Church Planting God’s Way: From Gospel Tents to Church Buildings – John Boruff

I have it pretty well settled in my mind that tent revivals are GOD’S WAY of church planting. This may be the pattern shown to me on the mount (Hebrews 8:5). My dreams of Leonard Ravenhill and my “coincidental” run-in with Michael Thornton and his new book Fire in the Carolinas, reveals a divine prophet-pattern in the lives of A. B. Crumpler and G. B. Cashwell as well. I will be examining two historic church plants: both of which were holiness churches.

A B CrumplerCrumpler’s Pattern of Church Planting

A. B. Crumpler founded the Holiness Church of North Carolina, which eventually merged with the Pentecostal Holiness Church.

1. Conducting Revival Services in a Gospel Tent and Then Organizing a Church in It. “During the month of June 1896, A. B. Crumpler and his entourage conducted an earth shaking revival in a Goldsboro tobacco warehouse.” These meetings were inter-racial; and centered on the Wesleyan experience of sanctification: heart purity through the baptism in the Holy Spirit … “His sermon was one of his sanctification series and was interspersed with Scriptural citations bearing on the subject.” … In March 27, 1898, pre-revival services were held in the courthouse…”while services were running,” Crumpler “was erecting his cousin’s 2,500 men tent directly outside on the courthouse square. Before the days of stadiums, convention centers, and mega churches, the courthouse square is where one went to be heard. Like the Old Testament temple in Jerusalem, the courthouse was generally situated in the middle of the town and was often surrounded by crowds of people who were visiting the city for whatever reasons.” … “Three weeks of preaching day and night” … At the same time, Rev. Collett, a black holiness evangelist, was holding a tent revival in Goldsboro, and would work with Crumpler–so that the tent congregations could integrate… “The courthouse revival at Goldsboro in March of 1898 did manifest some long-lasting fruit, namely the organization of the first Pentecostal Holiness Church, a church that was both white and black.” … “The Pentecostal Holiness Church was organized…in a gospel tent on the Court House grounds in the city of Goldsboro, N.C.”

2. Drawing Up a Church Discipline: Methodist and Holiness in Doctrine, but Congregational (Missionary Baptist) in Church Government. “During this meeting”…”ministers who had been converted under his ministry”…”drew up a church Discipline which consisted of both doctrines and rules. As a result, the holiness bunch formed a loose style of church government. According to A. B. Crumpler, this government would run ‘on the order of the Missionary Baptists.’ Being the leading denomination in Eastern North Carolina during this time, the Missionary Baptists were a congregational church that allowed each church to operate autonomously. Fearing against a tyrannical form of church government, A. B. Crumpler established the Holiness Church as a self-governing congregation to minimize any one leader from taking control.” … “Ambitious though they were, these burning pioneers never intended to church the Holiness Movement into a denomination. Instead, they organized independent holiness congregations. Operationally, these congregations were independent, inter-denominational, and inter-racial. Regardless of social status, gender, race, or creed Crumpler and others were bent on providing for these despised and destitute saints a ‘congenial home’ where they could be free to worship, free to dance, free to shout, and FREE TO PROCLAIM THE MESSAGE OF HOLINESS WITHOUT FEAR.” … “It is very likely that one of the elders in the church continued the preaching, Sunday School activities, and ministry operations while Rev. Crumpler was recovering” from typhoid fever.

3. A Big Giver Lends (Bad Idea) Lots of Money for a Big Church Building. “Initially, the Goldsboro church started meeting regularly in a small building. After Rev. Crumpler’s arrival, the little meeting house became inadequate to host the large crowds attending. This problem was alleviated when a leading business man offered to LEND  A LARGE SUM OF MONEY towards the construction of a large new tabernacle. At sixty by ninety feet, this plain wooden structure was surrounded by windows and was able to accommodate an audience of over one thousand [mega church]…It was mostly made up of both black and white poor tenant farmers who, according to Mr. Crumpler, ‘did not even own a home.’ Though attendance would be high, INCOME FOR THE CHURCH WOULD ALWAYS REMAIN LOW AND HUMBLE. THIS LACK OF FINANCES WOULD PROVE TO BE AN ENORMOUS PROBLEM FOR THE HOLINESS CHURCH IN THE DAYS AHEAD.” [Because Crumpler would not be able to pay off his church debt to the large sum of money that was lent by the business man, the church had to merge with the IPHC later on, which brought Crumpler much pain of heart–learn from this mistake…DON’T TAKE OUT CHURCH LOANS! If you have large crowds, then split them into small house churches…don’t take loans on church buildings…Luke 14:28-29: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you“–Jesus].

