When Louie Giglio, founder of Passion, began graduate school at Baylor University, he found himself watching many of the high school students he had previously ministered to enter college and almost immediately abandon their faith.
"I saw the students who had been in our ministry in the summer ... arrive at Baylor (a Baptist school) and check their faith on day two," Giglio said on a recent Essential Church podcast.
"These are kids that were on the mission trip, were leading out in the ensemble, were the stars of the church, second day in, put it (faith) on a hook on the wall — 'I am going to go to the party this weekend, I'm going to check out the scene ... I'm going to sleep through church on Sunday and nobody's going to know.'
It was at that point that Giglio realized that the influences of a student's life — including parental, church, school, and coaches — all came to a halt during one's college years.
"You have free choice and free will, every option is on the table and whatever your base beliefs are, they are probably being assailed every single day in the classroom," the pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta said.
"It's a crossroad of life. It's the moment where people stop deciding what my parents believe and start deciding what they believe, and that's where you want to be standing not with message of the church but with the person of Jesus."
Though that was decades ago, the scene is similar today — except today's college students are "very anxious, depressed [and] sociopathic," Giglio, 60, noted. They have "so many conversations every day, the don't even know who they are anymore."
"When we started Passion, kids didn't have the opportunity to interact with the world every single second of the day," he explained. Now, young people are gaming with people from overseas, instagramming or facetiming with friends across the country and constantly connected to newsfeeds.
Still, the need is the same and the hunger for Jesus is real, the pastor pointed out.
It's been over two decades since God gave Giglio a "radical" vision during "one of the most confusing, disappointing and frustrating seasons in my life." That vision led him to launch the now popular Passion movement. Its main goal is to see university-aged students come to a relationship with Jesus.
And millions of young people have been impacted by it since the first gathering in 1997.
Initially, Giglio didn't plan on continuing the Passion gatherings after the fourth year when 40,000 college students got on their knees at what he felt was "the holiest thing I've ever been at to this day."
"I thought that was the end. We wanted to be a fuse. ... We didn't want to build a monument," he said. "We wanted to see an explosion."
It wasn't until a few years later that Giglio resumed the large gatherings and he's "amazed" that God is still leading Passion today.
He clarified that it is not a conference or an event. And there are no frills, bells or whistles, he stressed. Rather it's "a purposed movement, praying that God would open eyes to see what life's really about ... — the glory of God."
While Giglio has been impacting millions through large-scale Passion gatherings, he had a wake-up call at age 40 that eventually led him to be what he never thought he would be — a local church pastor.
What he realized was that the greatest impact isn't made by going to the most places and speaking to the most people you can speak to.
"You make the greatest impact in the world by ... staying in the same place for the longest amount of time, pouring into the most people that you can to see the reproductive power of the Gospel at work in the generational cycles that come," he said.
Passion City Church, which began in 2009, now has two locations in Atlanta and another in Washington, D.C.
Currently, Giglio is praying for the church in America to wake up and get back to the church found in Acts 2 when "the Spirit came, the Gospel was proclaimed, faith and repentance exploded and 3,000 people were baptized that day."
The next Passion gathering is scheduled for Jan. 2-4, 2019.