It was 12 noon on September 23, 1857, when Jeremiah C. Lanphier, a business leader and city missionary, sat down alone in an empty third-floor room in the Old Dutch North Church at Fulton and Williams streets in the heart of lower New York City. For weeks, he had gone door to door and passed out leaflets inviting business leaders around New York to come and pray with him. Unfortunately, no one showed up to pray. The church had fallen on rough times. Some parishioners had moved away, yet the business neighborhood was teeming with immigrants and laborers.
Jeremiah Lanphier waited a while. Still, no one showed – he decided to pray alone. At 12:30 p.m. he heard footsteps on the stairs, and one man appeared. Soon six marketplace leaders appeared and sat down to pray. One week later there were 40 people praying. Within six months, 10,000 business leaders were gathering daily for prayer in New York. After a while, many businesses shut down from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. because of the lack of business due to the number of people attending prayer meetings.
On November 5, 1857, a New York newspaper ran the story about the revival moving across the border to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. 300-400 people came to faith in Christ in just a few days. About four months later in January of 1858, there were at least 20 prayer gatherings going on in New York City.
One of the first six folks to pray at the first Fulton Street meeting was a 21-year-old business leader from Philadelphia. “Why not a prayer meeting in Philadelphia?” he thought. He asked to hold a meeting at a Methodist Episcopal Union Church. It started with 40 people, and in a few short weeks, 300 people were present. A few days later 2,500 people jammed into a larger auditorium. Within four months 150,000 people were praying in a tent because the church was too small. Records estimate that there were 10,000 conversions in Philadelphia in 1858.
Within two years of Jeremiah Lanier’s one-man prayer meeting, one million people were added to roles in America’s churches as the revival swept cities. The New York Times called this "the most remarkable movement since the Reformation". It began in the marketplace. The marketplace you live and work in with the lost people group called employees. Foreign missions are important, however, church attendance in North America over the past 20+ years is down.
The Revival of 1857-58 was the last great national revival. It started with a business leader in an empty church. Except for the minister Charles Finney and a few others, preachers were not in the game in full game gear. This revival was also non-denominational. It started with a Baptist, a Congregationalist, a Dutch Reformed Church member and a Presbyterian.
I wonder what God could do in your boardroom? I wonder if the next reformation might start there.
About the Author
Greg Leith is the CEO of Convene. He was born in Canada and lived in all four corners of North America. His career spans over 35 years of senior leadership roles in corporate, non-profit and academic sectors. Recently, he served as Director of Strategic Alliances for 13 years at Biola University in California.