In the 1830s and 1840s, Charles Finney and other New Measures enthusiasts promoted protracted meetings as a superior form of evangelization compared to earlier forms of evangelism. However, this essay argues that Finney and his allies were wrong and that protracted meetings were not more effective in attracting converts than were awakenings (spontaneous revivals prompted by the ordinary means of preaching, covenant meetings, and personal evangelization through social networks). In short, this essay contends that the alleged superiority of protracted meetings was, and is, largely a myth.
Between 1789 and 1820, awakenings were relatively frequent and often quite large. During the 1820s, however, western New Yorkers became increasingly distracted by the emerging market economy, mass politics, and the proliferation of print media, thus weakening this approach’s ability to bring in converts. When Charles Finney refocused national attention on evangelicalism in his famous Rochester revival, many nearby New York Baptists copied his techniques. However, when Baptists used Finney-style protracted meetings, they achieved no more success than when they used traditional approaches. Ultimately, this experimentation empowered Baptist ministers, diminished the laity’s role, and weakened Baptist community.
The analysis is primarily based on the congregational minutes of 35 upstate New York Regular Baptist churches covering the years from 1789 to 1850. In evaluating Finney’s claims, this essay implements a four-point typology comparing nearly 5000 New York Baptists converted in 81 awakenings and 78 protracted meetings over this 61-year period.