At most colleges students move out of the dorms after their freshman year and never look back. Granted, the experience of living in a dorm can be a blast, but in general it’s not hard to say goodbye; no more unknown roommate, no more boring meal plans, no more cramped quarters.
But moving back into the dorms is exactly what a group of students from University of Wisconsin–Madison’s InterVarsity chapter is doing. Between 15 and 20 InterVarsity students have decided to say goodbye to the independent life of an apartment dweller and commit to re-entering the dorms to live in community with each other and reach the dorm community.
Two years ago Madison’s InterVarsity chapter had only 4 members, all of whom were automatically on the leadership team. Today there are about 35 core members (attend at least 50% of all InterVarsity events) and about 50 people who attend only Large Group meetings. With the kind of growth that the chapter experienced, the students began to think about new ways in which to live out the gospel and reach their campus.
After reading The Connecting Church last school year, Tim Borgstrom, Madison’s staff worker, came up with the dorm outreach concept modeled after the ideas about community living presented in the book. Spencer Montei, a fifth year senior who will be one of the students moving back into the dorms, explained the reaction of the leadership team to Tim’s idea. “As a leadership team we decided it would be really cool to structure our chapter around the community modeled in the book which come from the community of Christians in Acts – the idea of a shared living space, shared possessions, and accountability.”
After much discussion and logistical planning, the group decided to go ahead with its plan. And starting in the fall a group from the chapter will move onto 3 floors in Witte Hall. Most of the students have been randomly assigned a roommate. The rest of the students will each room with another InterVarsity member, and their rooms will be a safe place to meet, pray together, and support each other.
When asked why they think moving into the dorms is important, the students quoted InterVarsity’s purpose statement. In response to God’s love, grace, and truth, they want to build a witnessing community of students who follow Jesus as Savior in Lord. Kayla Klund, a sophomore, who lived in Witte this past year, has decided to stay in the dorms with others from the InterVarsity chapter. She said, “Aside from the community that we’ll build within our chapter, another reason we’re moving into the dorms is so to really be living out the gospel through our lives on campus. It’s a really good way to reach out to people, to be living right with them, and developing close relationships.”
For Kayla the decision to continue living in the dorm was pretty easy, since some sophomores decide to continue living in campus housing. But for some of the upper classmen who have lived off campus, their decision to move into the dorms seems strange to other people. “I have roommates who I’ve lived with for two years who kind of raise their eyebrows at me when I tell them that I’m moving back into the dorms. They joke around with me and tell me they won’t come visit me,” Spencer said.
Spencer laughed when explaining his friends’ reaction, but the response from those outside the InterVarsity group is a consideration. How will non-Christian students in the dorm receive a group of Christians living among them? The chapter has thought about how to approach the move. “I think it’s really important for us to appear genuine because we are genuine. And I think that comes from staying in prayer for the people on our floors and supporting each other in developing relationships, and then just being real with the people we’re living with,” said Kayla.
Spencer agreed, “It would be easy to freak people out in this, but we’re going in with an authentic desire to befriend and love people not with any sort of agenda. It would be an absolute disaster to go in there as Christians and just start head hunting and trying to save our floors. That’s not what we’re doing.” They are also avoiding too much planning surrounding the move; instead praying, and trusting that God will lead them.
And although it’s the quality of a person’s relationship with Jesus over the numbers of people who show up to large group that truly concerns the InterVarsity students, they do hope that this mission to the dorms grows their chapter in a couple of different ways.
Spencer said that there will be “personal growth within the community. But we’ll also be displaying to people a loving community that they will want to be a part of. And maybe not right away, but eventually, they can learn what’s at the core of what we’re doing – and that is our commitment to Jesus and the mark he’s made on our lives.”
It is that hope that helps them let go of worries about how they will be received. Because as long as they are showing the love and light of Christ, and focusing on God, the group will be inclusive, not exclusive, attractive, not repellent.
Ultimately their plan is to move into dorms all across the campus. The faith that they have in God’s ability to do good work and grow their chapter is inspiring. When listening to them talk, one can tell that they have listened faithfully to God’s direction and are responding with courage, integrity, compassion, and excitement.
“To be honest, in my prayers, I’m hoping that ultimately this is going to lead people to Christ. That is the ultimate hope,” said Kayla. “And I think if that’s not what ends up happening, then I pray that God is going to be glorified by our obedience to him through the relationships that we’re building. And for those people that we’re going to be rooming with, even if they reject Christ or don’t become part of InterVarsity, that’s ok if it spurs some curiosity about who Jesus is. And if they go away with the experience of living with a Christian for a year and have a really good perspective about what it really means to follow Christ, then I think that’s still a success.”
You can make a direct financial donation to support InterVarsity’s work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by following this link.