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Renewing the Campus at TCNJ
September 4, 2013
On the Wednesday before the start of fall classes at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), just over one third of the freshman class competed vigorously to win a catered meal for their dorm floor in a Family Feud-style competition. Floor Feud was sponsored by TCNJ’s InterVarsity chapter, and the commercials that ran during the competition promoted upcoming chapter activities to the more than 500 freshman who were competing or watching.
Through Floor Feud, move-in help at the dorms, a Sunday worship service on campus for freshmen, and other activities, new students at TCNJ have ample opportunity to learn about InterVarsity. But Campus Staff Member Christine Loesser knows from her own experience that a personal invitation from a dorm neighbor or classmate is often the most important entry into InterVarsity activities.
Christine first started attending InterVarsity as a sophomore. An injury that temporarily sidelined her track career gave her some extra time for reflection about her Christian faith and her purpose in life so she decided to give InterVarsity a try. But she was the last to arrive and the first to leave, and didn’t really meet anyone.
When the track team announced plans to get together socially on Thursday nights at the on-campus pub, she faced a decision. Hang out with a bunch of people she knew and liked or keep going to InterVarsity, which intrigued her but where she knew no one? “I decided that I wasn’t going to go back to InterVarsity,” she recalled. “I was just going to start hanging out with my team on Thursday nights.”
A Fateful Meeting in Lit Class
But then at her Thursday literature class, the room divided into small groups and Christine ended up in a group with Amanda and Laura. After they finished their assignment, they chatted idly and the conversation turned to spiritual matters. She discovered that Amanda and Laura were attending InterVarsity’s Large Group meeting after class, and they invited her to sit with them. So she said yes, and went after all.
“Just knowing that there was someone who I could enter this community with was huge for me,” Christine said. “Amanda wound up being one of my closest friends. She showed me what it was like to be a follower of Jesus in college.”
Christine stayed involved with InterVarsity through the rest of her collegiate athletic career plus one year of graduate school, becoming chapter president. “Through InterVarsity I got to know Jesus in a real way,” she said. “InterVarsity was fundamental in my leadership development, in my spiritual development, and who I am as a person.”
Becoming an InterVarsity Team
After graduation in 2008 she joined InterVarsity staff to continue her involvement with the TCNJ chapter. She also began dating Chris. He had actually been involved in the same undergrad chapter as Christine but admitted, “As a student I didn’t really get what InterVarsity was all about.”
Chris had a job in his family’s business, a financial planning company. He was doing well and had a very attractive career path ahead of him. But after he and Christine married, God began to call him to a different career path: campus ministry.
“My involvement with InterVarsity increased both because I wanted to be near Christine but also because we were seeing lots of growth at TCNJ,” he said. “It was really compelling to see God move. InterVarsity became more and more central to what I was about.” One year ago Chris left the family business and joined Christine on staff with InterVarsity.
The Growth God Has Accomplished
Christine and Chris say that their complementary spiritual gifts have worked well in campus ministry. She likes planting new groups within various communities on campus, and he likes building up the groups. The TCNJ chapter has tripled in size since 2007, when Christine was chapter president. With about 300 students currently involved, the chapter makes up about 5 percent of the TCNJ student body.
“We’ve gone from being a group that was clumped with other student organizations to a group that certain administrators and lots of students recognize as a prominent group on campus, a group that’s doing good things,” Christine said. Increasingly the InterVarsity students have enjoyed new witnessing opportunities as their chapter continues to be invited to partner with other groups on projects that benefit their college community.
Christine and Chris believe that a focused strategy for small groups has been key to growth at TCNJ. Christine explained: “As we shifted our small groups to Athletes InterVarsity, Nurses Christian Fellowship, English Majors Life Group, the History Life Group, and Greek InterVarsity, we invited students to join with others who are like them to study the Scriptures, pray for renewal of that part of campus, and reach out to that part of campus through their small group. That has made a huge impact.”
Even as Christine and Chris are once again overwhelmed with the flood of events focusing on New Student Outreach at the beginning of another school year, they are excited about building more new witnessing communities on the TCNJ campus. And as InterVarsity grows to become more a part of the TCNJ campus, they believe that God will not only renew the campus but also transform increasing numbers of students and faculty into world changers.