Revival–In Maine!?

Note: this is a cross-post from Church Matters, the 9Marks blog.  I am posting it here only because this good news deserves to be spread.

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Several hundred years ago, revival broke out in New England under the watchcare of America’s greatest pastor, Jonathan Edwards.  275 years later, it may be happening again.

From Downeast magazine, a secular publication covering life in Maine, comes this hugely unexpected news: Maine, one of the spiritually “darkest” states in New England (America’s least Christian region), is apparently experiencing a revival.  Evangelical churches emphasizing biblical literacy and doctrinal solidarity are seeing up to 20% increased attendance in recent days.  This, to say the least, is a shocker.

Here’s what Cynthia Anderson writes in “Sanctuary”, the article covering this seeming phenomenon (read the whole thing–it’s that encouraging): 

The three Sunday services at Calvary Chapel regularly draw more than two thousand people. Turnout is similar ten miles away at Bangor Baptist Church, which has on its grounds two radio stations and the largest Christian school in the state. A few exits down Route 95 in Waterville, Faith Evangelical Free Church — originator of a popular YouTube series of skits based on the TV show The Office — also draws large crowds. Indeed, attendance at the state’s evangelical churches has swelled in recent years as mainline denominations have continued to struggle. According to a 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 37 percent of those Mainers who identify as Protestant now consider themselves evangelical.

The numbers, say religious experts and church leaders, suggest a surge of interest in Bible-based Christianity, particularly north of Portland. “It appears that there’s some sort of revival going on in central Maine,” says Ves Sheely, district superintendent of the Evangelical Free Church in New England. Sheely, who travels the state as he makes the rounds of the association’s sixty member churches, has observed new churches opening and attendance at existing ones rising. “I see an increased openness to spiritual life, here more than in other parts of New England. I see evidence of a new interest in Jesus.”

Others concur. “There is a trend of people going back to church here, especially to the more literally Bible-based churches,” says Jerry Mick, pastor of Bangor Baptist, where the nine hundred-person average weekly attendance reflects a 20 percent increase in two years. In the Bangor area alone there are more than forty churches, close to half of which are evangelical — including Nazarene, Baptist, Assembly of God, and non-denominational. Such religiosity is all the more notable given that the Pew study showed only 59 percent of Mainers are “absolutely certain” God exists, compared with 65 percent of those in the Northeast and 71 percent nationally.

The article, as one can see, doesn’t given a ton of hard data.  There’s a good amount of anecdotal evidence referenced here.  Furthermore, we all know that Christians have historically had a tendency to claim revival–and church growth–where it may or may not actually have happened.  If the testimony recorded here does reflect reality, however, this is a most unexpected and welcome development.

Can I give you a little context here?  I’m from Maine.  Real Maine–the deep country.  I am from a church that averaged between 30 and 70 people in attendance each week during my childhood.  Precious few people were saved during my time at First Baptist Church of East Machias.  This despite the faithful preaching of the gospel, the sacrificial evangelistic efforts of church members, and devoted members committed to imaging the gospel.  I knew of no revivals; my high school had perhaps 3-5 Christian students total.

When I went to college, I went to a vibrant church in Brunswick, Maine of between 200-300 members.  I thought it was a megachurch (seriously).  The congregation sponsored a radio ministry, had an education wing and pastor’s offices, and more.  I could barely believe my eyes.

Why do I share this?  Because, in my limited experience, revival in Maine–no, revival in New England–is almost unheard of.  Though far from Maine now, I keep tabs on my beloved home state, and I know that now, just as always, many churches fight for their very existence.  Many pastors work bivocationally.  Asbury’s circuit-riding has not died out; I know preachers who serve several tiny congregations that are the only gospel witnesses within miles.  If this revival (and other renewal efforts discussed by folks like Soong-Chang Rah) is indeed happening, and it seems it is, this is some of the most encouraging spiritual news I have ever heard regarding my home state and home region.  Ever.

