What Is a Spiritual Awakening and Are We Experiencing One Now?

The word “awakening” of course implies that the Church was previously in a state of spiritual sleep or slumber and needed to be awakened. So, are we currently experiencing a spiritual awakening, or are we in a state of spiritual sleep or slumber?

Kristi Walker
Hands holding a globe with a mask on it, over a city skyline

A spiritual awakening, in regards to Christianity, is a period of time characterized by largescale, widespread revival, and the supernatural moving of the Spirit of God in such a way that produces an intense hunger for Christ and Christianity. 

Typically, hundreds of people, if not thousands, will come to faith in Christ during a spiritual awakening. Churchleaders.com explain it this way:

During a spiritual revival, God supernaturally transforms believers and nonbelievers in a church, locale, region, nation or the world through sudden, intense enthusiasm for Christianity. People sense the presence of God powerfully; conviction, despair, contrition, repentance and prayer come easily; people thirst for God’s word; many authentic conversions occur and backsliders are renewed.

Revival and awakening are, generally, synonyms. The larger the geography a revival covers, the greater the tendency to call it an awakening.

According to Decision Magazine, 

“The Church’s first great revival occurred when 3,000 Jews came to Christ on the day of Pentecost, likely on May 24, A.D. 33.”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:38-41).

“That awesome beginning was a foretaste of what would happen time after time throughout history. By the year 300, approximately 14 million called themselves Christian, and by 500 the number neared 40 million. Since the early 1700s, God has brought about a number of notable revivals.”

The following are six of the most famous revivals or awakenings in history. Excluding “The Great Moravian Revival,” all information is referenced from Decision Magazine.

1. The Great Moravian Revival (1727)

This revival in Herrnhut, Germany spread to England and America. “This was not the greatest revival in numerical growth or geographical scope. Nevertheless, it well deserves the name because it was the first discernible occasion that God’s Spirit was outpoured simultaneously across different nations.”

2. The Great Awakening (1725-1840)

Focused on those who were already churchgoers, The Great Awakening was a series of revivals that swept across the “New World.” Under preachers like Gilbert Tennent, Jonathan Edwards, and English evangelist George Whitefield, the revivals reached their peak from 1740 to 1742. At the same time as the Great Awakening in America was the Wesleyan revival in England.

3. The Second Great Awakening (1790-1840)

America’s next revival began in 1801 at the Cane Ridge camp meeting in Kentucky, whereas many as 3,000 were converted. The banner year for camp meetings was 1811 when approximately one-third of all Americans attended one of them.

By 1806, the Awakening had reached Williams College in Massachusetts. There, five students prayed during a thunderstorm in the shelter of a haystack, four of the five committing themselves to become missionaries. The Haystack Prayer Meeting, as it came to be called, was the beginning of the American foreign mission movement.

4. The Prayer Meeting Revival (1857-1858)

Also called the Businessmen’s Revival, this revival started as a prayer meeting of six people on Fulton Street in New York City. Over the next two years, a million converts were added to American churches and a million to churches in England and Ireland.

5. The Welsh Revival (1904-1905)

The Welsh Revival began in 1904 under the preaching of Evan Roberts. Within two years, 100,000 converts were added to the Welsh Church. More than five million came to Christ as the revival spread throughout the world.

As part of this same outpouring of the Spirit, revival came in 1906 to a mission led by William Seymour in a dilapidated building on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. The Azusa Street Revival was the formative event of early Pentecostalism.

6. Modern-Day Revival in China

Perhaps the most remarkable revival has taken place in China since the last missionaries left in 1953. In 1980, there were two million Christian believers in China — and by 2000 there were approximately 75 million.

A Spiritual Awakening Today

The word “awakening” of course implies that the Church was previously in a state of spiritual sleep or slumber and needed to be awakened. Just as in the case of the Day of Pentecost, almost every great revival or awakening has been preceded by an intense season of fervent prayer. 

So, are we currently experiencing a spiritual awakening, or are we in a state of spiritual sleep or slumber? I think it is safe to say that God is certainly attempting to shake the world awake using a global pandemic.

While many nations on earth are currently turning a deaf ear to God and literally ignoring Him, they are facing an unprecedented crisis, paralyzing fear, and economic recession. Is this what it’s going to take to shake us awake?

Europe, for instance, is stumbling around in utter spiritual darkness. European Initiative has this to say:

It is one of the spiritually darkest continents of our time and one of the least evangelized in the world. Currently, less than 2.5% of Europeans are evangelical Christians (Operation World). Atheism, agnosticism, secularism, and Islam are on the rise. Within Europe, there are villages without a single life-giving church. Thousands have never even seen or held a Bible. Millions will spend eternity apart from God unless the Gospel reaches them. 

Europe is in desperate need of a spiritual awakening, but maybe the same can be said of the majority of the nations on earth.

Greg Laurie recently wrote an article for Christianity Today titled, “Will COVID-19 Lead to the Next Great American Awakening?” In it, he wrote, “I think we finally are beginning to realize we need God.” Is he right or will it take something much worse than a pandemic to rouse us from our spiritual coma?

What Does This Mean?

Perhaps the truly honest thing to say is that we don’t know for sure. The answer is prayer. We need to come together and pray for the supernatural moving of the Spirit of God in such a way that produces an intense hunger for Christ and Christianity! 

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 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 I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:13-14). 

That is our only hope for healing from this pandemic and for a spiritual awakening. 

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Kristi Walker has been a missionary in Berlin, Germany for over 15 years working with an international church as the Director of Student Ministries. She is the author of two books - Disappointment: A Subtle Path Away from Christ and Convinced. Applying Biblical Principles to Life’s Choices.

Originally published May 04, 2020.