4. Pastor Relocates His Family to the City Where Church Plant Succeeds. After traveling from city to city, holding gospel tent crusades, Goldsboro, NC is where he encountered the most success, and accomplished planting his first church. Rev. Crumpler decided to relocate his family from Clinton to Goldsboro in order to “focus on shepherding the Holiness Movement. It was also during this time, that Rev. Crumpler began a newspaper called The Holiness Advocate…running bi-monthly, this publication informed readers of the North Carolina Holiness Movement between the years 1900-1908…Like most holiness papers of that era, it contained editorials, sermons, holiness teachings, itineraries of preachers, supporters, and local testimonies. However, perhaps the most controversial items were found in discussions concerning church issues of the day, such as tobacco, divorce, and secret societies…it was freely circulated to the Methodists, Free Will Baptists, and other church groups. This also made the paper inter-denominational.”

Sources. Michael Thornton’s Fire in the Carolinas: The Revival Legacy of G. B. Cashwell and A. B. Crumpler, Chapter 7: “Goldsboro: The Gateway City.”

A. B. Crumpler’s The Discipline of the Holiness Church (1902).

Ravenhill Tent Meeting 1936Ravenhill’s Pattern of Church Planting

Many don’t realize this, but in his early years, Leonard Ravenhill was a church planter and pastor of the Calvary Holiness Church, which eventually merged with the Church of the Nazarene. The following order was followed in his approach:

1. Evangelistic Campaigns with a Gospel Tent. Four young Wesleyan evangelists, one of which was Ravenhill, had a fire for Scriptural holiness, and wished to convert all of England. They traveled to various towns conducting evangelistic tent campaigns preaching the Gospel in their gospel tent, some of which lasted months. At the town of Oldham, “They remained for weeks into the summer, walking the streets daily, sharing, witnessing, holding open-air services, praying that God would work. Nightly they sang and preached with passion, charity, and power. The evangelists not only preached evangelistically, but also topically and expositionally to bring the believers to a deeper seeking of God.” … “There was a prayer meeting planned on the night I was going…it was a big tent sitting on grass…informality…we had seven prayer meetings a week.”

Leonard Ravenhill young2. Forming the “Gospel Tent Crowd” into a Church. Maynard James wrote, “It was not until the tent campaign was over that summer and a new church had formed in Oldham as a result of the mission that I realized the amazing success God had given us in the summer of 1932.” … “With the end of the tent campaign nearing, the evangelists had a problem–what were they to do with all the new converts? There was nowhere to send them to be taught and fed spiritually. There were hundreds now looking to Ravenhill’s team to shepherd them. The decision was made that Maynard James and one of the other team members would remain behind to consolidate the work into a new church.” … “One day while walking through town, one of them saw Rose Draper’s Shop on Manchester Street. Above it was a large empty hall with a sign that read ‘Ebenezer.’ They secured it and The Oldham Tabernacle was established on Manchester Street with almost seven hundred people attending in the early days [purchased/rented a hall for the tent crowd]. On Sunday afternoons many of them would divide up into three groups and saturate the area around town, even in the midst of opposition and heckling [Sunday afternoon open air preaching/witnessing groups].”

3. Appointing Elders to Assist the Pastor, Not Control or Supervise Him. “The ministry there was demanding at this time, as the increased success of the Gospel meant increased pastoral responsibilities. The church chose an assistant pastor and a deaconess to direct much of the work and to assist Leonard.”

4. Pastor Doing the Work of an Evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). “Leonard served here faithfully as a pastor and at the same time conducted open-air meetings and weekly evangelistic work anywhere he could. He regularly preached thirteen times each week, six of those being street meetings in the open air, near the market, or in city parks.”

