Mass Evangelism Crusades of an Astonishing Type
by Rev. David T. Myers
Some years ago we considered the life and pastoral ministry of J. Wilbur Chapman, who was ordained on April 13, 1881 (here). Following his pastorate in five churches, two of which were Presbyterian, we look now at his appointment by the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America to the position of General Secretary of Evangelism on December 12, 1902. Immediately upon his appointment, he was placed as an overseer of 51 evangelists in 470 cities across the nation. But as important as this post was, it was the mass evangelism techniques that he authored that became astonishing instruments which drew thousands to hear the Gospel, and we can only pray these occasions were used of the Holy Spirit to win the lost to Christ.
Chapman would go into a city like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia in Pennsylvania for a three to four-week evangelistic campaign. He would then break down the cities into zones, with evangelists and song teams over each one of the zones. Then there would be simultaneous meetings every night with those teams in the zones of the cities. Pittsburgh in 1904 was divided into nine zones. Philadelphia had forty-two sections divided into it. The conversions numbered in the thousands. At one of them in North Carolina, the Rev. David Otis Fuller was converted.
Chapman, in seeing the approaching liberalism of his own denomination, set the bar high with respect to belief in the Bible. He let go any of his evangelists who did not believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
The Presbyterian evangelist took this technique “on the road” as he ministered to eight cities in Australia, six cities in China, Korea, and Japan. By 1910, the evangelistic technique began to lose favor with the masses, and it was laid aside.
J. Wilbur Chapman became the moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1918. He died in that same year, but we remember him by his great hymn of “One Day” and “Jesus, What a Friend For Sinners” today in our churches.
Words to live by: In the early days of our twentieth century, it appears there was much spiritual fruit from the evangelistic efforts of J. Wilbur Chapman. It is a shame that we have forgotten his name and his efforts to bring souls to Christ. We need evangelists today who will reach out with the gospel of Jesus Christ to lost men and women everywhere in our cities. Who will join me in praying that God will send a great revival of our church members in Presbyterian churches across this land? Who will join with me that God’s Spirit will bring another great spiritual awakening of the lost, driving them to embrace Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel?