The Historic Importance of College Ministry

Every major revival in Western history has its roots on the college campus. Here are specific stories of student revivals changing the world!

I spoke at Bethany College’s chapel yesterday, and I told several little-known stories from this history of college ministry. I thought I should put them online. I apologize for the abrubt nature of these stories, I basically cut’n’pasted them from my speaking notes. I’ve provided a link to help you do more research on any of the stories that interest you. If you want a quick survey that’s better-written, try Why College Revivals Spark Missionary Advance.

First: At the very beginning of the 18th century, Nick was a student at the University of Halle in Germany. He was a passionate follower of Jesus, and he came to wield great influence with his fellow students. He went on to found a church, and the Moravian Church founded by Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf sent out more missionaries in twenty years than all the Protestant churches of Europe had sent in the last 200. They began an around-the-clock prayer meeting for world missions that lasted for 100 years without interruption. His slogan was I have but one passion, tis He, tis only He. [learn more about the Moravians]

Second: In 1726, John Wesley was a student at Oxford University and he formed a group called the Holy Club to study the Bible and reach out to the poor. They began to live their lives by a strict set of rules, carefully ordering their life to give the maximum opportunities to serve God. They were so disciplined that other students mocked their methodical life with the name Methodists. Later, John and his brother Charles along with George Whitfield, another alumnus of the Holy Club, were instrumental in spreading the gospel across America in what we today call the First Great Awakening in American history. [learn more about John Wesley]

Third: In August 1806, on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon, freshman Samuel Mills and four other students gathered in the maple grove of Sloan’s Meadow along the Hoosack River for a twice-weekly prayer meetings. Suddenly, rain began to pour down and so the students sought shelter from the driving rain on the side of a huge haystack. There, with the rain falling from the sky Mills shared his growing passion that the gospel be preached around the world. They prayed, and God showed up. That prayer meeting resulted in the emergence of missions in North America, and every subsequent missions movementincluding ourstraces its roots to that prayer meeting of college students. Their great motto was we can do this if we will. [learn more about the Haystack Prayer Meeting]

Fourth: Just after Christmas in 1900, Charles Parham gave the students at Bethel Bible college in Topeka Kansas an assignment: search the Scriptures and determine if there was any way a person could know whether or not they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. On January 1st 1901, just after midnight, a young student named Agnes Ozman asked Parham to lay hands on her and pray that she might be filled with the Holy Spirit and that she would speak in tongues as a result. That event launched the great Pentecostal revival which has swept and is sweeping the world. Today 9 out of every 10 people who are coming to faith in Christ are doing so in the context of a Spirit-filled Church. [learn more about Agnes Ozman]

Fifth: In 1886 Dwight Moody invited 251 college students to a retreat in Mount Hermon, Massachusets. He wasnt really planning to talk about world missions, but a strong burden grew among the students there. By the end of the conference, precisely 100 of the 251 students signed a pledge stating we, the undersigned, declare ourselves willing and desirous, God permitting, to go to the unevangelized portions of the world. That was the beginning of the Student Volunteer Missions Movement. Their watchword was the evangelization of the world in this generation. Two Princeton students took it upon themselves to go on a speaking tour of American colleges recruiting for missions. As a result, over 12,000 student volunteers went into foreign missions before World War I broke out. [learn more about the Student Volunteer Missions Movement]

Sixth: In 1951, Bill Bright began ministering to college students at UCLA. That began a movement known as Campus Crusade for Christ that has grown far beyond college students and is now one of the most powerful missions forces in the world. For example: they have shown a movie representation of the gospel of Luke to over 5 billion people in over 200 nations. I actually believe its been shown in every nation on the planet! [learn more about Bill Bright and Campus Crusade]

Seventh: And in what is probably the most amazing story of college revival that I’ve ever come across: I give you the story of a revival that began when five non-Christians gathered for prayer.

To provide a context: our nation was founded in 1776. In the 1790s, a poll conducted at Harvard revealed not one believer which was originally founded to train ministers. At Princeton, a similar poll showed only 2 Christians. When the dean opened the chapel Bible one day a pack of playing cards fell out because students had cut out a hiding place for them. Christians were so few on the average campus and were so intimidated by the non-Christians that they met in secret. They even kept their minutes in code so no one could find out about their clandestine fellowship. [source]

Right around then at Hampden Sydney College in Virginia five non-Christian students were so disgusted with the level of immorality around them that they held a secret prayer meeting to ask for Gods help. Somehow the other students found out about it and tried to break down the door! The president of the college heard the riot and came to see what the problem was. The students told him and these were his words: “You don’t mind cheating, you, don’t mind stealing from rooms, you don’t mind the lying and the profanity you get on this campus, but you object to a prayer meeting. Well, I do not!” He then knocked on the door and said authoritatively, “This is the president of the college speaking. Will you please come out?” The students unlocked the door and came out not knowing what to expect. President Smith said, “Gentlemen, come to my study, we’ll pray there together.” That sparked a revival on campus that resulted in half of the student body converting to Christ and more importantly: that was the beginning of the Second Great Awakening.

To learn more about this last story, read the article that I recommended at the beginning: Why College Revivals Spark Missionary Advance.

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