On Wednesday, Feb. 8, students at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky attended a routine chapel service. The school’s assistant soccer coach gave a forgettable talk. The music was OK, nothing spectacular. But when the service ended, something remarkable happened. The students didn’t leave.
“They were struck by what seemed to be a quiet but powerful sense of transcendence, and they did not want to go,” Asbury theology professor Tom McCall wrote for Christianity Today. “They stayed and continued to worship. They are still there.”
News spread on campus, Paul Revere-style. Students burst into classrooms to announce, “Revival is happening!”
The chapel, and now several overflow sites, was packed every day and night for the next two weeks. People came from all over the country and even the world, waiting up to six hours just to get in. Because of the age we live in, Asbury could have turned into a circus of Christian tourism and media.
And it almost did. Celebrity worship leaders and pastors showed up, offering to help lead. “No thanks,” they were told. People came with shofars, which have become a battle cry for Christian nationalism. “Um, let’s not do that,” they were told. Fox News wanted to come. Nope (though they and other TV news crews did show up later). In fact, people inside the chapel were asked to shut off their phones – no live streaming, no selfies (though some did it anyway).
The university decided last week to end the marathon chapel sessions because the campus and town of 3,500 were stretched beyond their limits. But a fire has been lit. Similar student-led gatherings have started cropping up at other colleges, Christian and secular, including Texas A&M University. Where this all leads, God alone knows. It appears to be a countercultural movement of God in a way that much of Generation Z (those born after 1997) has longed for: Authentic. Radically humble. Not trying to sell us anything. No politics. Repentant.
How to respond?
What does this mean for us in Rockford? At First Free? Should we jump in a church van and drive to Kentucky? Wilmore is only two hours from where generations of kids from our church served every summer. Do we try to program something here to emulate it? Do we just ignore it because it doesn’t look like we might have imagined a revival would look?
None of those approaches feel right. Maybe instead, this turns us to a deeper season of prayer for God’s mercy and presence for our own community. Maybe what God has for Rockford would look something like Asbury, or maybe it would look completely different. That’s kind of the point.
It also doesn’t feel right to debate whether this whole thing is real or contrived. The term “revival” carries church-cultural baggage for many. And yet … maybe that’s the quickest way to describe what happened. Pete Greig, founder of the international 24-7 Prayer movement, went to Asbury a couple of weeks ago. In a later interview for the Rebuilders podcast, he said when it comes to news of a movement of God, “I would rather be gullible than cynical.”
“If you are a person of faith, I think you look at this and say, Isn’t it just like the Holy Spirit to minister at a place and time to a generation exactly what that generation needs?”Pete Greig, 24-7 Prayer
“It’s not the place you’d expect it to be happening. I believe it’s significant that it’s happening on a college campus and not in a megachurch sanctuary. I think God is doing something. I think what we’re going to see is this multiplying. I think you’re going to see a thousand Asburies.”
What do you think?
- Have you ever been part of a revival movement, small or large? What did it look like?
- Suppose a similar gathering sprang up in Rockford, in a church whose worship services look different from First Free’s. What’s a right response?
Post your comments below.
More from Asbury
Rebuilders: Listen to the whole interview with Pete Greig.
Inside view: The Asbury Collegian, the university’s student newspaper, provided wonderful coverage, not from outside observers but from the students and faculty experiencing all of this.
‘No celebrities except Jesus’: Behind-the-scenes look from Christianity Today at how Asbury kept this from becoming a circus.