Boston’s Quiet Revival?

Writing in Christianity Today, Rob Moll believes there’s a revival afoot here in Boston.

In fact, evangelical Christianity is thriving in Boston. During the past 30 years, church growth, fueled by evangelical university groups and immigrant communities, has dramatically outpaced population growth. At the same time, mainline denominations have dwindled and the abuse scandal in the Catholic church has forced the closing of dozens of parishes. Evangelical leaders expect this “quiet revival” not only to continue, but to blossom into another Great Awakening.

As evidence for the revival, Moll points to the increase in the number of evangelical students attending various of the sixty-some colleges in town (“Not since the 17th century has there been so many evangelicals at Harvard University”). And he notes that college students compose forty percent of those attending Park Street, Harold Ockenga’s old church.

I’m not so sure that’s a sign of “revival.” Boston is very much a college town, meaning that a significant part of its population comes from elsewhere and will leave in a few years. The greater proportion of evangelical college students more likely reflects national trends than anything specific to Boston. Likewise, the growth of “small storefront churches full of minorities” probably has more to do with international students than those intending to stay here. Churches need to comprise more than just students to thrive, and it seems to me that a true revival would involve the regular citizens of Boston as well.


  1. As a former Park Street Church Member (1985-1992) I can say that PSC has always had a high student population. That was one of the reasons why they experimented with Willowcreek’s methods in the early ’90s, to see if they could offset the annual turnover of a third of their attenders.

    Our girls attend the Friday youth activities (the boys find it too ‘cliquey’) in order to expand their circle of friends, but it’s more of a secularized wholesome environment than a time of serious Bible-centered fellowship.

    We now attend a church planting which meets at the Norwood highschool. Gotta love that 40 minute drive! Here’s their website if you know anyone who’s looking. We’d be happy to carpool others from Boston.

    Btw, I found your link at

  2. Naturally, I forgot to post the site!

  3. Moll’s wishing don’t make it so. Same old evangelical Protestant marketing hype.

  4. Boston’s Quiet Revival…of the Roman Catholic Church!

    Boston, Apr. 17, 2006 (CNA) – Two New England states welcomed the largest number of new Catholics this Easter Vigil since the priest sex abuse scandal broke four years ago. The Archdiocese of Boston welcomed 500 new members while the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., welcomed 400, reported the Eagle-Tribune newspaper.

    “It shows that the faith is growing and that we can see beyond the controversy that God works in wonderful ways,” Diane Jarvis, director of religious education at St. Patrick’s Church in Lawrence, Massachusetts told the Eagle-Tribune.

    At St. Patrick’s, the 26 new members ranged in age, from 10 to 60. It was largest group of converts in the past four years. The new members include people with special needs. The parish offers religious education for people with disabilities.

    Pamela Pfifferling, 37, and her 12-year-old daughter Courtney were among those receiving first Communion at St. John the Baptist Church in Haverhill. Pfifferling told the Eagle-Tribune that the scandal led her to postpone her decision to join the church. But she lost her fear and changed her mind after meeting Fr. Keith LeBlanc, pastor at St. John’s, who made her feel at ease.

    “It’s a powerful witness to those who are cradle Catholics to see how non-Christians or those of no faith tradition at all make a definite choice to establish a relationship with Christ,” Fr. Robert Couto of St. Jude Parish in Londonderry, N.H., told the Eagle-Tribune. Fourteen people became Catholic at St. Jude’s this year.

    Edward Wolfe became a Catholic over at St. Michael Parish in North Andover. He was raised Methodist, but his wife, Mary, is Catholic, and their four children are being raised Catholics.

    “For me, the most important thing is to share the Eucharist with my family,” he told the newspaper.

    Wolfe said he was never deterred by the abuse scandal. “Even though we went through a rough time, I knew it was a small portion of the church that needed to be corrected. I had faith and confidence,” he was quoted as saying.

  5. I think you’re mistaken when it comes to “small storefront churches.” As a minister in Dorchester, most of these storefront churches are not attended by students at all, but by long term residents. The churches mentioned in Moll’s article are growing in areas such as Roxbury, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain. These are neighborhoods of the city rarely visited by students.

    The cause of the growth of these churches is really increased immigration. As more folks move in from the Caribbean and West African nations, the smaller more ethnically focused churches are experiencing tremendous growth. In fact, one of the largest evangelical populations is Haitian, comprised very little of college students.

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