When people reflect on Revivaltime, the long-standing weekly radio broadcast of the Assemblies of God, they often think of the much-acclaimed speakers, C. M. Ward and Dan Betzer. But the ministry of the Revivaltime choir, made up of students from Central Bible College (CBC) who volunteered to sing on the program each week, was just as important.
The Assemblies of God released the first Revivaltime broadcast on Easter Sunday, 1950. Three years later, on Dec. 20, 1953, the program was broadcast from the Bowie Hall auditorium at CBC and began airing on the ABC Radio Network with C. M. Ward as the speaker. Through the years, it is estimated that more than 1,300 people ministered as choir members and musicians under the leadership of Cyril McLellan, Revivaltime’s longtime music director. Although McLellan trained for and expected musical excellence, the emphasis of every practice and broadcast was prayer and a desire for the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
The choir practiced during the week. Then on Sunday afternoons, beginning in January 1962, a bus would transport the students from CBC to the auditorium at the Assemblies of God national office. After rehearsing, the choir was joined by the rest of the team for prayer, and then C. M. Ward (and later Dan Betzer) would offer a few inspirational thoughts to the choir before starting the live broadcast. Two songs which became a hallmark of every program were “All Hail the Power” and “There’s Room at the Cross.”
A variety of songs and traditional hymns rounded out the musical selections for the Revivaltime program, with the choir often presenting a sermon in song which would augment the preaching. Whether it was a live radio broadcast in the Assemblies of God national office auditorium or when the choir was on tour, the choir members would often disperse into the congregation, connect with people, and pray for their needs. Ward often referred to the choir as “these young evangelists.”
Each year, two or three times as many talented CBC students auditioned for the choir than could be used. Those selected willingly gave up many hours each week to prepare for the half-hour broadcast. The students only met a small fraction of their audience, and they seldom would see the results of their ministry in music and prayer. Yet there are many testimonies of persons who have been saved, healed, encouraged, and helped by their singing.
An article in the Pentecostal Evangel from 55 years ago entitled “Why They Sing for Revivaltime” gave some background on why the students gladly sang for Revivaltime. The article includes testimonies from choir members as well as people in the audience.
Why did they sing for Revivaltime? One factor listed, in addition to their love for singing, is that the students found that “working with the talented choir director, Cyril McLellan, is a rewarding experience.” They also caught on to the vision of the ministry they could have through Revivaltime.
Gwen Hestand, a sophomore, testified, “I chose Revivaltime as an outlet for ministry because the broadcast’s very foundation is to meet human need wherever it exists and to present Christ as the answer to that need.”
“There’s no other ministry where so many people in so many places can be reached at one time,” said Carl Guiney, another sophomore.
David A. Ferrell, a student who had served as an evangelist, shared: “The Revivaltime choir is the greatest opportunity I have ever had to help so many. To read letters from those in distress and to go before the throne of God with these requests is the most rewarding work I’ve done.”
A listener in Alabama reported, “I receive a wonderful blessing from the message and beautiful music.” From Oregon came this testimony: “I enjoy the singing so much. I like to sing along with the choir.”
Revivaltime was not just a radio broadcast, it was a ministry that touched lives through the message and songs. The choir prayed often. Their focus was not on performance, but on ministering the gospel through song.
Read, “Why They Sing for Revivaltime,” on pages 16-17 of the April 15, 1962, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The Cross in Christian Experience,” by Gordon D. Fee
• “The Last Supper,” by Violet Schoonmaker
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archive editions courtesy of Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.