Organizing a Tent Revival
During the 20th century, tent revivals were used to reach multitudes with the gospel. Oral Roberts, Jack Coe, R. W. Schambach, and others preached messages of salvation (with miracles often a by-product). At 16, Billy Graham got saved at a tent meeting conducted by Mordecai Ham. Years later, Billy had a “canvas cathedral” in Los Angeles that attracted approximately 350,000 people over a two month period. He went on to have mass meetings mostly in stadiums.
Tent revivals may seem old fashioned nowadays because of churches with comfortable seating and an increasing number of folks watching services online. Nevertheless, there are ministers still using tents to reach the lost. Mario Murillo is one of them. He stated in his blog, “It is time for the harvesters to leave the safe zones and win a sin-sick and broken-hearted nation to Jesus.” Rodney Howard-Browne trains his associate ministers and bible school students to conduct meetings in neighborhoods throughout the Tampa Bay Area (attendees often sit underneath tents). Fliers and posters promoting giveaways of groceries and other prizes are handed out days before an event.
I’ve participated in tent meetings organized by my friend Mark Robshaw. Mark held a few while pastoring a church in South Hill, Virginia. One year, he insisted on buying me a bus ticket so I could help with their evangelism outreaches. We went out on the streets during the day and had meetings in the evening. His friend Joe Jackson supplied the tent.
A few weeks ago, Mark and I went to a tent meeting in his hometown of Buffalo held by Ted Shuttlesworth. That inspired Mark to have one here. His friend Gary St. Laurent provided a tent we could use. Another evangelist named Kevin Eaton (who ministered two of the nights) helped us with the planning. Once again, I was asked to lead street evangelism outreaches plus receive the offering during the meetings. We eventually obtained permission to use a small field in the southern part of Buffalo.
On Tuesday, August 29th, we spent several hours erecting the tent. A man experienced with that was supposed to meet us on the field but never showed up. So Mark prayed and then directed us to put up three big poles in the middle before doing the ones on the outside. A woman who attended Mark’s church provided refreshments. The next night, a few of us held a prayer meeting under the tent.
The revival officially began on August 31st and ended on Labor Day. Morning teachings were conducted by various speakers followed by afternoon outreaches led by yours truly (except on Sunday). I taught on soul winning for about a half-hour before we hit the streets. My co-laborers and I saw 45 people pray to give their lives to Jesus. Scott Waterman and his band provided music the first three nights. The worship team from Mark’s church did the last two.
Other challenges came up for this revival. Mark’s power generator stopped working. He had to rent one that cost several hundred dollars. A food truck that was supposed to be there never arrived. A prayer tent behind the main one flipped over due to high winds and got damaged. On the day the tent revival began, Mark’s brother-in-law (who he led to Christ days before) died in the hospital. Nevertheless, Mark’s family encouraged him to go on ministering.
One powerful message I heard was from a Sri Lankan man who testified of being raised from the dead. While descending towards hell, this man called out to a Hindu god and then Allah but didn't get resurrected until he called on the name of Jesus. Although the audience mostly consisted of believers, two people got saved during the final meeting. The Bible says the angels rejoice over one sinner who repents.
There are some things I would like to do differently in future tent revivals:
- A location by a major highway or intersection would likely draw more people. The fliers handed out for this last one listed the street name but not a specific address. A map could have been added to the flier for people unfamiliar with the neighborhood.
- All the sound equipment had to be disassembled and locked up every night to avoid theft. I would have preferred to have someone watch the equipment overnight.
- Everybody likes free stuff. Door prizes would result in more sinners coming to receive the best gift of all: eternal life.
Tent revivals take a lot of work, but it’s a way to reach out to individuals who might not walk into a church. Perhaps we will see more of them before the Lord returns.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” - 1 Corinthians 15:58