I’m sure that many readers will lack a direct connection to Maine; whatever the case, would you join me in prayer for this development (and for other regions of our country and world)?  It may well be another confirmation that even in the darkest of times (a recent cover story by Newsweek showed that North American Christianity is indeed struggling in many cases), God has not forgotten His people.  As He has so often shown His church throughout the ages, He is faithful, He is strong to save, and His gospel of the kingdom is pushing back the thickest darkness through a mixed group of churches and faithful believers. 

In the land of Edwards, it seems, revival has come again.

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To begin learning more about New England Christians:

New England Center for Expository Preaching (note the May 2010 pastor’s conf featuring Mark Dever)

NETS Institute for Church Planting

Bangor Baptist Church

Calvary Chapel of Bangor

Faith Evangelical Free Church

2008 Pew Survey

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14 Comments

Filed under revival

14 responses to “Revival–In Maine!?

  1. I will spend some time praying today for revival to break out it Maine, New England, America and the world!

  2. Brian Ritchie

    Thanks, Owen. This was a good and encouraging read.

  3. owenstrachan

    Steve–appreciate the prayers. This news has given me a fresh reminder of the need to pray as well.

    Brian–glad it encouraged you, brother. Keep fighting the fight.

  4. Tracy Irvin

    Thanks for the encouraging news. Now, can we pray that Illinois, the land of Moody, will not be too far behind Maine???

  5. Thanks for spreading the news Owen. Please keep us posted if you hear more.

    I know God has been working amongst family in Worcester Mass. Joining you in prayer for that the Spirit may break forth anew in Maine and all of New England!

  6. owenstrachan

    Amen, Tracy. I share that same desire with you. Praying with you.

    Matt–what great news! There is almost nothing more encouraging than hearing about the advancement of the gospel in unreached places and people, including family. I am thrilled for you and your family. Keep me posted on this, please.

    Also, if there are any New England pastors (or pastors from other regions) who are seeing discernible spiritual fruit–that can be substantiated–let me know. I really want to use this tiny blog to encourage God’s people, so clue me in as good news comes.

    • Owen,

      Thanks for the blog post – a friend forwarded me the link. I am the pastor of a Calvary Chapel up in Lincoln, Maine. I was sent out from the Calvary mentioned in your article in 2003 to start a bible study in a town about 60 miles north of Bangor. It has since grown into a church, and is still growing – both in numbers and in the lives of the believers who attend. I don’t know what type of discernible spiritual fruit you are looking for, but our church is pretty tangible.

      In fact, the Calvary Chapel in the article has planted churches in Lincoln, Ellsworth, Machias, Searsport, Belfast, Dover, Waterville, Portland, and Sanford in the last 10 years, and there are other home fellowships springing up from those. We have a couple going on up in Millinocket and Topsfield now, and are hoping for more. I wouldn’t say that Maine is necessarily ablaze yet, but there are definite signs of life, especially among those churches who are expositionally teaching God’s Word.

      I would be glad to give you any more information you need – keep up the good work.

      Grace & Peace,

  7. Ryan Hill

    This is really encouraging to read. Thanks for sharing.

  8. owenstrachan

    Ryan–glad it encouraged you, brother. I’m waiting to hear where you’re going to be ministering…

    Steve, what a joy to hear from you. I’ve heard of the Calvary Chapel in Machias and am delighted that it is thriving. I had friends from Mattanawcook, so I’m gratified to hear of your ministry there. CC of Maine seems a more recent phenomenon; it hadn’t caught on in my memory when I was in high school and college, but I could not be more excited to hear of an expositorily driven, vibrantly evangelistic ministry in Maine. You have my prayers.

    If you–or any other pastor from wherever who is encouraged by the work of the gospel in your church and area–want to write up a 500-word or so summary of your call and the Lord’s subsequent work in your church, please send it to hctu[at]tiu.edu. This could go for a church that is seeing any kind of growth–numerical or spiritual.

    This little corner of blog real estate is not much, but it could not be better used by sharing a few stories that might encourage some of God’s people. Amidst political, cultural and physical upheaval, God is working, Christ is saving, the Spirit is moving.

  9. Jonesie

    Oh Dear. Owen it seems for some reason that as I follow your blog I feel the need to be the voice of dissent.

