Accounting for the rise of the SVM


The Student Volunteer Movement was the greatest student missionary movement in the history of the church. What accounts for the success of its early years?

1. A passionate and practical faith

The SVM was served by a lean and effective low cost organization with a minimum of paid staff. The real driving force was the faith and commitment of the volunteers. The leaders of the SVM were recruited from within. They combined a commitment to personal holiness, prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit with a down to earth practicality.

SVM volunteers committed themselves to the “Morning Watch” 30 minutes to an hour of bible study and prayer at the beginning of each day. They believed the evangelization of the world in this generation required both spiritual empowerment and effective methodologies.

2. A clear cause

SVM’s sole purpose was, “The evangelization of the world in this generation.” By that they did not mean the conversion of the whole world. Rather giving “all men an adequate opportunity to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and to become His real disciples.” (John Mott)

The SVM was only interested in recruiting missionaries, not in sending them. Their mandate was to inspire others who would serve with the various mission agencies.

3. Effective structures

The SVM’s organizational structure was simple, lean and capable of rapid expansion. Once a student became a volunteer they joined the SVM group on campus. These campus groups were the heart of the movement. Robert Wilder pioneered the strategy when he was at Princeton.

A small band of students met to pray and to encourage each other in their commitment to missions. They also became mission advocates on the campus. The groups were student run. The sole focus was total commitment to the promotion of missions.

Traveling secretaries set up and sustain an expanding network of campus groups. Without these groups the movement would have lasted long.

Next post: How the SVM went global.