Brownsville Revival: Part
By Steve Rabey
The revival that began on Father's Day, 1995, at
Brownsville Assembly of God is still going strong five years later.
"Revivals come and go, but what has been happening
here, night after night, is different," wrote Rick Bragg, in his May
1997 page-one piece in the New York Times, entitled "In Florida,
a Revival That Came but Didn't Go." As Bragg wrote, "What started
as a typical, temporary revival on Father's Day 1995 has snowballed
into what is apparently the largest and longest-running Pentecostal
revival in America in almost a century."
But things change over time, and the revival has
One of the most noticeable changes is that evangelist
Steve Hill, the man who helped start the revival and whose fiery preaching
about righteousness and judgment kept it going, has announced that
he is leaving Pensacola for Dallas, where it will be easier for his
Together in the Harvest ministry to get international flights for
his overseas crusades.
Preaching overseas had been a top priority for
Hill for years, but after the revival at Brownsville began, Hill canceled
many of his preaching engagements to stay in Pensacola. Still, Hill's
desire to evangelize around the world never lessened, and he has now
decided to return to that calling. Hill will also launch a television
ministry, something he declined to do previously, even though he had
received numerous offers.
Another major change at Brownsville is that the
huge crowds that used to descend on the church have lessened. From
1995 to 1998, crowds of people from around the world would start gathering
before dawn for evening revival services. During the summer months
many people would bring tents and umbrellas to shelter them from the
scorching sun. Even then, some of those who had waited in line for
hours were unable to get into the services, leading some long-time
members to give their seats to the out-of-town visitors.
Now the crowds have abated somewhat. Also, the
church built additional facilities. For the last two years overflow
crowds have been able to watch live video feeds of the services on
huge screens in a new building.
But there's another important reason fewer people
are flocking to Brownsville, and that's the impact the revival has
had on other churches around the globe.
Early on, pastors flocked to Brownsville, so they
could experience spiritual renewal themselves. In time, many of these
pastors returned, refreshed, to their own congregations, where they
and some of their members fervently prayed for revival there. In many
cases, revival broke out.
"The Assemblies of God was raised up as a revival
movement, but we had moved away from that," said General Superintendent
Thomas Trask, the denomination's highest-ranking official. "We had
become content. We had become careless. We had cooled off." During
the late 1980s and early 1990s, the denomination's growth stopped.
Trask and others grew concerned. "We had plateaued, and there was
some indication that things were beginning to go the other way."
The revival at Brownsville came just in time. Hundreds
of Assemblies pastors have visited the revival, experienced a dramatic
touch of God there, and returned to their churches refreshed and spiritually
renewed. "This is really a sovereign move of God, and the impact has
been powerful," said Trask. "Many, many of our pastors have gone searching,
looking, and believing, and they have witnessed the power of God.
It has done something for their own hearts and lives."
It has also done something for church statistics.
In 1996 and 1997 the denomination reported significant increases in
conversions, water baptisms, and Spirit baptisms. And giving for foreign
missions is at an all-time high: $117 million.
One of the most celebrated spin-offs from the Brownsville
revival was the "Smithton Outpouring" in Missouri. Pastor Steve Gray
came to Brownsville in 1996 seeking renewal and went home recharged.
Two years later, Gray's once-tiny Smithton Community Church was bursting
at the seams.
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