    Regarding the “revival” or the possible revival, I am venturing out on a limb to say I very much doubt it is true.

    I am aware of being out on a limb mostly because I am not there in Maine and more importantly, I am Canadian and Canada and the U.S. have different religious attitudes. Let me suggest that my hunch however is that whatever is going on in Maine is not different than what takes place in Canada when we Evangelicals gladly remark about growing church attendance and toss out the word revival.

    My bet is what you have going on in Maine is not revival or even evangelism. It is merely church member transference. The sheep are a moving. From one pen (church) to another. And whichever one has the momentum of numbers and creative and exciting programs is the one the sheep are moving to. Church growth has been studied in Canada by a renowned sociology of religion professor…. sort of our version of George Barna. The result have always indicated that while Canadians interest in spirituality is high, actual translation into church attendance is very low. Where church growth occurs, it is merely the saints on the move from one congregation to another.

    Now, to the receiving congregation, (i.e. lets call it Purer River Passion for Jesus Community of Hope), joy abounds! Evangelism works! Maybe even a revival! Attendance is up, commitment is up, giving is up, programs multiply, new staff are needed, and God is blessing the church. At the same time however, down the road at First Overshoe Community Church, budgets are reducing, attendance is decreasing, talk of staff lay-offs is going on, and pessimism abounds. God is not favoring us. Hmmmm.

    In Canada, the demographics have not changed in the 20 years sociologists have been tracking religious involvement. Evangelicals were 7 – 10% then, and are 7-10% now. This amidst the claims of church growth by the congregations becoming our version of a “mega-church” (2000-4000), and new church plants happening all the time.

    In reality, the growth is only movement from one church to another. Whoever has the hottest show going can take advantage of the internal crisis in the church on the other side of town and pretty soon the numbers add up to 200 families lost in one church and roughly the same numbers gained in the other.

    While being involved in our city’s Evangelical Ministerial for 20 years and chairing it as well, I have seen this cycle over and over again. And the lovely pastors sharing their story at the time of how God is blessing his church truly believes in what he is saying. The numbers don’t agree with him, but his heart is sure strangely warmed when he shares it! His colleague across the table longingly remembers when he too was once sharing the good news of his church growing. Now it just so happens that he is currently going through a major church attendance decline. And for some bizarre reason, probably just coincidence, the losses in his church and a few others in town add up to pretty much the same as their colleagues gain!

    When it happens here, Evangelicals have an advantage over their American counterparts. We have a dandy excuse to dodge the hard questions about church growth. An overwhelming majority of Canadians while not church attenders have a strong “religious memory” as it is called here. That memory is of their mainline church background (i.e. Roman Catholic, United, Anglican, etc). We are a mainline country, while you are an evangelical one. So when church transference happens from a mainline to an evangelical church, evangelicals dishonestly evade the truth by claiming “it is still evangelism because the person now has a proper relationship with Jesus rather than just religious ritual”. The extent of our deceit and trickery knows no limits! Still, most evangelical growth happens from departures from already evangelical churches.

    I have always wondered what that strange and awkward feeling of men being somewhat uncomfortable in each others presence at a ministerial meeting was all about. They are still really nice to each other in those meetings, but sometimes I want to stand up and say…”O.K, lets just get this out onto the table for once”.

    In reality religion and the practice of it is largely a social phenomenon, and the successful ones at it know best how to make the most of an opportunity to appeal to a consumer market. And make no mistake about it, church attendees are consumers of our religious product. Of course, we can’t say THAT! We are conditioned to say God is blessing this church.

    I would put money on the bet that if you scratch under the surface a little bit in Maine you will see the same thing is accounting for the growth in attendance. It is probably not evangelism, certainly not revival, but likely a few really good shows going on in town on Sunday mornings and like moths to the porch light burning brightly, they come. I would venture to say however, that it is merely because the neighbors porch light is burnt out and the bulb needs replacement.

  10. owenstrachan

    Jonesie–thanks for your comments. What you say could be true, and I tried to leave room for that in my blog. But there do seem to be some discernible signs of spiritual fruit here.

