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When Revival Broke Out in New York City

There was a man named Jeremiah Lanphier who lived in New York City during the 1850s. Those were years of tension, when the shadow of war loomed over America. There were strikes, depressions, tailing banks, long jobless lines, and an air of simmering violence. In this setting, Lanphier accepted a calling as a full-time city evangelist. He walked the streets, knocked on doors, put up posters, and prayed constantly—all to no visible result.

As his discouragement increased, Lanphier looked for some kind of new idea, some possibility for breakthrough. New York was a business town; maybe the men would come to a luncheon. So he nailed up his signs, calling for a noon lunch in the Old Dutch Church on Fulton Street. When the hour came, he sat and waited until finally a single visitor arrived. Several minutes later, a couple of stragglers peeked through the door. The handful of them had a nice meal.

Lanphier gave his idea another go on the following week. Twenty men attended; at least it was a start. But then forty came on the third week. The men were getting to know each other by this time, and one of them suggested he'd be willing to come for food and prayer every day. Lanphier thought that was a good sign, and he ramped up his efforts for a daily meal and prayer time.

Before long, the building was overflowing. The luncheon had to move again and again, so high was the demand. The most intriguing element of the "Fulton Street Revival," as they called the phenomenon, was the ripple effect. Offices began closing for prayer at noon …. Fulton Street was the talk of the town, with men telegraphing prayer news back and forth between New York City and other cities—yes, other cities had started their own franchises; other godly meetings were launching in New York.

The center of the meeting was prayer, and it was okay to come late or leave early, as needed …. Men stood and shared testimonies. [This was not] a place for the well-known preachers of the day—this was about the working class, businessmen who wanted to share the things of God.

Some historians went so far as to refer to the Fulton Street Revival as the Third Great Awakening, because it lasted for two years and saw as many as one million decisions for Christ. Given the influence of New York City, no one could estimate the national and international impact that spread out from Jeremiah Lanphier's simple lunch breaks. It is well known, however, that great funds were raised for fulfilling the Great Commission.

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