Christiantimelines.com and Studychurchhistory.com presents Summaries of Christianity

Information and 150+ summaries at christiantimelines.com/summaries.htm or click at bottom

Charles Finney: Instructions on How to Hold a Revival

The Second Great Awakening (early to mid-1800s) produced new methods of practicing Christianity.  As with any mass movement, though, it is difficult if not impossible to isolate the one person who created a new idea.  But one of the people who popularized a number of these new methods was Charles Finney.  These have become known as "New Meaures." 

Finney (1792-1875) was a traveling evangelist, probably the most successful one of the Nineteenth Century. He was converted to Christianity in 1821 and was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1824. He began his revival preaching in western New York, and then went on to Philadelphia and New York. Eventually he traveled to many parts of American with his big tent revivals.

From the beginning, Finney tried new procedures in his revivals.  One of the most influential and imitated was that of the "anxious bench." In a revival meeting, when someone became concerned about the state of their soul, they could move to the front of the audience and sit in special seats set aside for those about to make a conversion decision. The purpose was twofold: bring the person closer to Finney where he could look the person in the eye, and allow other non-Christians who were close to making a decision to see others struggling and turning their lives over the God. This would encourage them to come to the "anxious bench" and also be converted. (This is one of the forerunners to the current practice in many churches of having an "altar call," that time after the sermon where individuals are encouraged to come to the front where the pastor is standing and make a profession of converted faith.)  [Side note: go here to see a picture of Finney's penetrating stare:  http://www.swartzentrover.com/cotor/e-books/holiness/Authors/Charles%20G%20Finney.htm ]

While the most prominent method, Finney utilized several other new practices. One was the practice of holding services a number of nights in a row. This led to increased conversions as people had two, three, four, or more nights to consider their spiritual situation. He also believed that a revivalist should forgo lofty and theological language. Instead of speaking above people’s heads, he said, the preacher should speak to them in the language they use, "the language of common life". By appealing to hearts instead of heads, Finney believed more people would be converted.

He was one of the first to allow women to speak and pray in mass meetings.  This came at a time when women were not allowed to vote (which was approved in 1919), so it was somewhat scandalous.  

His overarching belief was that God gave humans the ability to promote and encourage spiritual renewal. While his opponents believed God should lead in bringing people to Him, Finney believed God allowed him to use any device or tool to bring a person to God. In other words, Finney did not believe the timing of a conversion should be left to God, but the minister needed to manipulate the various aspects of the worship service and sermon in order to bring the listener to a place of spiritual brokenness which would lead to conversion or spiritual renewal.

©2006/2011 Mark Nickens

Questions/comments contact Mark at drnickens@triad.rr.com.

To go to Summaries Home click here.