    In addition, just because some have observed this phenomenon of transfer-growth in Canada and other places does not mean that it is always and in every case the cause of so-called “revival.” It could be or it could not be. I certainly agree that evangelicals can be quick to shout revival wherever numbers tick up, and you’re absolutely right to call that out.

    But I do think that there may be something to what this article is claiming. If you haven’t already, read the whole thing, and you’ll see that people seem to be coming to faith, not merely changing churches.

    But please–don’t hear me as saying “revival as transfer growth” isn’t claimed today. It certainly is. I would actually call myself somewhat skeptical about evangelical statistics in general for many of the reasons you’ve touched on. I just don’t want to be so critical that I can’t see a good thing when it seems–seems–to be staring me in the face.

  11. Jonesie

    Good point.. I will choose to believe that what they feel is happening in Maine is actually happening. If it’s just transfer stuff, then I don’t want to know. I prefer bliss in ignorance once in a while because Lord knows, we all want to believe the stuff actually works.

    I have heard of many reports of a “revival” taking place in Ontario Canada in Roman Catholic churches. They tend not to claim that very often which makes this one interesting (I have heard the same reports from Protestants about R.C. growth in Ontario). I don’t know for sure, but I am sure sociologists and church observers will measure it.

    Perhaps you could write a post on what a revival actually is, and seek comments from your readers (if there are any) who have actually seen one and not merely read about it.

  12. James Proctor

    Us Christians these days seem to think that a revival is when a bunch of unsaved people come to know the lord. Revival however is NOT for the unbeliever but is for us Christians. The Results of Revival is the lost coming to Christ. A revival takes place when Christians stop fighting the move of the holy spirit and get down on our knees seeking the lord. God gives us a promise of renewal in 2 Chronicles 7:14 –

    if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

    I live in Portland Maine and I can tell you that the Holy Spirit is moving in a mighty way here in Maine. I am a member of the Park Ave. Church of God here in Portland and we just had our Northern New England Camp Meeting this past week. It’s pretty much a week long pep rally / Revival Meeting and the Presence of God was so strong each night it was awsome. Our Sunday Service this past week was also awsome and God just really met us during our time of worship. God is doing so much for me in my day to day life and revealing things to me for my future ministry. I just give God all the glory and praise for what he is doing and what he will continue to do as we get closer to Jesus’ return.

  13. Cyndy

    I just want to tell you that in August 2011, my daughter unexpectedly, after living in Texas all of her life, was set on going to Maine. Despite almost 4 months of prayer like I have never prayed before pleading with the Lord and with her not to go, she went anyway. Well, finding myself in this unforeseen situation, I began to pray for the state of Maine, especially Bangor, where my daughter went to live. I began to search for and contact churches up there, particularly Calvary Chapel, on behalf of my daughter to pray for her. Then I began to hear from the Lord and even told my daughter a week or so ago that I sensed that God was sending a revival to Maine. I told her that I felt that it was because it was the most unlikely place for it to happen. Because since she attended Bible school in the Bible belt, they have been trying to make a revival happen here in Dallas like it was back in the 60’s or 70’s with 40 days of fasting and prayer and getting all the churches together, only to have absolutely nothing happen. Believe me, man cannot produce a revival, no matter how hard he tries. God chooses and uses the least likely, so He will get all the glory, not man. The Lord woke me up just now in the middle of the night to pray for revival in Maine. This time I thought about Jonathan Edwards and decided to look on the web to see if there was anything about revival in Maine, and voila, here is this website! When you do get the revival in full swing–it looks like there was something going on back in early 2010–God is letting you know that it is still going to happen. Be VERY VERY CAREFUL how you handle it. Don’t be like Toronto and Brownsville. Revival–handle with care and the utmost of humility and TOTALLY listening to the Holy Spirit. Don’t noise it abroad (like Jesus told many people when He did miracles). Then all these people from down here (as well as elsewhere) will come up there and ruin it. And thank you for this web post, it is confirmation of what the Lord told me a couple of weeks ago, and now I know that it was the Lord that brought my daughter up to Maine. To Him be ALL the glory!

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