Exponential Revival: Facebook as the Model
Nov. 15, 2010
Fifty years ago, I heard a pastor say, "The world needs a great revival." That was back when there were three billion people. Today, there are 6.8 billion. In 2050, there will be nine billion.
The world needs a great revival. It then needs to be sustained.
There are two models for a Christian revival: linear and exponential.
Let us assume that of the 1.2 billion people listed as Christians, a billion really are.
If, every day, a city the size of Memphis (500,000) were converted to Christ, it would take 31 years to convert today's non-Christian world. But by then, there would be another 2.2 billion people. So, add another 12 years. This is linear revival.
It does not exist. It never has. There is no model for a revival that adds people on a linear basis, day after day, "steady as we go," for half a century. There is either exponential revival or no revival.
What is exponential revival? It is easy to describe. Let us assume that you invite two friends to church. They both come the next Sunday. They both say, "I believe." They join. They both invite two friends to attend the next Sunday. The friends come. The friends say, "I believe." They join. They invite two friends.
How many weeks will it take until your local church is full? Three? Four? Your church could go to multiple services. What happens in three months? The pastor offers a plea: "Stop inviting people. We're full."
When we get "2 to the X," things fill up really fast.
We live in the decade of the greatest example of exponential institutional growth in history: Facebook. It was started in 2003. It has 500 million participants today.
In my head, I hear Jesus saying: "Go, and do thou likewise."
I am not saying that such a revival will happen. I am saying that if we want the world to come to Christ before too many of them die, revival must come like this.
WHICH DENOMINATION WOULD BENEFIT MOST FROM THIS?
Which American denominations could best take advantage of an exponential revival?
The Catholics have the real estate. They are running very low on priests.
The Protestant independents can multiply pastors rapidly. They have little real estate.
The hierarchical Protestants are short of both real estate and pastors.
So, there is a major shortage (at today's prices): pastors and real estate. The churches could not deal with an exponential revival. They would all be short-circuited within three months.
So, here is the answer: no hierarchical denomination will mobilize its members for the systematic prayer required to sustain this process.
It's worse than this: every hierarchical denomination's leadership would fight it tooth and nail. If it worked, it would blow up all of them within six months. They would all short circuit. They would run out of available real estate and pastors. They would have to completely change their hierarchies: pastoral training, the administration of the sacraments, counselling. As Calvinists say, "fat providence!"
The independents might give it a shot, congregation by congregation. But they could not control the growth. They could not oversee it. The new converts would overwhelm the traditionalists. They would soon out-vote them in the business meetings. Within a year, the newcomers would own the real estate. Any pastor who resisted would be dismissed.
We cannot have a sustained revival and also maintain the present ecclesiastical infrastructure. Pastors know this. So, there is no call for sustained prayer for a sustained revival.
The last major revival was 1801-40: the Second Great Awakening. In 1858, there were mini-revivals in the U.S., Scotland, and South Africa. That strange event is long forgotten. It was gone in two years. It left almost no trace. The Civil War engulfed it here. I don't know about Scotland and South Africa.
WHAT DOES EVERY CHURCH REALLY NEED?
Every congregation needs leaders (hierarchy/courts), sacraments, teaching, fellowship, money, leadership training. All must have baptisms, weddings, and funerals.
Does it need a building? This is a huge restriction. It is revival-jamming. The early churches had no buildings.
Does it need a pastor? Yes. How could multiplying new churches hire them fast enough, given the present training programs? They couldn't. Maybe we should call this revival-generated supply problem "peak pastors."
There are three institutional models: top-down (Catholics), bottom-up (Presbyterians), and independency.
The Catholics have the real estate, the Presbyterians have the footnotes, and the Baptists and Pentecostals have the rapid-response systems. If we think "spontaneous order," it's the independents who would win. It's Wiki. It's Facebook.
Are you with me so far?
The Presbyterians are so bureaucratic, it would take ten years to get it through the committees. By then, everyone would be spoken for. That crippling model is proven: 1801 to 1811. It takes 4 years of college and 3 years of seminary to produce a novice pastor. The first Protestant seminary -- Andover -- was invented in 1808. The second -- Princeton -- opened in 1812. By then, the new Presbyterian missionaries in Kentucky found that every household had been visited by a Baptist and a Methodist. It was basically over.
