Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

The Asbury Revival –
Was it a Real Revival?

By Dennis Pollock


In many parts of the Christian world, people are buzzing about the revival that occurred in February at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. I wanted to weigh in with some of my thoughts about this and other revivals, but I realize that before I do that, I will need to explain just what this phenomenon involved for the sake of those who know nothing about it.


On February 8th, 2023, a young man gave a Bible teaching at a chapel service. It was not especially dynamic, but it did touch hearts. Perhaps part of the reason it did was that he shared that he had been sexually molested in his youth and he made reference to this issue and the need for spiritual healing by divine love. No doubt, another aspect of what followed was simply that Jesus was determined to pour out his Spirit upon the young college students there.


After the teaching, the students were supposed to leave the auditorium and go to their next class or back to their dormitory. And some of them did. But around 20 lingered there, praying. For some odd reason, they could not bring themselves to stop. This small band of students began to pray for each other and to sing worship choruses. Evidently there was a rich presence of the Holy Spirit that made them want to stay and stay and stay and stay.


Several hours passed. Word got out that something special was happening in the auditorium. A few curious students went there to see what was happening, and they soon got caught up in the prayer and praise. That evening the university president sent an email to all the students saying: "There's worship happening in Hughes (auditorium). You're welcome to join." And join they did. The services continued all night, and throughout the next day they showed no signs of stopping.




The phenomenon grew and lasted for the next two weeks. It was so powerful that the school canceled classes so that everyone could attend. Due to social media and certain television programs, the word of what God was doing at Asbury University went out to the world. Believers were drawn to this event from everywhere, even foreign nations until there were far more outsiders than students coming to experience God at Asbury University.


There was very little preaching during those two weeks. It was mostly singing, praying, confession of sins, and short testimonies from the students. There was no hype in the meetings. One pastor observed "There are no flashy light systems, screens, or celebrity worship leaders. It’s not even low production—it’s no production."


The meetings became such a powerful draw to Christians all over the world, that the small town of Wilmore became overwhelmed, as did the college. They did not have the facilities to deal with such crowds. Some people were waiting in line in front of the auditorium for hours in bitterly cold temperatures before they could get in. Many never did get to enter the building, due to the ever-present Fire Marshall's presence, who kept a strict count of all who were in the building.


After two weeks of these meetings that went on every day and night, the college declared that they must come to an end. They did not have the resources to handle a phenomenon this big, plus they were in the business of educating young people to be accountants, writers, teachers, musicians, and in many other fields, and this could not happen if all the students were in the chapel constantly. So, after two weeks of these unusual meetings, the gatherings came to an end and life got back to normal.


Social Media


This was perhaps the first major revival that was helped and spread abroad through social media. Numerous live cams were posted on YouTube, revealing what was happening at the university minute by minute. And since its conclusion, many have created videos either criticizing or praising this movement or revival or whatever they choose to call it.


At first, most of the commenters were speaking positively about the Asbury event, but lately, I have been seeing thumbnails indicating a negative view of it. I have watched a few critical commentaries out of curiosity, wondering on what basis people, and especially ministers, would condemn these meetings. They hardly seem to warrant too much criticism. The idea of young people coming together to pray and sing to God seems benign to me.


But what many ministers appear to hate is the title "revival." If it was simply labeled a prayer meeting, they might be OK with that. But a revival? Or even to suggest that this was a powerful movement of God goes against the grain for some. In their minds, this was simply youthful emotionalism and had little to do with the Holy Spirit. They may grudgingly acknowledge that perhaps a few of these students gained some spiritual benefit from these meetings, but you get the idea that even that admission is painful for them to say.


Always Critics


When I was a young pastor, I studied revival intensely. I discovered that there have always been critics of revival. One of the criticisms by some ministers is that the word "revival" is not in the Bible. But of course, the word trinity is not in the Bible either, but that does not make it a worthless term in reference to God. The great theologian Martin Lloyd Jones believed in the idea of revival, and he wrote: "I would define revival as a large number being baptized by the Holy Spirit at the same time; or the Holy Spirit falling upon, coming upon a number of people assembled together. It can happen in a chapel, in a church, it can happen in a district, it can happen in a country." I totally agree. Perhaps a more Biblical term for what happened at Asbury is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This kind of outpouring has happened throughout the history of the church. It happened in Wales in 1904, in Los Angeles in a church on Azusa Street in 1906, and in Pensacola, Florida in 1995. It even happened in America before we were a nation, in the Great Awakening in the 1730s. And this concept of outpourings of the Holy Spirit is a unique promise from God for the last days. The Holy Spirit inspired Joel to write:


And it shall come to pass afterward

That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;

Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

Your old men shall dream dreams,

Your young men shall see visions.

