NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Sometimes college students are lumped into one big category, but the truth is they vary vastly from school to school and region to region, Passion movement leader Louie Giglio told Baptist Press during Gospel Music Association Week in Nashville, Tenn., April 9-13.
“I’m incredibly encouraged by what I’ve seen not only in the United States but around the world,” Giglio said. “I came from England on Wednesday and I was with 1,000 college students there from most all of the major universities in England and they had such a passion for God and such a passion for their campuses. We had a prayer time the last morning and they prayed for a half-hour out loud — all of them at once. And they were seeking God so earnestly for their campuses and crying out. When you see that happening, you can’t help but be encouraged.”
But like so much in life, the current status of college students has a flipside: Millions of them are not seeking God.
“I think the Kingdom of God is way bigger than we think and I think we’re doing good but there’s so much that still needs to be done,” Giglio, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate, said April 11. “My heart breaks for the 80 percent of the 16 million college students in America that don’t know Christ. But yet I rejoice that I can name 100 schools where there is a big band of believers who are really sold out to seeing something great happen on their campus for His fame. So I’m encouraged, but in no way is the challenge diminished. The task is still huge.”
Giglio, who has spent more than two decades in collegiate ministry, and his wife, Shelley, organized a team of worship leaders with the goal of calling the collegiate generation to a purpose in life much greater than themselves beginning with the first Passion gathering of 2,000 students in Austin, Texas, in January 1997. Major Passion conferences in 2000, 2003 and 2005 followed, as did several Passion worship albums and other resources that have spread the vision of a generation living for God’s renown.
Giglio voices unique insights from his Passion perspective into what college students are seeking and how they can be reached for Christ.
“Honestly, all churches could take a big huge swing at doing better at campus ministry,” he told BP. “I’ve been around college students and church-based ministries for a long time, and college students are notoriously cheap and a lot of people who are running churches think, ‘These guys don’t tithe and they’re freeloaders and they move around — they’re here one semester and two semesters later they’re at another church already and they migrate around town — so let’s don’t focus on them. Let’s focus on the young couples who have the jobs who can give the money, who can keep running the church and who can work in the church.’
“I get that, but I also think there’s an untapped resource in college students that if I was a pastor of a local church and there were college students anywhere near me, this would motivate me more than anything: They are already going somewhere,” Giglio said, noting that each college student, whether he or she finishes school in four years or six or more years, will enter fields like business, government, education, medicine or entrepreneurship within a few years.
“If I can invest for the sake of the Kingdom something in them, I get free exportation of our vision and message to the whole world because they’re going to then carry it where they’re going for free,” he said. “They’re not going to charge me to carry whatever it is God deposits in their life. So it’s kind of a tradeoff: ‘OK, maybe you’re not rich and you’re not going to support the church, but you’re going to carry free for us our message to the ends of the earth.'”
The second thing local pastors should realize is that a church must be relevant in order to reach college students, Giglio said.
“I know that’s kind of an overused word, but college students are living in a pretty real place and they want the Gospel in a language they can understand. They don’t want form. They want substance. They want to be challenged with a cause that’s greater than anything else they’ve ever seen before. They don’t want to show up at something that’s perfunctory and everybody stands up and sits down and we do this and we do that and we call that church,” he said. “They want something that’s living and vibrant that sort of reaches into their heart and says, ‘This is going to demand everything you’ve got, but it’s going to be worth it.'”
Giglio said college students today are not denominationally biased and they don’t care whether a church is Southern Baptist or Methodist or Lutheran as long as the church is challenging them with the Gospel in a relevant manner.
“They don’t have anything at stake. They’re free agents, and they’re looking for the Gospel, for teaching, for truth, for worship and for cause,” he said. “Obviously, I want that to be evangelical, and I want that to be conservative evangelical. I don’t care if the expression is a little more charismatic or not charismatic. I want the teaching to be solid. But the label doesn’t matter to them anymore. And I’m not sure it should, really, at the end of the day. It’s the name of Jesus that we’re all trying to lift up and all kinds of churches are doing a great job of that.
“I know Southern Baptist churches that are doing a great job of reaching college students, and I know some that aren’t doing a good job of reaching anybody,” he said.
Looking toward the future of the Passion movement, Giglio hopes to focus more on the students living outside the Bible belt and outside what he termed “the Passion belt” — places like New York City and Boston, where Passion stepped out on faith by hosting two historic gatherings in the past 18 months and saw capacity crowds.
“There are places where Passion can go and it makes sense. People will come and show up. But there are other cities that [other ministries avoid] because they’re not sure they can afford it or people will come or they’ve not tried it before,” he said. “We found God’s favor in doing that. It’s risky because you sort of have to take a financial step of faith and it’s risky because you don’t know if anybody’s going to come, but we’ve found favor in that. So we’re really leaning forward right now toward some other cities — not only in the United States — where we want to go and sort of be an outpost for Passion.”
To learn more about the Passion movement, visit www.268generation.com.