Home Commentary NYC Pastor: The Difference Between Revival, Renewal, and Awakening 

NYC Pastor: The Difference Between Revival, Renewal, and Awakening 

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Photo: Evangelist Billy Sunday’s Tabernacle during a revival in New York City, 1917. 

By Dr. Joseph Mattera

The Asbury revival has brought much attention to the fact that God desires humanity to experience His presence, power, and reality. In light of the above, we need to distinguish the difference between the concepts of revival, renewal, and awakening. 

Revival is when God releases a special work of grace that reveals His power and presence amongst Christians. The word “revive” means to bring back to life. Hence, it cannot be talking about reaching the lost because they were never alive to begin with.

Renewal is when committed Christians are worn out from laboring in the Lord, and God sends a spirit of refreshment that restores them to vibrancy.

Awakening is when a revival spills over and begins affecting the surrounding communities.

Examples of revivals leading to awakenings:

18th century 

The preaching of men like George Whitfield, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards resulted in masses of people coming to Christ in England and in the American colonies which resulted in the first great awakening (1740-1743).

19th century 

The preaching of Charles Finney (1820s -1860s) and others resulted in massive revivals in many churches in the northeast cities, which led to awakenings that revived Christianity in America.  

The 1857 prayer awakening 

In NYC, a businessman, Jonathan Lanphier, started a small prayer meeting, attended by a handful of men, on Wall Street in 1857. However, after the stock market collapsed, tens of thousands of business people started attending his weekly prayer meeting, resulting in about 500,000 conversions on the east coast within one year. This prayer meeting revived Christian business leaders and resulted in multitudes coming to Christ.

20th century 

From 1906 -1915, there was a revival on Azusa Street in California, which led to a great Pentecostal outpouring that started the modern-day Pentecostal movement. Out of this great revival, many mission movements started, and the gospel went to the earth’s ends, awakening many nations.

RELATED: Revival Reflections and Takeaways from an Asbury University Alumnus

The Welsh Revival leads to an awakening 

In Wales, in about 1904, a 19-year-old named Evan Roberts got up in a prayer meeting and merely said, “bend me oh, Lord.” That resulted in mass confessions of sin and a revival that swept across the country.

Hebrides Revival (1949-1953) with Duncan Cambell

In 1949, the Isle of Lewis, in the Hebrides, experienced a massive revival spreading throughout the island. It filled the church with young people, even reaching unchurched communities. This resulted in thousands of lost souls coming to Christ. 

The Pensacola, Florida revival in the 1990s resulted in many backsliders giving their life to Christ. This was an example of a true revival that lasted 3-5 years. Although it did not necessarily result in the awakening of the surrounding community, thousands of people recommitted their life to Christ. 

The 21st-century global awakening 

Many revivals and awakenings are taking place in China, the Middle East, and Africa, too numerous to cite. 

Biblical Examples of awakenings: 

After Jesus ministered to the woman at the well, she spread the gospel, resulting in her whole town believing in Jesus (John 4:39). In Acts 8:4-9, Philip, the evangelist, went and preached Christ in Samaria. Many signs, wonders and healings took place. The result was “there was much joy in that city.” In Acts 19:10, after Paul lectured in the hall of Tyrannus, the word of the Lord spread to that whole region of Asia minor.  

Biblical examples of renewals 

In Joel 2:18-29, we see that God promises to respond to a solemn assembly by being jealous of His land and pouring out His spirit on all flesh.  

“Then the LORD became jealous for his land

and had pity on his people.

The LORD answered and said to his people,

“Behold, I am sending to you

grain, wine, and oil,

and you will be satisfied;

and I will no more make you

a reproach among the nations…

And it shall come to pass afterward,

that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

and your young men shall see visions.

Even on the male and female servants

in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”

After the apostle Paul was converted and his violent persecution stopped, God sent a season of refreshing to the early church. 

 Acts 9:31: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” 

The charismatic renewal 

The movement is thought to have begun in 1967 in an episcopal church and spread to other mainstream protestant denominations, including Lutherans and Presbyterians. It eventually resulted in a massive Roman Catholic charismatic movement. Methodists also became involved in the charismatic movement in the 1970s.

The charismatic movement was distinguished by Christians receiving “the second blessing,” often called the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with the evidence of speaking in tongues. This renewal spread to all mainline denominations. 

The movement was not at first received in evangelical circles. However, it eventually morphed in the 1980s into the “3rd Wave,” a phrase coined by Dr. Peter Wagner and John Wimber (the founder of the Vineyard movement). It resulted in numerous neo-charismatic organizations and churches that had some Pentecostal tendencies regarding embracing the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12: 4-11). 

The “Toronto Blessing,” which began in January 1994 at the Toronto Airport Vineyard church, was called a renewal movement for pastors and leaders who went there to get times of refreshing and restoration. 

In conclusion, I pray that the revival in Asbury is a foretaste of another great awakening that will captivate the hearts of “Gen Z.” I also do not believe it is a coincidence that the movie “The Jesus Revolution,” which depicts the awakening in the 1960s and ’70s that brought thousands of young people to Christ, has just been released. May we see another Jesus revolution!

Dr. Joseph Mattera is an internationally-known author, consultant, and theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence culture. He is the founding pastor of Resurrection Church in Brooklyn, and leads several organizations, including The U.S. Coalition Of Apostolic Leaders and Christ Covenant Coalition. To subscribe for a weekly teaching from Joseph Mattera click here. His latest book is entitled: The Global Apostolic Movement and the Progress of the Gospel.