But what made Moody and Sankey so popular? Before his YMCA and revival work, Moody was a shoe-salesman, and his revival meetings were closely tied to the changes wrought by secularism and the industrial age. Moore observes,
Close himself to popular taste, [Moody] sought to compete with the offerings of commercial culture, to undersell them, to drive them out of business. The scale was large, even extravagant. His choirs of five hundred people, Sankey’s attractive singing voice, Moody’s largely anecdotal style of preaching and his talent for story telling—these provided entertainment and ensured the enjoyment of Moody’s audiences.1
It also seems likely that Moody was the first evangelist to have a full-time soloist travel with him, although Finney’s use of Thomas Hastings in New York was similar.2 On one occasion, Moody said, “The people come to hear Sankey sing and then I catch them in the gospel net.”3
His emotional, populist appeals were very attractive to the lower and lower-middle classes, and his casual, independent style mirrored the American spirit perfectly. He had excellent organization and was greatly advertised. If someone wanted to know the time and place of the meeting, he would find the revival information in the amusement section of the newspaper.4
1R. Laurence Moore, Selling God (New York: Oxford, 1994), 186. Lymann Abbott wrote, “As he stood on the platform, he looked like a business man, he dressed like a businessman; he took the meeting in hand as a businessman would.” Silhouettes of My Contemporaries (New York: N.p., 1921), 200; quoted in McLoughlin, Revivalism, 230.
2McLoughlin, Revivalism, 233. McLouglin continues, “After 1875 this practice became universal among revivalists.”
4Moore, Selling God, 185.