What Is Happeneding at Asbury University Wasn’t Planned—Is This the Start of Widespread Revival?

On Wednesday, Feb. 8, following an ordinary morning chapel service led by Rev. Zach Meerkreebs in Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University, students were encouraged to stay after chapel if they wanted to continue worshiping God.

More than a week later, that worship service hasn’t stopped. As news has spread, Christians from across the country have made pilgrimages to witness what God is doing at the small, multi-denominational university located in Wilmore, Kentucky.

Sarah, a student who attends Asbury University, described the sermon as a “really encouraging and challenging message about love from the book of Romans.”

Meerkreebs encouraged students to sit in the love of God—to taste, see, and experience the power of the Holy Spirit.

“If you want to become love in action, you start by prostrating yourself before the love of God. If you want to become love in action, you have to experience the love of God,” Meerkreebs said. Directly addressing those who are preparing to graduate this year, Meerkreebs added, “Do not graduate and think you are going to do all this stuff in your own strength. Do not leave here before you learn about the love of God and experience the love of God, so you can pour it out, and he will fill you back up.”

“Asbury,” Meerkreebs said, “the world needs this kind of love. Syria and Turkey needs this kind of love. Your mom and dad need this kind of love. The teammates on your team, the people on your floor, Wilmore, Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, the United States need this kind of love. They need a bunch of Christians to experience the love of God so they can pour out the love of God—not through their own efforts and not through their own knowledge—but because they are filled with his love.”

“I pray that this sits on you guys like an itchy sweater. And when you got an itch, you got to take care of it,” Meerkreebs said.

Sarah shared with ChurchLeaders that she was one of the students who stayed after the chapel service and continued to worship, adding, “Something felt different and I couldn’t leave just quite yet.”

Describing what happened next, Sarah said that despite having class right after chapel, she took off her backpack and decided to stay.

“There were maybe 20 students who were there just worshiping Jesus with everything they had, and it was beautiful,” she said, explaining that students “began to pray over each other, and my friends brought in their guitars and started playing and singing too.”

“Jesus has been moving in beautiful ways since the very beginning. The time just absolutely flew that day. I ended up being there for 13 hours straight, not once leaving, because I just couldn’t get enough of it,” Sarah added.

53 years ago, on Feb. 3, 1970, something similar took place in the same auditorium—an event now known as the Asbury Revival of 1970. It began when Dean Custer B. Reynolds invited students to share their testimonies during a chapel service. That revival lasted for 144 hours and resulted in the university canceling classes for a week.

The 1970 revival produced 2,000 Asbury witnessing teams that went to colleges and churches across the nation.

At this same time, on the west coast in the late 1960s and early 1970s, God was bringing people to repentance through what is known today as the “Jesus Movement,” a revival that brought evangelist Greg Laurie to faith and resulted in his becoming a pastor. Laurie’s movie, “Jesus Revolution,” which tells the story of how he came to know Jesus, hits theaters on Feb. 24.

ChurchLeaders on Location

ChurchLeaders went on location to Asbury University on Wednesday, Feb. 13, seven full days after spontaneous worship began.

Arriving around 9 a.m., the chapel was closed to the public until after 11:30 a.m. so that students could attend their required 10 a.m. chapel service. The university set up two overflow areas on the campus so that non-students could watch the chapel service via video feed. Estes Chapel, the overflow building located across the street from Hughes Auditorium, was standing-room-only when the chapel service began.

Asbury University president Kevin Brown told the packed Hughes Auditorium, “Our hearts are full, because this auditorium is filled with students.”

As Brown welcomed those who don’t attend the university, he shared that what they are experiencing is uncharted territory.

“We have made a discernment as a leadership team, a conscious decision from the start of this moment, for Asbury not to seize what’s happening now as a platform for our school,” he said. “And that’s why we have not live streamed, and we have just asked other guests that have come into this facility to honor that discernment for this present moment.”

Reciting some of Paul’s words from Colossians 3, Brown addressed whether what is happening just a sociological phenomenon.

“Well, on one level, yes, it is,” he said. “We’re human. We’re people. There’s a certain character to this. But at the same time, on another level, I think that something is happening that is not reducible to sociological phenomena alone.”