Sources. Mack Tomlinson’s In Light of Eternity: The Life of Leonard Ravenhill, Chapter 5: “Revival and the Calvary Holiness Movement.”

Jack Ford’s In the Steps of John Wesley: The Church of the Nazarene in Britain (1968)

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What are you waiting for evangelist-to-be? Save up your money and buy a gospel tent!

Gospel tents vary in size: the larger they are, the more expensive: they can range anywhere from $1,000 to $160,000.

Click here to buy a gospel tent!

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Books on Salvation

We’ve covered the means, now, let’s not forget the message!

Alleine, Joseph. A Sure Guide to Heaven. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989. A modern version of “An Alarm to the Unconverted.” Influenced Whitefield, Wesley, and Spurgeon.

Baxter, Richard. A Call to the Unconverted. Welwyn, UK: Evangelical Press, 1976.

Boruff, John. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, e-book, wesleygospel.com, 2014.

Collins, Kenneth J. The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley’s Theology. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997. Wesley’s order of salvation based on all his works. Level 3.

Edwards, Jonathan. The Wrath of Almighty God: Jonathan Edwards on God’s Judgment against Sinners. Edited by Don Kistler. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1996. The standard sermons of Puritan Hellfire preaching from the Great Awakening. Hands down, the greatest Hellfire preacher ever.

Finney, Charles. Lectures on Revivals of Religion. Edited by Richard Friedrich. Fenwick, MI: Alethea In Heart, 2005.

Gerstner, John. Steps to Salvation: The Evangelistic Message of Jonathan Edwards. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1960. Gerstner is a great modern Reformed scholar on Jonathan Edwards—just as Kenneth J. Collins is to John Wesley.

Luther, Martin. Commentary on Romans. Translated by J. Theodore Mueller. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1976.

Ravenhill, Leonard. Revival God’s Way: A Message for the Church. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1983.

Wesley, John. John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology. Edited by Albert Outler and Richard Heitzenrater. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991.

Books Against Love-Centered Antinomianism

There is a movement of love-centered antinomianism emerging out of today’s pastors. We must keep on our guard against this insidious and harmful heresy; no amount of “love” talk from any pastor is ever going to sweep away what the Bible says about our personal responsibility to keep God’s moral laws, to fear Hell, or to preach justification by faith in the blood of Jesus.

Fletcher, John. Fletcher’s Checks to Antinomianism. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1953. Uses the word “love” over 100 times; published by Church of the Nazarene.

Gunter, Stephen. The Limits of Love Divine. Nashville, TN: Kingswood Books, 1989. A study of John Wesley’s rebuttals of cheap grace “love” theology.

Jones, Mark. Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013. Chapter 6: “Amor, Amor.” A study of Puritan rebuttals of cheap grace “love” theology.

Sproul, R. C. God’s Love. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2012. Chapter 6: “Love and Hate in God.” Examines Romans 9 and other passages that reconcile the holy hatred of God against His enemies with the love for His elect children.

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About John Boruff

John Boruff is the founder of WesleyGospel.com, a husband, father, and sometimes an open air preacher. He graduated from UNC Pembroke in 2008 with a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion and views himself as a Wesleyan Pentecostal. As a Christian, he feels connected with all members of the body of Christ, but can identify the most with churches like the Assemblies of God and the Vineyard. In 2015, he released "The Gospel of Jesus Christ," which is meant to be a Bible study for open air preaching. For his other writings, search articles on this site or see the E-Books section.
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One Response to Church Planting God’s Way: From Gospel Tents to Church Buildings – John Boruff

  1. Pastor Dan O. Omuse says:

    What a blessing to stumble into this site. I am from an east African country called Kenya; and currently doing open air meetings to reach the lost souls with the Gospel of salvation. However, also due to shallowness in ministry in most churches around my town, I intend to set up centres where people will be taught and trained correctly the Word of God. I know that the Holy Spirit shall help us do all this great task. Thanks so much for being an eye opener on how to do this. May the Lord keep blessing your ministry to achieve the greatest level of your calling.

    Yours in Christ’s service,

    Pastor Dan O. Omuse

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