Remembering our history

Tent Revivals in the Free Church

In the early twentieth century, these venues of evangelism helped bring thousands to the Lord.

At the heart of EFCA history is the emphasis on evangelism. Rev. R. Berntsen wrote:

“The main emphasis in the early days of the Evangelical Free Church was on evangelism, pioneers having an intense burden for the lost and a burning desire to reach them with the message of the gospel. This, I am convinced, is normal Christianity. Because of this burden, every conceivable method and means were put to use. Gospel tents, schoolhouses and even rented public halls were used for gospel meetings, as were private homes. And as time went on, churches were built. These were used very largely for evangelistic services.” 

In those early years, few churches had pastors. They relied on occasional visits from itinerant evangelists. Sometimes they were district leaders who brought young men they were mentoring. At other times it was women trained in Ellen Modin’s “Women’s Alliance Mission Home” in Minneapolis. They would go out two-by-two with guitars, singing and sharing God’s Word in rural areas for a week at a time.   

Tent revival in Beacon, Minnesota. Many cars parked around a tent.

Often tent campaigns were used, finding that people were much more inclined to attend a tent event than to enter a church building, especially in the hot summer months.  

Typically, a large tent was purchased and would travel with an evangelist. Olai Urang carried a tent tied on top of a former bakery truck as he visited towns in western Canada. It might take a day to set up the tent but 300-500 could be seated inside and the gospel was preached for a week or more. Nathaniel Carlson used tent campaigns widely from Kansas to Minnesota to Florida.  

The peak of tent ministry was from 1900 to 1945, and thousands were converted in these venues. God used tent ministry as a tool for church planting and many churches today can look back to their founding through one of those campaigns. 

While we seldom see tent campaigns today, creative means of evangelism must continue as a high priority for our EFCA churches.  

Tom Cairns

Tom Cairns is the archivist for the EFCA. A physician who worked for 19 years in Congo, Tom later served as director of international ministries for the EFCA mission, now known as ReachGlobal. Since retirement, Tom enjoys sharing stories about the history of the EFCA, answering questions from our churches and helping the churches with their own stories. He also uploads our historical books, photos and documents to our archive website. Tom’s great desire is to bring glory to God as we celebrate the history we have in the EFCA.

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