By Helen Gibson
Norman Abernathy stood in the youth center of Langston Baptist Church in Conway, South Carolina, on the evening of Wednesday, April 18.
A four-day youth revival was supposed to wrap up that night.
But Abernathy, the church’s interim youth pastor, felt it wasn’t time for the revival to end—at least not yet. Tyler Blue, the young evangelist preaching at the revival, felt the same way.
“It was almost like God said, ‘I’m not done here yet. I want you to keep on going,’” Blue said.
So Langston Baptist Church did just that. Feeling God’s call, Blue, Abernathy and other church leaders continued holding services each night for three straight weeks.
By the time the revival eventually ended, Langston Baptist Church had seen more than 1,500 professions of faith, leading to nearly 100 baptisms in their own church and many others in churches across the community.
A response like this was significant in a small town like Conway, home to just under 24,000 people. It’s a county where a study of church membership found less than half of the people have ties to a local congregation.
And in a time when churches and denominations are being urged to rethink and renew their focus on evangelism, Langston’s story is significant.
“It’s just one of the most awesome things I’ve experienced in my lifetime,” Abernathy said.
Abernathy had volunteered with the youth ministry at Langston Baptist for many years before becoming the church’s interim youth minister about a year ago.
He wanted the ministry to reach young people in the community—as well as those in the church.
“In my time in praying with God, [I wanted] to do something to encourage not only our youth but to reach as many youth in our area here in Horry County, South Carolina, as we could,” Abernathy said.
As he was planning, a church member hesitantly made a suggestion—perhaps he should consider asking Tyler Blue, a 21-year-old evangelist from Charlotte, North Carolina, to preach at the revival.
Abernathy reached out to Blue, and the two made arrangements for Blue to preach a four-day revival in mid-April.
A youth band from Langston Baptist would lead worship, and members of the youth group would attend the revival and invite their friends. Abernathy began promoting the event, hoping for a successful turnout.
Meanwhile, Abernathy’s wife, Sherri, kept telling him she could tell this event was going to be significant.
“My wife kept telling me, ‘God’s telling me this is going to be big,’” Abernathy said.
A crowd of around 170 gathered in Langston Baptist’s youth center on the evening of Sunday, April 15, the first night of the revival. That night, 17 people made professions of faith.
The next night, the crowd doubled.
“Within two days of Sunday, we were packing them in anywhere and everywhere we could. We had all kinds of chairs everywhere,” said Abernathy.
Within three days, the youth center—a small building with space for 500 people—was overflowing.
Blue was willing to stay and keep preaching as long as the revival lasted, so they decided to continue through Saturday night.
People kept showing up. And so the revival went on.
Blue preached the Sunday morning sermon, and the next night, they got back to the revival, moving it from the youth center to the 2,500-capacity main sanctuary. Within a few days, they were filling up that space, too.
Abernathy said the revival continued like that for the next few weeks. Churches of different denominations from across the community—and even some from other communities and other states—heard about the revival and brought groups to Conway to experience it. And teenagers weren’t the only ones showing up.
“It didn’t take long that we were having not only youth, but there were adults that were just coming and coming and getting saved as well,” Abernathy said.
All of this left Abernathy scrambling.
He didn’t have enough volunteer counselors trained and ready to speak with people as they professed their faith. So he recruited church members to help—giving them a brief orientation and putting them to work.
Hope for the future
Eventually, the revival wound down.
On the evening of Wednesday, May 9, Blue preached his last message as a part of the revival at Langston Baptist. At that point, he’d been preaching for a total of 25 days.
Now, more than a month later, Abernathy and other church leaders are trying to help those who came to Christ during that time continue to grow in their faith.
They started a discipleship program for youth and adults using Ralph Neighbour Jr.’s Survival Kit. The program is open to new believers and longtime Christians. Abernathy said he hopes it will benefit those who are new to Christianity as well as those who’ve spent years in the church.
And Abernathy has already asked Blue to return to Conway to preach two youth rallies throughout the next year, as well as another revival next spring.
As a relatively young evangelist still at the beginning of his own ministry, Blue said this experience changed his life.
While he’s heard about large, successful revivals in the past and he’s always prayed God would use him, he said he never imagined he could be a part of something like this. He never thought he’d see more than 1,500 people in Conway profess their faith in Jesus over the course of 25 days.
“I learned, number one, that I can never put limitations on God because I’ll be honest with you, I never even dreamed that God could do this to that capacity,” Blue said.
For now, Abernathy said he feels blessed to have been part of the revival.
“I’m just privileged to be a part of that,” Abernathy said. “It was a blessing that God allowed me to be a small piece of a puzzle that’s not even completed yet.”
HELEN GIBSON (@_HelenGibson_) is a freelance writer in Cadiz, Kentucky.