DEVILLE, La. (BP)–A spur-of-the-moment decision proved to be the catalyst needed to ignite a revival in a town of 1,000 people, and in the process has helped to heal an 87-year-old church.
As Robby Poole, pastor of Longview Baptist Church in Deville, La., was fixing the marquee to announce the church’s approaching four-day revival, he sensed God telling him to use the word “community” instead of the church’s name in the announcement.
He did, and what resulted was an overwhelming response from the community — a spiritual movement that, at times, left Poole speechless, emotionally drained, on a spiritual high, and praising God for His power and love.
“It was the right word to use at the right time,” Poole said. “Oftentimes people won’t attend because they feel the revival is just for that church. It’s not, of course, but that’s the perception. That one change rang true with the community and they responded. Because of the vision God gave me, it turned into a community-wide event.”
Sister churches in Deville embraced the idea of a community revival, cancelled their Sunday evening services, and pastors encouraged their members to attend. People from other denominations also came.
“Deville is like so many other communities,” Poole said. “It is suffering. There is hurt, pain and poverty; drug and alcohol abuse; a brokenness that only God can repair and fix.”
The community wasn’t the only place hurting: Longview Baptist Church itself was slowly emerging from a difficult period in its history due to growth pains and changes in order to reach the community, coupled with the cost and stress related to the completion of a new children’s education building.
“I can truthfully say that 2009 was my most difficult in 22 years of ministry,” said Poole, who has served as Longview’s pastor the last five years. “There wasn’t a whole lot of fellowship and we had fallen on some lean ministry times.”
In February, five weeks before revival, the deacons and volunteers from the church, taking a page from Louisiana Baptists’ “Sharing the Peace of Jesus” evangelistic initiative, canvassed more than 3,000 homes in the area. Not only did they invite people to come on Easter Sunday, but also to the revival.
Evangelist Bill Britt, a veteran of more than 800 revivals and 90 overseas crusades, began the revival Sunday morning a little uncertain as to how he would be received.
“It felt a little tight before the music,” Britt said. “But as I was sitting there, the Lord whispered in my heart, ‘Son, I’ve got this under control. You just preach My Word.’ I knew then everything was going to be all right.”
Britt drew from the Book of Luke (14:25-34) for his morning message and continued in Luke (14:19) for the evening service.
“I’m not against new ideas — new ways to reach out to people — but God’s Word is still the most powerful way to reach them,” Britt said. “Too often we take a humanistic approach to things, instead of relying on the power of God. Far too many churches have given up on revival and VBS, because it takes a great amount of work and they simply just don’t want to pay the price.”
Mixing humor with Scripture, Britt’s often-fiery delivery captivated and resonated through the people packing the Longview sanctuary nightly. At the invitation, the altar was filled with people, and counselors stayed busy helping individuals who were making life-changing decisions.
“I could sense the brokenness of all those getting saved,” Britt said. “You could see God working in the hearts. You could feel the Holy Spirit changing lives, and that told me true revival was beginning to take place. I told a friend that on Monday or Tuesday night, I found the prayer guide — 40 days of preparation for revival — which Robby [Longview’s pastor] had given out. It answered a lot of questions for me about this revival.”
The revival included a series of events for the community — midday manna, children’s hot dog hog-out and youth pizza pig-out. Poole and Matt McCann, the church’s minister of students/education, asked everyone to invite a friend to the gatherings.
On Tuesday night, the Longview’s auditorium was filled with nearly 80 young children, their parents and another huge crowd. Younger children sometimes have a hard time staying still in church but Britt, who described the crucifixion of Jesus as told in the Gospel of Matthew, kept everyone, including the children, mesmerized.
“You could have heard a pin drop in the church,” Poole said. “No one moved, not even the kids and that’s surprising. They hung on every word.”
One of the week’s highlights came during a Wednesday morning assembly at Buckeye High School when Britt shared his testimony and spoke from the Word to 480 students.
“It is hard to get in any school and share the Gospel these days … so I was thrilled to have the opportunity,” Britt said. “It was amazing to see how the students responded. I was even more amazed to see how the teachers had such a burden for these students.”
Britt invited the students to the revival that night and to bring a friend. Members of Longview’s youth handed out cards inviting their friends and classmates to eat pizza and then attend the revival. Thirty pizzas were purchased for the night.
More than 175 students, a third of the high school’s population, attended, filling 15 pews in the front of the church. By the night’s end, 35 made decisions, including 26 professions of faith in Christ.
Realizing the need to extend the revival, Poole quickly conferred with Britt and the revival’s music leaders, the Willis Family, to see if they could stay another day. They said they could and Poole announced the revival would be extended.
“I really didn’t know what to expect or how many people would show up,” Poole said. “I told everyone to invite a friend; I announced we would have another pizza night for the youth; and I said we’d see them back the next night.”
At midnight, Poole changed the marquee, noting, “God is working! Revival continues.”
The next day members of Longview’s youth took it upon themselves to make an announcement at school, which was definitely the buzz among the students and the community. And those who had attended the night before invited more of their friends.
“I just believed in my heart [that extending the revival] was what God wanted me to do,” Poole said. “I knew He was a big enough God to fill this church many times over and I just needed to put it in His hands.
“We were going through a true revival,” the pastor continued. “I had experienced something similar 15 years ago when I was in student ministry. I didn’t want this one to end. So many others have told me the same.”
That night, despite high school softball and baseball games, the pews were full. Sixteen people were baptized to start the service and Britt preached once again.
At the invitation, people streamed into the aisles and filled the altar. Some youth, still dressed in their uniforms, came forth with a friend in tow, and another 31 decisions, including 23 professions of faith, were made.
“I feel completely blessed by God,” Poole said. “He has been so gracious to me. I wouldn’t want to have to endure another year like the last one. But if it meant going through the desperation, the brokenness, and the pain to reach where we are now, I would do it.
“Our jobs, though, are just beginning,” the pastor noted. “We as a staff and as a church must begin discipleship with all the ones who accepted Jesus.
“This week has renewed and strengthened me. I don’t want it to end and I really don’t think it will. I think this revival is going to spread. It is a good and powerful first step. It has nothing to do with any man; it has everything to do with God.”
In five days, there were more than 80 decisions, of which 62 were professions of faith, and 56 baptisms.
“Praise God,” Britt said. “I love it when I can reach a person — young or old. Weeks like this one are like a fresh breath of heaven on my heart. And it has certainly been a very good week for my wife Wendy and myself.
“But revival, true revival, isn’t confined to just a few nights,” Britt said. “I’m an optimist and I think God can bring revival to America. And I think He can do so starting right here in Deville.
“Stretch a rubber band out. It won’t stay that big when you let go, but it will never be the same either,” Britt said. “It is my prayer Longview and this community will never be the same.”
Philip Timothy is a staff writer for the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.