The unusual move that will test the genuineness of the Asbury revival

Praying is Asbury chapel

We probably wouldn’t do this if you or I were in charge of a revival.

The revival continues at Asbury University, but the campus leaders have just done something you might not have done.

They’ve turned away the thousands who flocked there and restricted the live stream. As a result, the public services are ending today.

Here’s the announcement from Asbury Theological Seminary President Timothy Tennent.

“On February 8, 2023, Asbury University’s regularly scheduled chapel service never ended. What we have experienced since that Wednesday morning has been a current of immeasurable goodness flooding our community and quickly moving into other regions of the world. Words fail any effort to communicate the abundance of experiences and stories that will leave us forever changed.

“Thursday, February 23, will mark the end of this historic multi-week gathering at Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary with the National Collegiate Day of Prayer broadcast hosted on our campus.”

People have flocked to the small town of Wilmore, Kentucky, population 6,000, which houses Asbury University and the neighbouring Asbury seminary, providing a steady stream of evangelical ministers into US Methodism. Some 20,000 visitors at a time have swarmed the town, according to some reports. Given that people attend for a few hours, that means a total of tens of thousands more.

Here’s a map that shows just how far people came.

But the college has acted up until now to keep it student-led, without any big-name Christian celebrities allowed to take over and even banned organisations from live streaming from the chapel at the centre of the movement. Now they are taking it further.

“I have been asked if Asbury is ‘stopping’ this outpouring of God’s Spirit and the stirring of human hearts,” Tennent writes. “I have responded by pointing out that we cannot stop something we did not start. This was never planned. Over the last few weeks, we have been honoured to steward and host services and the guests who have travelled far and wide to attend them. The trajectory of renewal meetings is always outward—and that is beginning to occur. We continue to hear inspiring stories of hungry hearts setting aside daily routines and seeking Christ at schools, churches, and communities in the US and abroad.”

The test of this flame will be to see if it ignites anywhere. There have been reports of student prayer meeting at several other campuses. About 20 campuses are reported to have sent students to asbury. Will the flame travel back with them. that should be our prayer.

But an earlier statement by Kevin Brown, the University President, endorsed the genuineness of the events on campus. “At the completion of a regularly scheduled chapel service on February 8, 2023, at Asbury University, students lingered to pray, worship, and share. They have not stopped and, moreover, have been joined far and wide by hungry men and women across the world who desire to seek the Lord in this space. Since the first day, there have been countless expressions and demonstrations of radical humility, compassion, confession, consecration, and surrender unto the Lord. We are witnessing the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Same Different

As Christians, we all have the same God and Saviour. But this revival or outpouring has adopted a different path. No big-name preacher or leader; instead, students at the campus have been at the centre. And now it is clear there is no effort to make it “big” to have as many people there as possible. There’s no PR effort to magnify it. 

The story of Gideon and his shrinking army comes to mind.

This outpouring goes against so much of ‘normal” church culture.

Unusually for much of our church culture – no celebrities. No effort to have as many people there as possible or to drum up support.

The change as the meetings at Asbury move on from being continuous means there will be a real test of whether this is a real awakening. Will it spread and continue to change lives? 

A real difference

One Christian musician, Ross King, sees some implications for the wider church looking in. The revival/outpouring has not been at all slick. “As a genre, we are looking and sounding more and more slick and polished — complete with celebrity-level stylists, carefully curated marketing, and pristine sonic presentations — to reach a demographic that will soon “age out”.

“The revival meetings, by contrast, are modest, un-pretentious, bare-knuckled, and raw — with anonymous leaders, crappy in-house lighting, and an almost uncomfortable level of humility — to reach a demographic that actually has a good chance of changing the world.

“If we’re honest, I think some of us (probably including me) would rather keep doing it the way we’re doing it because we like having a little “bubble” of celebrity culture where we are the stars. There’s not a lot of “career opportunity” in being an anonymous worshiper among a humble parade of anonymous worship leaders.

“I get it. This is hard stuff.

“But if we’re not careful, we’re going to miss what’s happening with a generation of dynamic, sold-out Jesus followers because we were too busy trying to write un-offensive songs for their parents.”