in Louisiana. The pastor was a man in his mid-40s who was from Texas. “He told me that until that week he had never been in a revival,” Herrod recalled.
He added that the pastor said his church wanted to hold a revival and they specifically wanted Herrod to preach, so the pastor contacted him. After the event, Herrod said the pastor told him that he would hold a revival every year from now on.
While in Jackson for the meeting, the 15 evangelists all held one-day revivals in local churches. Several people accepted Christ as Savior in those services, including professions of faith from a 71-year-old man and a 64-year-old woman, Drace said.
Cook said the pastor where he preached told him the church had not had a revival in a long time. “He saw it as something they needed to do because the time was right.”
Glisson agreed that a lot of young pastors have grown up in churches that did not hold revivals. “They just don’t understand what revivals are about and how they can help a church.”
In addition, younger pastors do not hear it taught in colleges and seminaries that “revivals are viable and that evangelists are as called as pastors. That’s not even on the radar,” Drace said. Also, he continued, the current emphasis in our convention is on church planting. While church planting has been effectivive in increasing the number of new churches, it has not proven effective in increasing the number of new converts.
“Church evangelism is not evangelism in place of soul winning. It is the result of evangelistic soul winning. As has been proven in recent years, the decline in revivals and other harvest events is in direct correlation to the decline of baptisms in the SBC. The majority of our 47,000 existing churches need genuine revival which begins with sincere prayer and genuine preparation,” Drace stressed.
Pastors need to see the benefit of outside speakers, Glisson suggested.
“As evangelists we are trying to go in (to churches) and work alongside the pastor to be a complement to what he is preaching and to be an encouragement to his ministry,” he said.
Glisson added that he does not think younger pastors are opposed to vocational evangelists. “We are just off their radar.”
Cook agreed. “There is a misconception that evangelists are anti-church and anti-pastor. We really aren’t. They are our heroes. We want to come alongside pastors and be a part of helping them do what God has called them to do.”
Cook added that evangelists champion the local church. “We want to see the local church grow. It’s in our hearts, in our nature, and in our DNA to help them do that.”
Herrod observed that “the wise pastor will realize that the harvest may not be his gift. He is there to teach and to shepherd and to prepare the church for the harvest and he will use the harvester (evangelist) to draw the net.
“And the wise evangelist, when he draws the net, will say that this is not his harvest. It is the Lord’s church and His harvest, but it has happened because your pastor has faithfully and diligently laid the foundation, preached the Word, and discipled you.”
The evangelists also noted that pastors tell them that their “people just won’t come out” to services over a three to four day period. The Tennessee evangelists disagree.
“The people are hungry. If you speak the truth and tell them the good news they will respond if you give them the chance,” Cook said.