The recent religious revival at Asbury University brought a lot of people to Wilmore, Kentucky:
By the time university leaders concluded the gathering, an estimated 50,000 students and visitors had come to the campus to pray, said Kevin Brown, Asbury’s president. The outpouring attracted students from more than 260 colleges and universities, many drawn by social media livestreams and posts. Similar prayer services cropped up at other Christian universities, including Lee University in Tennessee, Cedarville University in Ohio and Samford University in Alabama…
The surge of worshippers overwhelmed the campus and the sleepy town of Wilmore, which is home to roughly 6,000 residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Cars streamed into the city, backing up traffic and filling the town’s parking spaces.
“We have two stoplights, to give you an idea of how large our town is,” Brown said. Suddenly having to figure out how to accommodate thousands of visitors “on the fly” was “unnerving and unsettling.”
“Our town and our institutions are just not equipped to absorb such a large influx of people,” he said. “On the other hand, it was really, really sweet and really beautiful to see so many different people, so many different ages, representing so many different geographies … just to see everyone in one space, united and experiencing something together.”
The juxtaposition of religious activity and visitors in a small town is worth considering. Three questions come to mind:
1. How many communities would be prepared for a large influx of visitors there for religious purposes? What exactly would they need to respond and what would mark the interactions and activity outside of the clearly marked religious spaces?
2. Would Christians in the United States be more or less surprised to find religious revival happening in a small town or in a major city (thinking of Billy Graham’s long meetings in 1957 in New York City or the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1909)?
3. Are the conditions of small town life more or less conducive to religious fervor? Americans often have romantic notions of small towns yet big cities are denser and have more people coming and going.