By the mid-nineteenth century the effects of the Second Great Awakening subsided, due in part to growing prosperity, political turmoil over slavery, and religious extremism (such as the Millerites, who wrongly predicted the return of Jesus in 1843–44).
Several simultaneous events occurred at the beginning of this movement, known as the Layman’s Prayer Revival. Union prayer meetings, led by Jeremiah Lanphier, began in 1857; they spread quickly to involve over 50,000 within six months across the eastern part of the United States.
Unusual church revivals were reported in Canada, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and other places in 1856–57.
Evangelism conferences held by the Presbyterian Church erupted in revival in 1857.
Sunday school outreach efforts in the East were also a factor.
In New York and Philadelphia, many businesses closed daily to pray.
Multitudes were converted. Seventy-five people were converted in a Brooklyn church revival meeting. A Catskill church saw 115 professions of faith in a few days. In Newark 3,000 people were converted in two months. In Philadelphia a man began a prayer meeting like those in New York. Soon 6,000 people met daily, and a tent revival was held. It continued for more than four months, with 150,000 attending. Over 10,000 were converted in one year.
God was exalted in this revival. This was the only awakening without a single well-known leader. Also, it came unexpectedly. Further, there was great cooperation among believers. It was part of a worldwide movement, including the revival in Wales in 1859 and the revival in the ministry of Andrew Murray in South Africa. It strongly influenced D. L. Moody during his youth. The Layman’s Prayer Revival of 1857–59 was characterized by its wide appeal. Several colleges experienced revival during this time. J. Edwin Orr documented revival movements at Oberlin, Yale, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Williams, Amherst, Princeton, and Baylor.28
Alvin L. Reid, Introduction to Evangelism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1998), 75–76.