It seems to me that the model would have to be Facechurches. The connections will be "viral." They must spread through the Web, extending communities.
Think about this. There is no way that the existing church models can handle a "2 to the X" revival. On the assumption that the revival will come, what kind of structure could handle the growth?
Nobody else has written about this, as far as I know. The hierarchical churches see it as a threat, which it is. They could not respond fast enough. The independents have no incentive: "Every church for itself!"
There are limits on leadership. Few Protestant pastors can handle a congregation above 120 adults. This goes back to 1780. It is not likely to change. It's a managerial problem. Catholics hired multiple priests per parish. Those days are gone. The Catholics have now moved to the circuit-rider model. It's 1830 in Tennessee!
Any church that does not delegate sacramental authority to newly trained/certified ex-laymen will be swamped by a sustained revival.
I have written about Jesus' feeding of the 20,000 (5,000 x 4). No one else has discussed the time constraint. He did not have time to break that many loaves/fishes. Maybe the disciples did it, but it still would have taken hours. I think it was the recipients. The multiplication came through
participation. Pass the baskets. More bread for all. Fishes, too.
There has to be a hierarchy to settle disputes. Even Wiki has this.
How could the Web be used to handle a 2 to the X revival? We do not know. We will find out if exponential revival comes.
If the restriction on sustained revival is institutional/bureaucratic, we need an end run. If the Web is the means of handling the growth, let's think through how. I only want to nudge the system. The spontaneous order will provide solutions. But there ought to be a working model to launch this.
I think the lack of money is not the restraining factor. The absence of a preliminary model is.
Start here: the #1 restraint is real estate (atoms). Number 2 is pastors (atoms). How can these be provided: leadership, training, courts?
Fellowship can be mostly digital. It already is: Facebook. The reform must begin with digits (electrons).
Sacraments are atomic. This is the Face Churches' #1 problem. Where will we find space on Sunday? Where will we find leaders?
When it happens, there will be a decades of turbulence. It will take a century to sort out. Whatever the ecclesiastical lansdcape looked like before the revival began will be gone.
That is the price of exponential revival.
What is the price of no revival? Astronomer Carl Sagan said it best in 1980 (Cosmos): billions and billions.
It is not a question of "price paid vs. no price paid." It is a question of which price paid. Which price do today's Christians prefer to pay?
It is a question of comfort zones: in history and eternity. How much discomfort are Christians willing to endure in history?
We dare not say, "Because the present institutional structure of the churches could not handle exponential revival, 6 billion people will just have to go to hell. Sorry about that." But isn't that exactly what we are saying, or at least thinking? Isn't this the operating presupposition of all missions programs? "Grandaddy did it this way, and that's the way it has to be done."
We are in Catch-22. Laymen must be the front-line troops in such a program, but they do not do it, because they are not told how to do it. They need pastoral leadership. But the pastors would fight this kind of exponential growth if they thought it was eschatologically possible, which they don't. They would lose influence in the tidal wave of new converts, all needing training, and all allowed to vote in Protestant churches. "Too many Indians, not enough chiefs."
So, here is the invisible sign on top of every congregation and denomination, all over the world: Jesus Saves a Few,
But Probably Not You
Facebook is here: 500 million participants. This took seven years. This is exponential, not linear. How should Christians harness this technology? Please don't tell me, "They shouldn't," unless you can suggest a better model for exponential revival. Your model must include financing: real estate and pastors. In Cuba Gooding's now-immortal words, "Show me the money!"
Facebook is free. Buildings and pastors aren't.
With or without pastoral cooperation, the revival will come. We do not know when. Sooner is better than later. There are 6.8 billion people, with 2.2 billion more coming.
The greatest revival in history has taken place in China since 1976. It has taken place as pastors have been sent to jail, leaving laymen (or women) to run things.
Something else: there are not many church buildings in China. No mortgages, either.
A word to the wise is sufficient.
On sustained revival, start here: http://www.garynorth.com/public/department132.cfm