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.
First, we look at the 1902 Great Melbourne Revival and the impact it had on Melbourne and Australia. In the next section, we 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.
1902 – 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 ran 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 things
Missional unity in churches. The churches not only organised the event together, but they worked together to door knock the entire city at least twice
An 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.
1959 – A time of national revival
In 1959, Billy Graham came to Australia and New Zealand to spend 4 months touring and preaching the gospel. He did 114 meetings in 106 days . This tour became known as the greatest moment of revival history in our nation. To this day, I often meet men and women who were saved in that campaign and are still serving the Lord.
Billy Graham was invited out by Anglican Archbishop Howard Mowell, who rallied churches and believers for 6 years in the lead up to the gospel campaign. During the campaign over 146k across Australia made a commitment for Jesus.
Preparing the way
In lead up to this rally, over 40 000 individuals signed up to pray for the event. In Sydney, 600 of the 650 churches worked together to door knock around 400 000 homes with a spiritual survey. Over 8000 counselors (45k nationally) were trained to disciple the new believers. In Sydney, 150k people turned out on the last night and over 56k decisions for Jesus were made. Some churches reported 75% and 94% retention of the new believers.
These numbers are great for Sydney, however across Australia and New Zealand over 3 million (out of a total population of 10 million) turned out to hear the gospel, face to face, and even many more heard it across radio and TV. Almost 2% of the nation publicly admitted to deciding to follow Jesus.
God moved and on top of the multitude of decisions, judges, mayors and politicians are reported to have said that Sydney was a different place. On top of these reports, there was actual city-transformation that had measurable results.
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those whowill believe in Me through their word;that they all may be one, asYou, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.And theglory which You gave Me I have given them,that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me;that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23)
The fruit of the revival
Directly after the campaign, the crime increase rate dropped to half. This remained that way for 3 years. Alcohol sales dropped by 10% the following year. Pubs closed down, ex-nuptial births decreased and businesses reported an unusual amount of bad debts being paid off. That gospel campaign changed the social and cultural landscape of our nation, but in particular, Sydney.
The 1959 “Southern Cross Crusade” truly was a momentous occasion for Jesus, in our nation. There has not been a move like it in the last 70 years, but there were keys we could learn from the 1959 revival.
Keys to revival
When looking back at the event, three things have been attributed to the transformation
Missional unity in churches. The churches not only organized the event together, but they worked together to door knock around 400k homes with a spiritual survey
An immense amount of prayer. In lead up to the event, 40000 individuals committed to pray.
The Gospel. At the centre of the activity was a gospel event. It wasn’t about the event, it was about Jesus and His gospel, but God used the event to mobilize 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.
2 – Faase, K., n.d. Lessons from the 1959 Billy Graham crusade. [Online] Available at: https://www.crossover.org.au/revitalised-in-witness-the-lessons-from-the-billy-graham-crusades-of-1959-pt-3/ [Accessed 2019]