And also, on My menservants and on My maidservants

I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28,29)


Peter quoted this passage on the Day of Pentecost and insisted that this was what was happening before their eyes. Exactly what are the critics of the Asbury outpouring complaining about? Some are put off that there was almost no preaching involved in these meetings. In their minds, Christian meetings must involve a set order, with singing, taking an offering, giving a few announcements, and preaching. If there is no preaching or very little preaching, this cannot be of God. The reality is that many of the awakenings and outpourings throughout the history of the church have had little preaching. This was certainly true in the Welsh Revival. In the prayer awakening in America in 1858, lunchtime prayer groups were springing up all over the U. S. Christians were coming alive, churches were filling up, and people were coming to Christ. But some critics thought it was all bogus, and asked, "Where is the preaching?" One minister summarized the feelings of many of the participants with words like this: "We have had plenty preaching until we have become hardened. What we need is the presence of the Spirit and the power of prayer."


Presence of God


Anyone who studies revival (or if you prefer – outpourings of the Holy Spirit) finds that although they may differ greatly, they have certain features in common. First, they involve an intense presence of the Holy Spirit that moves people deeply. People don't just learn about God – they literally feel God and are powerfully transformed by His holy presence. The Bible says, "In Your presence is fullness of joy," and this is the case when God pours out His Spirit.


Second, and this is the result of the presence of God, there is something one revival historian called "divine magnetism." People are drawn to the meetings as though by a giant magnet. You can hardly keep them away. Most pastors see their biggest problem as "How do I get more people in the door." They preach every Sunday to the same faithful folks and see very few visitors. And of those visitors, most go away and never return. Sometimes they try gimmicks such as offering free gifts, attempting to be funnier or tell more interesting stories, or using slide shows with eye-catching graphics and animated video clips. And this can work – a little. But in many cases, despite all that they do, the people stay away in droves. And these pastors pray constantly, "Lord, send the people in."


When God pours out His Spirit, getting a crowd is the least of your worries. People may find it dull to hear about God or learn about God but to literally feel God, and sense His love and presence is another matter. In a genuine move of God people will come from all over. Once a spiritual fire has started in a church or a college or a community, people will come from everywhere just to watch it burn.


A third feature of a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit is a conviction of sin. In the presence of God, people begin to feel bad about the sin patterns that have governed their lives. Left on their own, they can justify their sin and immorality, but in the presence of God there is no room for debate, and often you will hear some of the most powerful and even shocking confessions of sin by broken-hearted people. And these confessions often add spiritual fuel to the fires of revival, as people become convinced: "God is surely at work here."


There are other marks of a revival such as growing churches and half-hearted Christians becoming suddenly totally committed to Christ. The overall effect of revival is exactly what the word suggests: people, colleges, churches, and communities become revived.


Church Born in Revival


And while the word revival is not in the Bible, a powerful and explosive revival can be found front and center at the beginning of the Christian church. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell upon a band of 120 prayer warriors. These men and women had been ordered by the Lord Jesus to wait until they had been clothed with power from on high. And on that day, the Holy Spirit came powerfully. Supernatural gifts were manifested, and just like in all revivals, crowds came from all over, thousands of them.


As in every revival, critics were present, who jeered that these people who were praising, praying, and speaking in tongues were drunk. Peter arose and gave an impromptu sermon. He began by declaring that these Christians were not drunk, and that God was simply fulfilling His promise to pour out His Spirit upon all people in the Last Days. Peter went on to preach Jesus Christ, declaring that He was Israel's promised Messiah, and quoted numerous Old Testament prophetic passages demonstrating that Jesus fulfilled these prophecies and that this man they had recently crucified was God's Messiah.


As in all revivals, conviction gripped the hearts of these men and women, and they asked Peter, "What shall we do?" Peter told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and they would be forgiven. Around 3,000 folks did just that and the new, fledgling church hit the ground running and never looked back.


So, was the Asbury phenomenon a revival? As you have probably guessed by now, I'm convinced that it was. Was it handled and organized perfectly? Probably not. Could there have been more evangelistic preaching, like Peter did? Probably so. But in my mind, God had a definite plan for that little university in that small town, and He accomplished it beautifully. Amid our spiritually cold, politically divided nation, God showed up among some young Gen-Z college students, and the world took notice. And I'm glad He did.




For a full listing of all articles, written and audio, go to our Devo Catalog Page.



        For inspirational devos, bios of Christian leaders, free downloads, and the latest SOGM news:
Sign up to receive E-newsletter

Your donations are needed and greatly appreciated!



Just for you!

Missions Outreach

A major part of Spirit of Grace Ministries is our ministry in the great continent of Africa. There is a tremendous harvest going on in the world these days, and we are privileged to be a part of it. Above is a brief music video featuring video clips and pics from our recent mission in Nigeria in Oct/Nov, 2019.

Audio Devo: "Why is there suffering?"

People have debated this question for millennia. And we cannot speak concerning specific individual questions of suffering, but the Bible clearly speaks as to why suffering has always been a part of the human experience.