Sometimes silence is louder than words, more powerful than any sound. That was certainly the case as over 11,000 college-aged young people converged on the corner of Fifth and Broadway in downtown Nashville on a January night in early 2005. Having exited fourteen smaller Community Group settings across the city, they walked in quiet contemplation as they returned to enter a candlelit late night worship gathering in the arena at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. I had encouraged them earlier in the night to return to the Gaylord without a sound, something that seemed problematic and unrealistic to some, but a challenge and unique opportunity the students eagerly embraced.
Considering the staggering grace and power of the cross of Christ, a hushed throng began to appear from every direction, filling the streets with an eerie sense of anticipation and reverence. Within minutes a crowd had gathered outside the main entrance to the arena, filling the wide esplanade and spilling over into the streets for blocks.
Officers on horseback looked on with stunned expressions. Bands in many of Nashville’s famed Broadway Street country bars ceased playing as partygoers curiously emptied into the streets to witness the rare and peculiar sight. Restaurant patrons did the same, leaving their meals to walk out among the quiet masses and investigate the silence.
Some students kneeled as they waited for the Arena doors to open. Others stood without uttering a sound, hands lifted in adoration and prayer. A sense of the presence and otherness of God hung thick in the air. And for a moment the heart of the city stood still.
I still heard onlookers and facility staffers talking about it days later. “We’ve seen twenty year olds party hard and crank up the volume,” one hotel employee commented, “but we’ve never seen kids this age that quiet before. It was incredibly cool and a little unnerving all at the same time.”
Such comments were not uncommon at Passion 05, a gathering of 18-25 year olds from all fifty states and several foreign nations that our Passion team hosted to usher in the New Year. The students and their leaders had descended on Nashville as a part of the Passion Movement for four days of worship, prayer and teaching centered on the greatness of God and His invitation to live for what is ultimate: His glory and His fame.
Birthed out of a desire to see spiritual awakening come to the 16 million college students in America, Passion emerged in 1996 as Shelley (my wife), myself and a small team set out to call this collegiate generation to a purpose in life much bigger than themselves. Inspired by a clear vision of what could be, we set our sites on Passion’s inaugural conference in January 1997. That gathering brought 2,000 students to Austin, TX, launching a wave of renewal that has reached campuses and churches around the world.
Rooted in the confession of Isaiah 26:8—Yes Lord, walking in the way of Your truth we wait eagerly for You, for Your name and renown are the desire of our souls—the Passion movement is forging a “268 Generation,” a generation living for His renown.
Widely known for OneDay gatherings in 2000 and 2003 that together united over 60,000 college students for solemn days of prayer and consecration, (we intentionally didn’t use the passion name on these gatherings to emphasize the unity they were designed to foster), we have had the humbling opportunity to be face to face with over half a million students during our Passion journey. Beyond that, God has impacted countless others through Passion Worship Projects and video/teaching resources that have carried the vision to people everywhere.
Recently, we were excited to host historic college-targeted Passion gatherings in the heart of Boston and New York City, breathing hope and encouragement in two of the nation’s collegiate hubs, two metro areas that combined are home to over 1.3 million college students. Offering free events made both outings huge steps of faith for us, but capacity crowds in Boston’s historic Orpheum Theater and Broadway’s Beacon Theater united the largest groups of college-aged people for worship in the recent history of both cities.
January 2005 found us in the heart of Nashville, returning to our four-day conference roots and hosting a gathering with teaching from Beth Moore, John Piper (and myself) and the music of, among others, Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, David Crowder Band and Matt Redman, artist/worshippers who have carried the heartbeat of Passion from the beginning. In large group settings in the Arena, Community Groups and smaller Family Groups (where each student could process what God was doing in their hearts), Passion 05 centered on the simple message of God’s goodness and glory—and His invitation to us to find joy in Him and our ultimate purpose in knowing and reflecting His greatness in every facet of our lives.