Brown made clear that there is no political agenda behind what is happening at the university, saying, “The only political agenda is that Jesus is Lord. The only agenda is that we are citizens in the kingdom of heaven…What is happening here isn’t just for us at the university. It’s not an exclusive event. Everyone is invited.”

“Jesus is the kind of Savior that invited people, that if I’m honest, I don’t think they should be invited,” Brown shared. “Jesus is always inviting.”

Brown laughed when addressing whether the event was preplanned.

“No way,” he said. “We are just trying to shepherd and steward and be as hospitable to the Spirit as we know how in real time.”

The president admitted the events that began on Feb. 8 aren’t convenient. Addressing the students, he said, “It’s not convenient for you. It’s not convenient for our university. It’s not convenient for our staff and faculty.”

Noting that several university leaders had been unable to fulfill their normal job functions for the past week, Brown explained, “They’re redeploying their efforts to facilitate and host this special thing. So it’s not convenient.”

Nevertheless, the university is “unequivocally and unreservedly” thankful that they have had the opportunity to play a “small role in hosting something historic,” Brown shared.

Sarah expressed that it has been “interesting to see so many people, in a way, just take over campus, and it’s hard to balance going to classes while all of this is occurring. But it is so powerful to see how God is working in everyone, not just students. The hunger for something more and for something bigger is powerful, and I feel honored that it is happening at my school.”

What Others are Saying From Their Experience at Asbury University

While the scheduled chapel was taking place inside Hughes Auditorium, lines of hundreds of people began to form outside, wrapping across the front lawn of the campus. ChurchLeaders talked to students, faculty, and visitors waiting to get into the chapel to experience what might be the beginning of a historic revival.

People wait in lines outside of Hughes Auditorium for a chance to get inside. Photo by Jesse T. Jackson

Notably, there wasn’t anything flashy taking place inside Hughes Auditorium. The worship band consisted of no more than a piano, guitar, and a cajón (box drum). There were no flashy lights, song sheets, or even lyrics on a screen. The worship team was student-led. Outside of a few house-keeping announcements, the time was filled with singing.

Some people went to the front of the auditorium where there are kneeling benches to pray. Others stood singing, while some quietly prayed in their seat.

ChurchLeaders ran into Long Hollow Baptist Church senior pastor Robby Gallaty (Henderson, TN.) while in the lobby of Hughes Auditorium and asked him to share his thoughts regarding his experience at the Asbury University’s ongoing worship service.

“No one sang out of routine or familiarity. Everyone intentionally focused on each word that rose from their lips. Worship songs I’ve sung for years seemed to have a deeper meaning. I believe the expectancy for God to move by those in the room led to a personal encounter with him,” Gallaty shared.

Those in attendance anticipated God working in their lives, Gallaty said. “I wonder if we arrive each Sunday for worship with the same posture? Many times, we attend out of routine. I’ve been guilty of that myself in the past. That was not the case at Asbury, at least from my perspective.”

Gallaty experienced revival at his church in 2021 after he felt God tell him to start holding spontaneous baptisms, which led to over 1,000 people from 17 states being baptized in just 15 weeks.

You can’t plan for revival. It’s messy. It involves risks. Belief is the fuel that strokes the fire of revival. You can’t manage it, and discipleship must follow, Gallaty shared regarding the lessons he’s learned about revival.

“Personally, I believe what’s happening at Asbury will sweep the nation,” Gallatay said. “If God decides to blow upon our nation with a fresh wind like he did in 1970, the full effects will not be realized for years.”

Brian Hull, Asbury University professor of Pastoral and Christian Ministries, told ChurchLeaders that he “believes that God is showing and sharing his love for all people” and “meeting people in their spirit with his Spirit pointing them to Jesus.”

“People are experiencing that Spirit of peace and love in real, tangible ways that lead them to be free from shame and to love others. Many people are desperate for God’s grace and hope and come believing they will experience that,” Hull said. “I am hoping that people will realize that God’s love is available to them everywhere they are and everywhere they go, no matter what their past has been. I am hoping that people will realize that this generation is full of hope and can lead us to trust God if we will listen.”

