In 1901, when Australia took the Federation census, 96.1% of Australians said that they were Christian. Fast forward to 1916, and in this most recent census, 52.2% of the nation declared they were Christian. During the last census period, we lost 10% and if that decline rate only steadied (didn’t increase as it has been doing) then within 7 years (2 census periods) we would be at 32%. These figures don’t represent the percentage of our population that has a living vibrant relationship with Jesus, but they certainly represent how open we are, as a nation, to the gospel. About 7-9% of the population attend a church regularly which would be a closer representation of those who have a relationship with God.
But there is hope…
Despite it looking like a dark day for Christianity in Australia, there have been times when God has moved in a way that changed major cities. Today, there are towns across this nation that are seeing the same glimmer of hope – a greatly reduced attrition rate in Christianity in opposition to the national average and other towns around them. If we can learn the lessons from these historical moves of God and the regional towns where God is still moving, and if we can harness it in other parts of our nation, then we believe there is great potential to not only slow down the attrition rate of Christianity but to turn it around.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. ISAIAH 60:1-2
The two major historical moves in our history occurred in 1902 & 1959. Today we will look at the 1902 Great Melbourne Revival and the impact it had on Melbourne and Australia. In the next article, we will look at the national revival and city transformation that happened through Billy Graham’s ministry in 1959. Then if we couple these lessons with modern data we can form the foundation for a strategy to see our nation come back to Jesus. A strategy that is God-inspired, biblical, proven and contemporary with what God is doing across the globe in our day.
The Great Melbourne Revival
In 1902, the Great Melbourne Revival  changed the landscape of Christianity in this corner of the world. In the 1890s’ many of the Melbourne churches united and invited Dwight L Moody to come and hold an evangelistic campaign. DL Moody had been a significant evangelist and leader in the 1857-1859 Second Great Awakening.
Over 200 churches (about 80%) of the churches gathered and prayed for the upcoming campaign. The prayer meetings started years in advance and by the time the campaign began the local churches had held over 16000 prayer meetings. Also, the churches had door knocked the entire city of Melbourne at least twice, with a personal invitation to the meetings. DL Moody couldn’t come as he passed away in 1899, but his spiritual protégé, RA Torrey came. On the weekend of the first meeting over 8000 gathered in the Great Exhibition Hall. The campaign was run over a few months on each Sunday. The population of Melbourne at the time was 500k. By the last Sunday, they had 250k people turn out to hear the word of God preached. That is 50% of the city. By the end, 50 evangelists led simultaneous meetings in 42 halls and sports fields all across Melbourne.
The fruit of the revival
The revival started in Melbourne and then travelled up the coast and ended up seeing major percentages of the Pacific Islands converted, even to this day most of the islands are Christian and some have attributed it to the 1902 revival.
Directly after the campaign, crime dropped to zero per cent and even 12 months later the police were still bored as there was no crime in the city. Pubs closed, and picture theatres were emptied. That campaign changed the social and cultural landscape of Melbourne.
Keys to revival
When looking back at the event, three things have been attributed to the transformation to three thingsMissional unity in churches. The churches not only organised the event together, but they worked together to door knock the entire city at least twiceAn immense amount of prayer. In lead up to the event, 16000 prayer meetings were held.The Gospel. At the centre of the activity was a gospel event. It wasn’t about the event, it was about Jesus, but God used the event to mobilise the Body with prayer and outreach.
1 Renshaw, W. F., 2014. Torrey-Alexander: Revival comes to Melbourne. In: Marvellous Melbourne and spiritual power. Acorn Press, pp. 42-49.
NEXT, WE LOOK AT THE 1959 BILLY GRAHAM CAMPAIGN AND ITS IMPACT