Spirit-led, sermon-free church meetings spread across America in 1857-1858. Jeremiah Lanphier started a prayer meeting on September 23, 1857 in New York City. Six men showed up. In the next few months 10,000 people began meeting daily for prayer in New York. Then these Spirit-led, organic church style meetings began to spread all across America. They were interdenominational and most were started by business men and other regular people instead of by preachers.
This movement is known to history as The Layman’s Prayer Revival or The Revival of 1857 or The Third Great Awakening. Historians say that as the meetings spread more than a million people came to Christ in the United States and another million in Great Britain.
Here are some quotations about this great outbreak of sermon-free meetings:
“The idea was to have singing, prayer, exhortation, relation of religious experience, as the case might be; that none should be required to stay the whole hour; that all should come and go as their engagements should allow or require, or their inclinations dictate.” –Jeremiah Lanphier
“There was such a general confidence in the prevalence of prayer, that the people very extensively seemed to prefer meetings for prayer to meetings for preaching. The general impression seemed to be ‘we have had instruction until we are hardened; it is time for us to pray.’” –Charles Finney
“Lay people, not church leaders led. Prayer, rather than preaching, was the main focus. The meetings themselves were informal — any person might pray, speak, lead in a song, or give a word of testimony, with a five minute limit placed on each speaker.” –Dan Graves
“In the Great Revival of 1857-1858 preaching seems to have occupied a very secondary place, it received its chief emphasis through the personal testimony of the men and women whose hearts God had touched.” –Frank G. Beardsley
In 1859 a man, B. Evans, gave lecture in England about the Layman’s Prayer Revival. Suggesting how to cultivate the spirit of revival, Evans said: “Don’t force the great work. Let God appear. Follow His guidance. Let there be no getting up of effect; let it not be man’s effort, but the work of the Divine Spirit. Don’t impede it by your selfishness, your vanity, and your pride. Stand aside, that He may work. Let the Cross-be prominent, be hidden by its glory. In weakness find your strength, in abasement, your glory. Forget yourselves in your deep and intense adoration of your exalted Lord. “
Perhaps we should give sermon-free church a chance in the 21st Century. It is amazing what the Holy Spirit will do if we get our agendas, programs, control, and self-interest out of the way and allow Him to actually direct and control His church meetings.
Experience sermon-free church in Nashville at The Salvation Army Berry Street, 225 Berry St., 37207 on Sunday mornings at 10:45 and Thursday nights @ 6:30.