The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

Never miss a thing!


Was Asbury a Gen Z revival? And what comes next?

On the morning of Wednesday 8 February, the students at Asbury University attended their regular chapel service. But, after this particular service, a few students chose to stay behind, lingering in the building. And next – well, by now, you probably know what happened next.

16 days after that chapel service, the university finally resumed its normal operations. What happened in the intervening period? Non-stop worship, prayer, and confession that has attracted the attention of Christians the world over. Around 50,000 visitors flocked to the small university town in Kentucky – usual population 6,000 – and the story has been covered by The Washington Post and splashed across the New York Times’ front page.

In the wake of this outpouring, some questions are inevitable. Was this really the Holy Spirit at work? Was it legit? Does it count as a ‘revival’? (For the record, I’d answer yes, yes, and maybe.) But perhaps the most pressing question is, what difference will it make?

In fact, this is a question very much on the minds of the people at the heart of it all. As one student said, when explaining the choice to end the continuous worship service, ‘the Holy Spirit’s not limited to [the] Hughes Auditorium. The Holy Spirit’s everywhere we go, and you can have a revival right in your living room if you’re willing to lean into his love and his grace.’ Or, in the words of the University President, ‘the trajectory of renewal meetings is always outward.’

So, as we move on beyond Asbury, what are we to make of it? Well, in terms of lessons to learn and reasons to be hopeful, a few things stand out to me.

The first thing that strikes me is also the first thing that struck me when looking at photos of the Hughes Auditorium, where the outpouring took place. At the front of the chapel, just below the ceiling, are the words ‘Holiness Unto The Lord’. This revival – if that’s what we call it – had its roots in the Wesleyan movement, which across the last couple of centuries has a history of awakenings rooted in holiness.

Many people visiting Asbury and reporting on what was going on there mentioned the regular, deep, public confessions of sin and repentance, followed by absolution and forgiveness. This kind of costly vulnerability marks among the people present a dedication to holiness, to pursuing the way of Jesus wholeheartedly. Encouragingly, stories of healing and reconciliation are also emerging from the campus, attesting to this new way of living.

This is a challenge for us all. Just as the worship inside the chapel at Asbury must have real-life implications for everyday life outside of it, so, too, our confession and repentance need to be matched by a commitment to live a new way, whatever we do.

At this time of year, as we mark the season of Lent and remember Jesus’ costly journey towards Jerusalem, the invitation is extended to each of us to once again remember the command repeated across Scripture: ‘Consecrate yourselves and be holy.’ And to remember how that holiness comes about: ‘I am the LORD who makes you holy’ (Leviticus 20:7–8).

In a culture of convenience and ease, such a consecration is unusual. The fact that Gen Z was front and centre of it all is more unusual still. According to statistics, this is a generation who should be walking away from God, not devoted to him. They shouldn’t be able to concentrate for 10 minutes, let alone 16 days. And yet they were the ones leading on the stage, the ones at the front of the auditorium, the ones getting in early, the ones serving and hosting the tens of thousands of visitors.

Perhaps this is an open generation after all, dissatisfied and disillusioned with the secular narrative they’ve been handed, looking to higher things, gripped by a glimpse of the transcendent. Perhaps the young people around you aren’t so different?

The stories of healing which flowed from Asbury – a typical feature of many revivals – also spoke to the Gen Z nature of it all. The New York Times reported that, in place of someone triumphantly waving their crutches in the air, a woman shared of how, just weeks prior, she’d attempted suicide but now experienced a joy like never before. These were people paralysed not by spinal injury but by fear and anxiety, reflecting the epidemic of mental health problems sweeping this age group. Here, in the chapel, they were experiencing comfort, hope, and love.

Perhaps this is why the Asbury outpouring was marked not by hype, or an emotional frenzy, but a quiet atmosphere of serenity and profound peace, where God’s presence was tangibly at work.

This presence was what attracted thousands of people to the chapel, it was what kept them coming back day after day, and it’s what prevented them from leaving. The gospel on display wasn’t just true, but truly good and utterly beautiful.

This presence is the same Spirit that is at work in our everyday lives. The God of peace is also present in our workplaces, in our neighbourhoods, in our universities, if we have the eyes to see and ears to hear. As the Asbury student put it, ‘he’s everywhere we go’. Not just in the gathering, though there is something particularly special about the people of God meeting together, but in the scattering, too.

And we can learn something else here about how this Spirit moves. Asbury University forms and educates its students across several years, through a slow and often unexciting process. But, occasionally and for a time like this, there are extraordinary interruptions which no one predicts, and something significant shifts.

Similarly for us, the Spirit works both through long-term trajectories, and sudden interruptions. One is not better than the other, but both are important. So, on our frontlines, we can make room for both – the long journey of modelling small acts of kindness to colleagues which slowly change the culture of the office, and the sudden interruption where you’re welcomed to minister to a friend. There’s room for both in Scripture, and there’s room for both on our frontlines.

The tone and nature of what happened at Asbury gives me one more reason to be hopeful. If there was going to be a slogan for the outpouring, it could be this: ‘there’s no celebrity except Jesus’. This was a move of God among Gen Z people, led and spread by ordinary students on Instagram and TikTok. There was no big band, no famous worship leader or preacher or evangelist on the stage, not even a screen for song lyrics. Any attempts to co-opt or politicise it were politely, but firmly, rejected.

Whether or not we buy into or believe what happened at Asbury University, and whatever sort of fruit follows, the simplicity of the devotion exhibited by everyday people is something we can all imitate. As the students themselves put it, ‘you can have a revival right in your living room if you’re willing to lean into his love and his grace.’ Are you?

Matt Jolley
Research and Implementation Manager and editor of Connecting with Culture


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *