Christian History

What was the Student Volunteer Movement?

Student Volunteer Movement plaque

Founded in 1886, the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions was a group intended to encourage students nearing the end of their schooling to consider becoming missionaries to other countries. The men who were instrumental in its beginning included Dwight L. Moody, Robert Wilder, Arthur T. Pierson, and John Forman. The movement was, however, primarily promoted and developed by the students that were affected by the vision these men promoted.

In the first two years, the meetings these men presided over in different conferences and schools resulted in over two thousand volunteers for foreign missions, and over 5,000 who had committed to the purpose of becoming a foreign missionary if God allowed.

The organization was formalized in 1888, and John R. Mott became the first chairman. The society adopted the motto of “The evangelization of the world in this generation.”

By the fifth year, over six thousand students had volunteered, representing over 350 schools in North America, including over 70 colleges and seminaries. Great Britain, South Africa, and Scandinavia also saw similar movements among their students in these early years.

The YMCA, which began in 1844 in London, was instrumental in the spread of the movement, as well. The YMCA and YWCA were meant to provide housing and wholesome activities, including Bible study, for new adults who were moving to larger cities to further their education. More and more young people were going to college after the Civil War and more colleges were set up to accommodate them. However, these colleges became progressively more secular, and morality and a Christian worldview became less common. College YMCA groups grew in response, and the Student Movement was a large part of this growth; some called it the Student Movement of the YMCA, in the 1870s.

The first secretary of the Intercollegiate YMCA, Luther Wishard, helped to organize the department of missions of the group, which was set up to invite missionaries to speak on campus and aid in mission study. After attending a conference at which D. L. Moody was speaking, Wishard spoke with Moody and J.E.K. Studd (brother of C.T. Studd) and arranged a tour to colleges to tell students about the Cambridge Seven, who were students that became missionaries to China with Hudson Taylor. This story inspired many of the students who heard it to become foreign missionaries, as well.

The first conference spanned a whole summer. Moody was unconvinced that college men would desire to spend four weeks of their summer vacation at a mission conference, but he agreed to prepare for it. Wishard and Charles Ober (who went on to succeed Wishard as secretary) spent the time encouraging students to attend. Though it was only organized loosely, the conference at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, was attended by 251 young men, mostly from east coast educational institutions. The daily teaching and preaching were carried out by many professors, missionaries, and ministers along with Moody.

The first convention of the Student Volunteer Movement was held in early 1891 in Cleveland, Ohio. It was attended by 558 students representing 150 campuses. There were observers sent from churches and mission boards who came to the realization that the movement was a legitimate thing that was making a difference in the students of the generation. After this first one, conventions were held every fourth year, as student bodies changed. These conventions taught about missionary work, the Student Volunteer Movement, and other things fledgling missionaries needed to know.

The Movement used books and programs to train students for mission work on foreign fields. They advanced the idea of missions and challenged students to consider being missionaries. They taught solid principles from the Bible and lit a fire in the souls of the students, developing a vision to evangelize the world. Between its inception in 1886 and 1920, North America had sent over 13,000 men and women to foreign countries as missionaries, and over 8,500 of them were recruited by the Student Volunteer Movement.

By the time SVM began to decline in 1945, over twenty thousand students had volunteered and reached a mission field. The Student Volunteer Movement then merged into what became the University Christian Movement by 1959, losing the focus of foreign missions and becoming more of a social outreach organization.

One branch that remained interested in mission work became the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship in 1938. It merged into the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship seven years later, as the missions department. Intervarsity Christian Fellowship has, since 1948, been offering the same challenge to students that SVM began in 1886.

The call and the importance of missions was no more important in the early 1900s than it is today, and the doctrines and principles held by the Student Volunteer Movement are still valid today. You can read more about the Student Volunteer Movement and its teachings in the books below.



Where to Buy

The End of a Crusade

The First Two Decades of the Student Volunteer Movement

Students And The World-wide Expansion Of Christianity: Addresses Delivered Before The Seventh International Convention Of The Student Volunteer ... December 31, 1913 To January 4, 1914

Report of the First International Convention: Student Volunteer Movement Foreign Missions, Held at Cleveland, Ohio, February 26, 27, 28 and March 1, 1891 (Classic Reprint)

The Student Missionary Enterprise: Addresses and Discussions of the Second International Convention of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign ... at Detroit, Mich., Feb. 28 to Mar. 4, 1894

The Student Missionary Appeal: Addresses at the Third International Convention

World-Wide Evangelization the Urgent Business of the Church: Addresses Delivered Before the Fourth International Convention of the Student Volunteer ... February 26-March 2, 1902 (Classic Reprint)

Students and the Modern Missionary Crusade: Addresses Delivered Before the Fifth International Convention of the Student Volunteer Movement for ... February 28-March 4, 1906 (Classic Reprint)

Students and the Present Missionary Crisis ; Addresses Delivered Before the Sixth International Convention of the Student Volunteer Movement for ... York, December 29, 1909, to January 2, 1910

Students and the World-Wide Expansion of Christianity: Addresses Delivered Before the Seventh International Convention of the Student Volunteer ... 31, 1913 to January 4, 1914

North American Students And World Advance: Addresses Delivered At The Eighth International Convention Of The Student Volunteer Movement For Foreign ... Iowa, December 31,1919, To January 4,1920

The Call, Qualifications And Preparation Of Candidates For Foreign Missionary Service: Papers

The Student Volunteer, Volumes 1-2


The End of a Crusade

The Student Volunteer Movement for foreign missions was affected by the Great War, and this book explains how it was affected and how it affected the world in the following years.

The First Two Decades of the Student Volunteer Movement

This reproduction contains the same information as the original work, which summarizes the work of the SVM in its first twenty years.

Students and the World-wide Expansion of Christianity

This book contains the addresses from before the 7th International Convention held by the SVM. Similar works are available from the other conventions.

Advice for Student Volunteers: The Call, Qualifications and Preparation of Missionaries

Articles in this book were compiled and edited by four men. Some of the articles are authored by Samuel Zwemer, Henry Jessup, and Eugene Stock.

The Student Volunteer, Volumes 1-2

Original publication was published before 1923 by the Student Volunteer Movement, and this is a reproduction.

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