As we count down towards the national day of prayer at Wembley few thoughts began to cross my mind. One of them is perhaps what some evangelical Christians might be asking and that is, do we still need big gatherings or events like Global Day of Prayer at Wembley?
Historically, evangelical Christianity in Britain have enjoyed huge successful gatherings. This started with the beginnings of the Movement with such men as George Whitefield (1714-1770) and Charles Wesley (1703-1791). It was George Whitefield who actually introduced the concept of open air gatherings when many Church pulpits deny him the opportunity of preaching. He broke with the tradition of preaching and started preaching in the open air. This method was already in use in Wales through itinerant Evangelists and Whitefiled definietly came in contact with some of these Evangelists. Charles Wesley was also refused to preach in Anglican Churches therefore he followed the method of preaching of his friend George Whietfield. He travelled the length and breadth of this country riding a horse and preached to large gatherings of people. There were lots of conversions from his preaching.
Another time in the history of British evangelical Christianity that saw large gatherings was through the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). This was not through open air but through the Church that Spurgeon built. When Metropolitan Tabernacle was opened in March 1861 it became the largest dissenting place of worship in Britain as it was able to seat more than 5,000 people! The Welsh revival of 1904-05 was another major event in the history of British Christianity that saw thousands gather in the cool mines, chapels and public spaces. This revival was inspired through the ministry of a young man by the name of Evan Roberts (1878-1951)
Since around 1946-till about the 1980s, there has been different gatherings and expressions of evangelical Christianity in Britain. Billy Graham started coming to Britain since the 1940s when he made a brief tour of Europe. Since then he has been to the UK on several occassions to organise Gospel campaign meetings ususally known as ‘Crusades’. In 1955 he did a Gospel meeting at Wembley stadium. The year 1989 was perhaps a definning moment in the history of British evangelical Christianity as over 500 Churches and civic leaders invited Billy Graham to what is known as mission 89 which saw thousands gathered at three centres in London. This seems to have mark the end of big gatherings, but it must be mentioned that since the 1970s, House Churches Movement have also seen large gatherings through their concept of a weeks gathering of Bible study and worship. This is what has led to various events such as Sring Harvest, Revive (Icthus Christian Fellowship), and Stoneleigh Bible Week (NewFrontiers Church) to mention a few. Other gatherings of this nature will be New Wine and Soul Survivor. Similarly in the 1980s March for Jesus was started by Roger Forster (Icthus Fellowship), Gerald Coates (Pioneers Network) and Lynn Green (Youth with a Mission). They together with Graham Kendrick led a movement of Christians all across this nation. This concept of prayer walk became inspiring that it soon spread to other coutries.
It appears that since the 1990s British Christainity became cynical and sceptical of big gatherings due to several factors. One of these is to think that big gatherings is not working any longer and that it is an outdated form of communicating the Gospel. This observation is partly right as we now live in times when the public is not interested in Christianity. But I think there is still a place for big gatherings such as Global Day of Prayer. Big gatherings are imortant in showcasing that Chistainity still has a large presence in this country and that we have a voice. If Christians in this country can gather together irrespective of our theological differences and persuasions, this sends a message to the country and our government that we are here and are visible. This is important for the public face of Christianity in this country. This is why events such as the National day of prayer at Wembley is very important. Already it is generating media interest because of the possibility of the numbers it could attract (possibly 70,000). It is also important because of GDOP’s vision of prayer:
- The British Isles be transformed through the power of prayer and the unity of the church in obedience to the Great Commission.
- The prophetic destiny of this nation be fulfilled according to God’s mandate – Thy Will be done on Earth as in Heaven.
- A call will go out to the whole of the Isles calling God’s people to THE ALTAR where they will meet God privately and publicly.
- The people of God repent of their differences and unite as ONE proclaiming the Gospel so that millions can hear it through Word and Action.