Some 3,000 students packed the Beacon Theater in Manhattan for the free ‘Passion Experience’ worship and prayer concert on Thursday, April 15, 2004. The event, aimed at college students and youth aged between 18 and 26, was part of Passion’s nationwide 35-city fall tour, where Passion hosted similar free gatherings in the heart of several other metropolises.
"We know God is at work in NYC," says Passion leader Louie Giglio, "stirring the hearts of this collegiate generation. It's our desire to partner with existing ministries to reach out to the students of New York and help advance the work God is doing on campuses and churches throughout the city."
The Passion tour, different from any other concert, gathered together worship leaders from churches nationwide, including Chris Tomlin, David Crowder*Band and Charlie Hall, to speak vertically to God.
“This night is not about our names," Giglio said, "not mine, Passion's or any band's. This night is all about One beautiful name, and His fame is what brings us to Manhattan."
The audience agreed, as they chanted, "We love Jesus, how about you," in an enthusiastic call-and-response manner. As the first band began playing, the audience repeated choruses once again. “You are my drink," they sang. "You are my feast."
Such a focus on God was opposite to past Christian praise and worship hymns, which emphasized the individual.
"A lot of it is interfacing with narcissism," said Robert E. Webber, a professor of ministry at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Ill. "The dominant word in these songs is I. It's `I enthrone you,' `I love you.' The focus is not on God but how I experience God. We congratulate God for being God. Theologically, that says I, a creature of God, have something to contribute to God's well-being."
At the passion experience however, the emphasis was the “death to me and my story and life to something so much bigger."
"You're not the center of anything, and stop trying to get life to revolve around you," said Louie Giglio. “Life revolves around God.”
Similar worship tours have exploded across the nation, as youth sought out a more spiritual alternative to ‘watered down’ forms of Christian music.
"For years people thought that for Christian music to explode it needed to be watered down," said Deborah Evans Price, who writes about Christian music for Billboard magazine.
Instead, she said, audiences want "something more spiritually meaty" than Christian pop. "People don't want Christian lite," she said.
"What's selling now is compilations and praise and worship," said John W. Styll, president of the Gospel Music Association in Nashville. For this music, he added, "Church is the new radio. It's where people learn about songs, and how songwriters get compensated."
One of the performers, David Crowder, said he began writing songs for college students since he himself was a student at Baylor University.
"It was underground, but now it's just exploded," he said. "The Internet connects all these smaller subcultural units. For us, a small band in Waco, it disseminated our songs all over the world."
Shelley Giglio, wife of Passion founder Louie Giglio, said such events are necessary for the Christian youth of today.
"They'll see college students that look like them, wear their clothes and believe," said Ms. Giglio, 39. "This generation has a desire to be more extreme in its faith. Going to church is not enough to survive on earth. They need to be in a living, breathing conversation with God."
Daneal Flohr, a junior at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, said that the Passion concert helped her experience helped her faith grow deeper. "We're learning now that you can worship all the time," she said.
Michelle Salviejo, a sophomore at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., beamed after a night of crying and singing and jumping. "It was amazing feeling God's presence," she said. Though she liked the songs, she said, "It wasn't the bands, it was God that was great."
At the end of the enlivened worship event, Louie asked the audience for an offering to be used to bring similar tours across the nation. Hundreds of students responded by coming forward with what they had to give.
Offerings to the Passion Conferences can be made to: Passion Conferences, P.O. Box 2192, Roswell, GA 30077. For more information about the Passion Experience tour, please visit www.passionnow.org.