Revival for a New Generation
Students on their knees confessing faith in Christ, estranged friends embracing in forgiveness, strangers worshiping God and praying with one another—the Holy Spirit is changing lives on college campuses across the nation, including Azusa Pacific University. Whether described as a revival, an outpouring, or a spiritual renewal, one thing is certain: God is at work.
The emergence of these unplanned, student-led events trace back to Asbury University. On February 8, 2023, the college’s regular chapel session—described afterwards as rather unremarkable—led to a spiritual movement that brought upwards of 50,000 visitors to the typically sleepy town of Wilmore, Kentucky. The chapel service lasted 18 full days in total: more than 400 hours of worship, confession, testifying, and transformation of lives.
Ta’Tyana Leonard, MDiv, associate director of chapel and pastoral care at APU, was sent by her church to experience, firsthand, the revival at Asbury. “Lines of people from all generations, cultures, and walks of life wrapped around the university block,” Leonard said. “Though it began with college students, gatherings were full of people hungry for spiritual renewal including young families traveling from El Salvador or elderly residents wheeled in by their grandchildren.”
The events at Asbury quickly captured the attention of millions across the country, as attendees shared videos, posts, and testimonies on social media. As described in an article by the Christian Post, revival is spreading as universities nationwide experience a “spirit of unity and confession.”
Shortly after the events at Asbury, students began gathering each night at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. From senior basketball players to freshman art majors, God prompted students who had never gathered together before to meet for Bible reading, worship, prayer, and testifying. Similar events took place at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, spilling into local churches, ministries, and homes. Countless others followed suit, including secular universities such as Western Kentucky and Ohio State.
These revivals, taking place at Azusa Pacific and many other college campuses, are inspiring thousands to pursue God.
God’s Transformative Power at Work in the APU Community
On Wednesday, March 1, 2023, students gathered together in the Felix Event Center for an APU chapel service. That day they would hear from guest speaker Alison Perfater, Asbury University student body president, about the recent revival. The room held an air of expectancy as the morning exhibited a striking resemblance to a historic APU chapel service held more than 50 years ago.
Travel back to February 6, 1970, when news of a spiritual revival at Asbury University spread to what was then called Azusa Bible College. In an effort to share the Good News of God’s work, the Asbury student body president was invited to speak at the morning chapel. He shared a simple message of the 1970 campus revival and gave his testimony. No response was planned.
Students began dropping to their knees in prayer. Many began to testify, others confessed their sins, and some asked forgiveness from a peer. No one rushed home; the service continued for seven hours, then moved into residence halls. Students left to eagerly share their story in their local churches and communities, and the Gospel message spread rapidly throughout the outermost reaches of the state. Thousands surrendered their lives to Christ.
Now, more than 50 years later, a new Asbury student body president ascended the stage to share her testimony with the APU community, encouraging them to seek Christ. “When you seek revival, what you get is a performance,” said Perfater, “When you seek Christ and seek God’s face, you find freedom.”
The chapel service continued more than an hour past the appointed time with many students gathering around the stage praying and singing as the band kept playing. Eventually, some of the lingering students moved from Felix to gather in the Hartwig Prayer Chapel on East Campus to continue in worship. In that small, sacred space—lined with two benches and a simple stained glass display—the Holy Spirit began to move.
“People came in, but no one left. Before long it was standing room only,” said Nathanael Forrey ’25. “It became evident the Holy Spirit was working when people began sharing their struggles, praying for complete strangers, confessing to one another, and reading Scripture out loud.”
As dusk settled in, students overflowed into the outdoor space near the baptismal pond. The gathering ran through the night, eventually moving into Wilden Hall. It continued until the Thursday night chapel service in Upper Turner Campus Center, where students were given the space to continue in the work of the Spirit.
Regular gatherings continued during spring break and in the weeks that followed, indicating a lasting commitment to seek the Holy Spirit and deepen faith. Times of prayer, worship, and reading Scripture in the Hartwig Prayer Chapel brought new believers to Christ and strengthened those already following Him, such as Jacqueline Forrey ’25, Nathanael’s wife. “During one of these later meetings, after a period of searching, God gave me clarity as I considered my life calling,” said Jacqueline.“I felt so encouraged seeking my purpose with a God-following community—people who want to build you up and see you thrive.”
