Inside the Asbury Revival: why God sent me and what I learnt

The Asbury Revival had been going for a week when documentary filmmaker Jon Snyder arrived.

He’d jumped in the car that morning – on 14 February, Valentines Day – after hastily bidding his wife and kids goodbye, and had driven six hours to arrive in time for evening worship.

For Jon, the trip was not out of FOMO or mere curiosity about the extraordinary events taking place at the US university following a regular student chapel service that never ended. Instead, Jon believes he was sent to Asbury by the Holy Spirit.

“I got there around 5:30pm,” he tells Eternity, “and one of the first things I noticed was that there was already a line going out the door of the auditorium and down the street. There were a lot of people waiting to get in.”

“The directive that the Lord had given to me was to tell the story of what he was doing over at Asbury.” – Jon Snyder

While many in the line recorded on their smartphones, Jon began to pull out his professional equipment. He was there to do the job that God had told him to, without any time for preparation or planning.

“The mandate, the directive that the Lord had given to me, was to tell the story of what he was doing over at Asbury,” Jon explains.

“I wasn’t coming in there with an agenda. I really just wanted to let the story speak for itself.”

People queue around the block at Asbury University

People queue around the block at Asbury University Sojourner Films/ Still from 'Asbury Outpouring Documentary'

With the light beginning to fade, he sent his drone soaring above the campus and over the line of people. (By the time Jon left Asbury, three days later, the queue to get into the chapel snaked all the way around the block.) When it was his turn, Jon edged his away inside the crowded auditorium with camera in hand.

“You walked in there and you hear just chorus after chorus of everyone there joining in singing together,” Jon recalls.

“What the Holy Spirit was doing en masse to so many people …” he pauses, scrabbling to find the right words, “I mean all you had to do was be there. Almost any time you looked towards the altar, there were college students, some of them weeping, some of them joyfully laughing. There were just dozens of encounters happening at any single moment towards that altar.

“God was moving and he was touching the hearts and lives of people, and that’s what I saw.”

Worshippers cram Asbury's auditorium

Worshippers cram into Asbury’s auditorium Sojourner Films/ Still from 'Asbury Outpouring Documentary'

Over the next few days, Jon interviewed around 20 people, including students, staff and visitors about their experience of the “Outpouring”. There were reports of students coming to Christ for the first time or coming back to faith, and of healings – emotional, physical and from addictions. But the one thing that interviewees kept reporting was a sense of unity.

“You heard so much about unity,” says Jon. “The students were just driven into unity. Apparently, that whole experience was really healing to the student body that had experienced a lot of division.

“So many people had experienced a heart transformation during that time. And that was just the student body.”

“It was like everyone was of one heart and one mind. There was such widespread unity.”

Jon notes a similar feeling of unity among visitors to the campus.

“I met a lot of people who were all over from the States … People who were getting in cars and minibuses, and coming from 8, 10, 20 hours away. I met some people from Canada who’d come.

“So many people there visiting were hungry. I’m not really sure what their motives or objectives were for coming out [to Asbury], but it was like everyone was of one heart and one mind. There was such widespread unity – you felt it.”

Small film, big impact

Jon – along with the help of his wife and video producer, Kaye – managed to capture many of these experiences in a nine-minute documentary. This film has been now been viewed over 160,000 times, and pastors from around the globe have downloaded it from Jon’s website to share with their congregations. For Jon, it has completely confirmed his calling to document the events at Asbury.

“Aside from capturing the authenticity of the story at Asbury, I really felt like God was saying to me that this film was going to be used as a catalyst for other colleges, other college students, or really anyone who wants to grab a hold of what God was doing in Asbury, but couldn’t go out there themselves to see it. And that this film would give them permission to pursue God radically, in a similar way that the kids at Asbury did.”

The experience also confirmed Jon’s broader vocation as a “film revivalist”.

A film revivalist or “media missionary”, he explains, is a filmmaker who aims to “change the narrative of the world by flooding media with stories of God’s goodness.”

“Part of the mandate that he has given me is to raise up and train other kingdom-based filmmakers.”

It’s a vision that Jon felt “God speaking” to him about during Covid – to help people “tune out of the doom and gloom of news cycle and tune in what God has to say.” So, in 2021, he created the not-for-profit Sojourner Films to promote the gospel through film.

“And part of the mandate that he has given me is to raise up and train other kingdom-based filmmakers – a million film revivalists around the world who would, likewise, just tell all the stories about what God is doing.”

This mandate is significant for Jon as numerous reports flow in of “spiritual awakenings” at other US campuses, including at Regent and Lee universities.

“For a moment I considered myself kind of like one of those tornado chasers; you know those guys who when they hear about a tornado, they’re grabbing their cameras, getting in a car, go, go, go, gotta find a tornado!” he laughs, admitting that he was tempted to act similarly when hearing each new “awakening” report.

“But the thing is that God didn’t call me to do it … Would it be better for God to just send me on a goose chase every time revival breaks out, driving around the country for 18 months? Or would it be better –  and that’s why I believe that God put it on my heart – to create resources for other filmmakers, and to  help train and equip them to be able to do what I did at Asbury?”

So is this revival?

Since the Asbury Outpouring was officially drawn to a close by the university on 24 February, many have questioned whether this is the start of true revival in the US and perhaps even throughout the world.

“There’s nothing special about Asbury in the sense that what God did there, he would also do somewhere else. What he’ll do for one, he’ll do for others,” Jon reflects.

“And so I believe that when people are watching this film that it’s going to give other people permission to seek after radically and grab a hold of what the people at Asbury grabbed hold of.”

While he’s cautious about labeling the awakenings at Asbury and other US unis as revival, Jon does see them “like Braxton Hicks contractions”. “It feels like to me that God is moving, that God is stirring his people, and the people are responding – they’re hungry.

“I’m part of Facebook groups and every day there are reports of people, congregations or other bodies who are just pursuing God and having the Spirit following them, similar to what was happening in Asbury.

“So it feels like this is the precursor. I’m not going to come out and say that a big revival’s happening next month, next year, or whatever. But I feel like it’s the start of something.”

Asbury student Alison Perfater

Asbury student Alison Perfater is interviewed for Jon’s documentary Sojourner Films/ Still from ‘Asbury Outpouring Documentary’

This was solidified for Jon in the Asbury auditorium on his last night at the uni, when he felt God tell him to “put the camera away to spend some time just worshiping.”

“He wanted me to be a hundred percent focused. And so I got to experience what everyone else experienced. He told me to take a look around the room and just really soak in what you’re experiencing.’

“I personally was so affected by what I felt like the Holy Spirit was doing, but also by what I saw him doing with everyone else that was there.

“It was evident that he was working. If you spent two minutes there, you would have seen that God is doing something great there.”

“God’s response was, in a large part, because of the unity that was showcased there.”

For Jon, whether Asbury sparks revival or not, the main take-home lesson is this: the need for God’s people to come together in unity to worship him.

“What do we learn from what came out of Asbury? It’s just this: God’s people were coming together just for the sole purpose of worshiping him and God was pouring out his Spirit indiscriminately on people. It’s not like he was pouring out only on the charismatics … There were people there from all different denominations. And God was pouring out [his Spirit] indiscriminately. People were having experiences and encounters everywhere. I wish that that was prevalent outside of Asbury as much as it was inside.

“The people there were in one heart, one mind, and God’s response was, in a large part, because of the unity that was showcased there.”