Rawlings School of Divinity


Doctor of Philosophy in Theology and Apologetics (PhD)


Ed Smither


Small Groups, Spiritual Awakening, Revival, Awakening, Groups, Sunday School


Christianity | History of Christianity | Practical Theology | Religion


While small groups have enjoyed great popularity in recent years as a powerful dynamic of the life and ministry of many Christian churches, they are by no means a recent phenomenon. History suggests that small groups have been a part of the culture of God’s people since the Old Testament times, becoming even more of a staple of the Christian community during the first few centuries of its birth. Moreover, some kind of small group model has existed throughout virtually every generation of the Christian church. It seems to reason, then, that a small group dynamic has also been present during the many spiritual awakenings that have erupted throughout Christian history. It is out of this conviction that this study was born. It is herein argued that a small group element had existed near the beginning of each of the Christian faith’s most significant spiritual awakenings as one of its most indispensable contributors. More specifically, this study seeks to discern in what way and to what degree small groups may have served as a catalyst for the emergence of spiritual renewal during the four major spiritual awakenings in Christian history, namely, the First Great Awakening in North America (1726-91); the Second Great Awakening in North America (1780-1850); the Layman, Welsh, and Korean Revivals (1857-1910); and the Mid-Century Revival in North America (1949-79). In the process of addressing this central research purpose, the study seeks to answer several questions. First, in the years prior to each revival, were small groups present in the key places and among the key people from which the revival emerged? Second, can a connection be made between these small group gatherings and the specific circumstances that sparked each awakening? Third, is there a correlation between how widely small groups were used and how long each revival lasted? Finally, this study seeks to determine what major characteristics may be shared by the small group models across all four of the spiritual awakenings researched. The hope and intent of this study is that, should small groups be seen as key players in the rise of these major awakenings, their common characteristics may be emulated in groups today in an earnest pursuit for the Christian church to experience revival once again.