Hull said they aren’t comparing what happened in 1970 to what is happening now.

“We celebrate what happened in 1970 as a genuine and transformative moment in the life of Asbury, Kentucky, and our country. But we are not comparing this moment to that one,” he said. “This is God’s Spirit awakening people now and we are excited to see where it leads as people share it.”

While waiting in line, ChurchLeaders met Eric Scott, a former NFL player turned police chief who is currently working to earn an M.Div. Scott shared that his experience at Asbury University is something he will never forget.

“I live about 50 minutes away in Richmond, Kentucky,” Scott said. “With nothing on the schedule today, I headed to Asbury. I had no clue what to expect, how to get there, or if the event was even still ongoing. I just knew I needed guidance from God, and I knew where one or more are gathered in his name, he would be amongst them.”

“I arrived around 10:20 a.m. and could tell this was something special,” he went on to say. “To witness the hundreds, if not thousands, line up to praise God was something I’ve never seen in person. This was special. That’s all I could feel in my heart: this was special. I lined up, took some photos to document this moment and waited around an hour or so before entering the building.”

Scott, who stands at six-foot, four-inches and weighs and 280 pounds, explained that once he stepped inside he could “immediately feel a strong, overwhelming feeling that God was not only in this place, but divinely leading his people.” Scott said that broke down as soon as he got to a seat, “so to say I felt like I was standing out was an understatement. But in this place, I felt at home.”

“I was blown away with all of the different races, genders, ages, et cetera, that all came together for one purpose: praising God,” Scott said. “As I knelt at the altar praying for God’s guidance, as I dealt with recently losing a job, I felt the most calm I have in weeks. Nothing mattered, no bills, No pressure, no closed doors, nothing mattered but God.”

Scott continued, “I have an uphill battle ahead of me, but today, I got the guidance I needed to know that God was in complete control of my situation and would make a way where I didn’t see one.”

“I’m praying that this revival touches the hearts of everyone and gives hope to the notion that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us,” he said.

“Thank you, Asbury, for allowing this to continue. And I thank all the prayer warriors, worship teams, support staff, police and fire, et cetera, that are assisting all of this. But I am most thankful that a group of students started something that will be talked about in every corner of this earth. The revival they started and brought thousands to Asbury to praise the one true God will never be forgotten,” Scott concluded.

Randall Hardman, adjunct professor of Christian Studies at Asbury University and the owner/operator of Drinklings Coffee and Mugs, told ChurchLeaders that he hopes what is happening at the university leads to healing—physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational.

“I think the fact that this is coming when it is testifies to the fact of our needing this,” Hardman said. “We’re a society that is more fragmented and broken than it has been for a long time.”

“My family and I have been watching Dallas Jenkins’ ‘The Chosen’ and reading through the Gospel of Matthew again, and I think one thing that has been striking us again is how many people sought out Jesus strictly for his reputation of healing—and, again, in a society where the cultural messianic promises were showing themselves to be false,” Hardman said.

He continued, “I think at the end of the day, that is what attracts most people to movements of God: they have pain and a certain fracturing that needs to be dealt with. I know for me, the second night I was at Hughes, I realized I had some subliminal anger that I needed to give to the cross. That’s probably what it is for most people—some inner longing that perhaps they don’t even recognize to have something healed.”

Hardman expressed that he doesn’t think it is wrong for people to approach what his happening at the university with caution, saying, “I think there are a lot of people in the Christian world that have seen a lot of religious manufacturing, marketing, and manipulation. The concept ‘spiritual abuse’ or ‘religious abuse’ is frequently an experience lying behind many of those in the Gen Y, Millennial, and Gen Z experiences.”

“I don’t think we should find fault with those who raise an eyebrow at this initially,” Hardman explained. “But I think it’s also true that ‘the proof is in the pudding.’ I’ve been encouraged by how Asbury University, Asbury Theological Seminary, and the local churches have fostered this.”

Hardman shared that he is aware that some famous names have tried to “take center stage,” but that the administration has kept what is happening “student-centered.”