During the months leading up to this moment, students and faculty had been regularly meeting to pray on campus. “Even before the Asbury revival, we had assurance something was going to change,” said Nathanael. “It was never about a musical performance or a momentary experience, but about people who need God and are genuinely searching for Him.”
Evidence of a deeper hunger for God has been clear on APU’s campus: groups initiating prayer walks, a record 43 student baptisms during the school year, and individuals experiencing spiritual healing in the pastoral care and counseling office. “As I look back on the past academic year, there’s been a tangible, increased sense of openness to the Lord,” said Coba Canales, EdD, dean of spiritual life.
Whether it’s in a handful of students quietly praying or an auditorium crowd singing praises, whether it’s in the spur-of-the-moment or organized, the Holy Spirit has been moving in the APU community.
“I knew what I experienced at Asbury was authentic, because I had already experienced it at APU throughout my career,” said Ta’Tyana. “It caused me to consider how we step aside and allow God to work through our students—how we trust our students to lead us spiritually.”
Generation Z’s Increasing Desire for Christ
Many in this upcoming generation are searching for Christ, and it isn’t just a fleeting passion. Bruce French ’82, pastor at Cornerstone Bible Church in Glendora, has observed a steady growth in college ministries over the past several years. His church is not alone—other local pastors also report a vibrant flourishing within their young adult groups.
“In my interactions with Generation Z, I have observed a sincere desire to know Truth,” said French. “The revival that we’re seeing among young people is not rooted in emotions or a charismatic movement, but in a love for Christ and longing to know Him.”
Over the past several years, the college group at Cornerstone has grown. It now welcomes up to 75 students at one time, who gather together at church on Sundays and midweek in a local home to study Scripture together. For many, their faith has thrived post college, signaling a genuine, long-lasting transformation.
Data from the Open Generation project shows that more than half of Generation Z feels motivated to learn more about Jesus. Unfortunately, data also shows that these same teens may be lacking a source of discipleship and trusted guidance in faith matters—making welcoming, Christ-centered communities such as APU and local churches crucial for those pursuing answers.
“Society often labels college students, specifically Generation Z, as people who are self-focused and self-driven,” said Canales. “Instead, we are witnessing young people living in wholehearted pursuit of Jesus.”
As society increases in secularism, why are many members of this new generation pulling against the current and turning back to faith?
“Scripture shows us there is a connection between going through challenges and seeing the power and presence of God in the midst of it, reminding us He is still faithful,” said Canales, reflecting on the difficulties of recent years, including the global pandemic.
After hardship, the world’s answers often seem shallow and elusive: money, popularity, fitting into a particular aesthetic, success, all presented in an endless barrage on social media platforms. This leaves many in a search for truth.“They have decided they want to know what truth is—not the opinions of church leaders or authoritative figures—but real, Scriptural truth,” said French, reflecting on his weekly meetings with young adults. “Jesus promises them that if they seek, they will find.”
For some who have never experienced the Holy Spirit at work in this way, the spread of revival brings questions. How do we know a revival is authentic, and not simply a momentary spiritual fervor? What happens next?
Spiritual revivals are certainly not new, and historical events can provide insight—from Jonathan Edward’s fiery sermons of the first Great Awakening, to the hundreds of individuals publicly repenting during the 1907 Pyongyang Revival in what is today North Korea.
“True revival is hallmarked by a long-lasting transformation of lives, not just an emotional moment,” said Tim Finlay, a biblical studies professor in Azusa Pacific Seminary. “As described by Evan Roberts, a leader of the 1904 Welsh Revival, four essential components are confession, repentance, obedience, and a public declaration.”
God’s current movement among college students includes this tell-tale sign of true revival: lives are still being changed even after the viral events have quieted.
As the sun sank low the Saturday before Easter, APU students gathered around the bonfire pit to read Scripture and remember the reason behind revival—the reason behind all that they do—Jesus’ death and resurrection. They remained throughout the night, watching the rising sun once again bathe campus in light. “There has been a palpable shift in our campus community, and the sense of spiritual awakening continues to strengthen,” said Nathanael, more than a month after the initial happenings.
Wholehearted obedience, authentic desire for Christ, the transformed lives of college students across the nation—this revival is a testimony to all. May God work through the fervent faith of a young generation, like he has done in revivals of years past, to draw people from all walks of life closer to him.
Posted: August 3, 2023