Tent revivals, rallies inspire the community

Guest evangelist Alan Harris preaches during Countryside Baptist Church’s tent revival in Fruitland Park. The church’s six-day “Signs of the Times” tent revival concluded on April 16.

Bad weather could not stop Fairway Christian Church from holding its “For God and Country” tent rally on April 11. But the church was forced to take the “tent” out of the rally. “We were hoping it was going to be under the tents, but God had a different idea for us,” said Fairway Christian preaching minister Butch Gastfield. “This is a very special day for us, as it’s been over a year since we were put in lockdown under COVID. Today is the first time in over a year that our congregation is together for one service under one roof. It’s great to look out there and see our church family here. Isn’t it great?”

Congregants and others gathered inside Fairway Christian’s sanctuary for the rally, which included a concert by “Liberty Voices” and a sermon titled “The Gospel: Un-cancelled.”

“We are thrilled that you came inside to join us for this rally,” Michael Coppock, associate minister of worship at Fairway Christian, told the crowd. “We know that God is showing up in a big way today, and we are grateful that you are here.”

Tents tossed from the mix

The rally was an opportunity for the church and its congregation to come together again more than a year after COVID-19 made life at the church quite different.

Gastfield joked that the tents were able to be used as covered parking for the cars and golf carts that were in the Fairway Christian lot that day. The rally served as the one service Fairway Christian held that weekend, with the church’s three traditional worship times canceled.

Four of Fairway Christian’s outreach ministries were on display during the rally. They include Dads For a Day, which provides one-on-one mentoring for at-risk boys in fatherless homes; Casa Hope, which is a prison aftercare program; Love in the Name of Christ, or Love INC,which helps churches transform lives and communities; and the Pregnancy Care Center of Ocala.

“We are slowly getting out of COVID, and while attendance is slowly ticking up, we are still not back to our pre-pandemic levels,” Gastfield noted. “This rally was a perfect opportunity to welcome our congregation back to Fairway Christian, as well as introduce those who recently moved to The Villages and nearby communities to our church.”

Six-Day Revival Came to Fruitland Park

In Fruitland Park, a large tent was planted in the parking lot of Countryside Baptist Church for a six-day “Signs of the Times” tent revival, which concluded on April 16. Countryside Baptist Pastor John Stricklen said there were good crowds under the tent each day, including the opening session on April 11, which went on under the tent despite bad weather.

“Our guest evangelist, Alan Harris, was a sight to behold,” Stricklen said. “It thundered, lightning struck, it poured rain until we waded water to get into and out of the tent, yet he sang some glorious songs and preached one of the best messages I’ve ever heard. The crowd wondered and then praised the Lord.”

Stricklen said the reaction to the six-day revival was overwhelmingly positive.

“Several people said they wished we had more days in the revival,” he added.  “In a time when so many churches are limiting the schedule of revivals, we have a church that loves God’s word sung and preached. “Revival is a renewing of life. Christian people can become weary of the trials faced on a daily basis. Thus, a time of refreshing is welcome.”

The importance of revivals

The history of the tent revival or revival meetings in the United States goes back decades before the country gained independence from Britain. In the 1730s, a Massachusetts pastor named Jonathan Edwards is credited with launching what historians call “The Great Awakening” through his meetings, which led to the conversion of hundreds of colonists.

Over time, there have been a host of revivals recorded in U.S. history — the “Second Great Awakening” of the early 19th century, the “Jesus Movement” of the 1960s and ’70s, and the “Promise Keepers Revival” at the end of the 20th century.

Revivals have changed over time, particularly given the rise of new media over the last two centuries. Oral Roberts, for example, went from being an in-demand tent revivalist in the 1950s to a celebrity televangelist with a global following. But some evangelists continue in the tent revival tradition of their ancestors. Harris, who appeared at Countryside Baptist, has worked as a traveling evangelist for nearly 40 years, appearing at churches, conferences and other events both in the U.S. and around the world.

Making a revival work today

The Man in the Mirror Ministry, which has worked with tens of thousands of churches since the 1980s, listed several characteristics to these revivals.

“Revivals emerge during times of spiritual and moral decline, which leads to intense prayer,” wrote Patrick Morley, of Man in the Mirror. “During these revivals, God receives praise, honor and glory for bringing the revival.”

To get involved in a revival today, talk to your local church about how you can be active in the revival process.

“Churches should make sure congregants play a role in preparing the revival,” wrote Jake Roudkovski, professor of evangelism and pastoral ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Stricklen understands the importance of having a revival at such a critical time in U.S. history, where concerns over COVID-19, politics, the economy and race relations continue to cast a pall over the country.

“In this topsy-turvy climate of COVID, political and economic turmoil and other issues, people are turning toward the Lord again,” he said. “They are praying more, asking the Lord what they can do to handle what is going on.”

Senior writer James Dinan can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5302, or james.dinan@thevillagesmedia.com.