By Drew Larson

8 Myths about Urbana 12 Busted

In 1492, conventional wisdom held that the Earth was flat. Of course, that wisdom was eventually proved wrong when Christopher Columbus succeeded in sailing for the New World, thus proving that the Earth was actually round. 

But this story is also myth. At the time of Columbus’ sailing, the dispute was not that the Earth was round, but how large or small it was. And Columbus wasn't even the first person to make this journey. In this way, we see how history can sometimes become a tangled labyrinth of misunderstanding, which is why we recommend sticking to comic books.

All that to say, the Urbana 12 Student Missions Conference is coming up in December, and we want to help you separate fact from fiction about the conference.  

Myth 1: Urbana has always been held in St. Louis. 

The very first Urbana actually took place in Toronto, Ontario, in 1946. From the intervening years of 1948-2003, Urbana was held at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, hence the name. Growing attendance eventually forced the move to its current home at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis (home of the NFL’s Rams) in 2006. Our goal is for turnout to grow to the point where we have to one day rent the entire state of Rhode Island. We are optimistic. 

Myth 2: Urbana is only for college students.

The only things on Earth exclusively for college students are actual college enrollment and going out in public wearing pajamas. While Urbana is geared toward people aged 17-29, anyone over the age of 17 is welcome and encouraged to attend. Many non-students join us at Urbana, including pastors, InterVarsity alumni, and others interested in missions. 

Myth 3: Urbana is just like any other large conference in North America.

No, Urbana is different:

  • It is the largest gathering of missions organizations under one roof in North America. If you want to see just how mobilized God’s people already are in the cause of global missions, you don’t want to be at the Inferno Conference Featuring Twitter-Savvy Pastor, Sponsored by Generic Foundation for Clean Water and Wi-Fi In Countries That Have Neither. You want to be at Urbana.
  • Because Urbana is a global missions conference, we recognize the importance of hearing a global perspective. Worship services incorporate diverse worship styles and songs in many languages. Our speakers come from all over the world, from all corners of the mission field, for just one purpose—to share the way that “Christ plays in ten thousand places.”
  • Urbana is uniquely effective in communicating the call to global missions. George Verwer, world missions advocate and founder of Operation Mobilization, has said that Urbana is responsible for more new missionaries entering the field than any other event in the world.      

Myth 4: Urbana is only for those interested in being a missionary.

The vision of Urbana is to “compel this generation to give their whole lives for God's global mission,” but that doesn’t mean just full-time missions work or only overseas missions. Everyone participates in God’s mission in some way. We can pray, encourage, give financially, or raise missions-aware families. We can be on mission in the workplace or at our next-door neighbor’s house. That’s what "whole life" means. It means seeing your life—this one, every part of it, on this little acre of space-time—in the context of God’s salvation movement in every nation on Earth.       

Myth 5: If I go to Urbana, God is going to tell me to go to Zimbabwe.

This might happen. He might also tell you to go to some exotic tropical paradise or Mallorca or somewhere like that. Places with pure white sand and killer surfing need the gospel too. I’d roll those dice.

Myth 6: Most of my friends aren’t going. I won’t know anyone.

Did they tell you that? We talked with a bunch of them earlier and they all said they were. Also, that one really good-looking person you’re interested in asked if you were going. We told them you were thinking about it, because that’s how we wingman. 

In reality, Urbana averages around 20,000 attendees, the vast majority of which are students coming from our campus chapters. They may only be coming in groups of two or three from where you are, but that’s a perfect number for road-tripping, sharing lodging, and launching impromptu Euchre games. Really, you only have to attend with a big group if you’re also going to enter a flag football tournament afterwards or march in an Olympic parade.

Myth 7: Urbana doesn’t get the hottest speakers.

This is actually true! Urbana does NOT get the hottest speakers. Of course, you may have heard of names like Billy Graham, Ravi Zacharias, John Stott, or Rick Warren, all of which took the Urbana podium at past events. And this year’s conference will feature David Platt, whose book Radical has sold approximately 3.8 trillion copies. So, we do alright.

But Urbana is a global missions conference. We look to global figures in God’s worldwide Church for our teaching, not simply to what’s on the American radar. The result is a robust, full-bodied time of teaching that represents the fullest possible snapshot of God’s work among the nations.

Myth 8: Urbana isn’t worth the cost and sacrifice to attend.

It really is. The cost to attend Urbana is roughly the same as three brand new smartphones, or 90 cups of You Know What Brand coffee. But phones break or have to be replaced; coffee passes right through the body. Neither make a permanent difference on your life or this world.

Attending Urbana is like making a down payment on a life of significance. You would never tell someone “I really wish my life could be more feeble and ineffectual.” That’s ridiculous. You want to live a robust, vigorous life, one that matters. You want life that is so charged with the energy of meaning that it’s athletic. Phones won’t do that. Neither will coffee. But God will. And at Urbana—through worship, solid biblical teaching, and prayer—God will direct your heart towards the only thing that truly matters: his kingdom and the harvest of people he has invited into it.

Register here for Urbana 12 before November 12th and save $60!

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Drew Larson serves on the editorial and development team at InterVarsity.


I posted this on the Urbana Facebook page when you first posted these myths, but thought I'd share again here. I'll be 29 for Urbana 2012 and I'm planning on going for my third time in a row as a full participant. Actually, even in 2006, I had graduated back in May.... I've never attended Urbana as an actual college student. But it has always been amazing none the less. For Urbana 2009 I had the honor and privilege of promoting it in my church, and we had at least 10 from my church attend. (It helps that I live in the St. Louis metro area.) I'm hoping for just as many for 2012. So as a two (soon to be three!) time "non-college student" attendee, I can say for a fact that Urbana is NOT just for college students! Far from it!

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