As James Choung becomes InterVarsity's Evangelism Director this month, he becomes head of a vigorous, innovative movement. That's quite different from 13 years ago when Terry Erickson, his predecessor, was appointed to fill a position that had been vacant for several years.
Terry remembered his first assignment: to attend Amsterdam 2000, an evangelism conference sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He was surprised that InterVarsity was not represented among the hundreds of speakers and wanted to make InterVarsity known for evangelism once again. "We were absent," he said. "I decided to raise the evangelism temperature in InterVarsity."
One of Terry's first decisions was to build on one of InterVarsity's strengths, Bible study. He coined a new name, GIGs (Groups Investigating God) that would be more attractive to nonbelievers than Evangelistic Bible Studies, and developed new study materials.
Terry became an evangelism champion. He asked staff to identify opportunities for evangelism and developed plans to address those opportunities. Since 2005 the Evangelism department has funded a total of 100 evangelism pilot projects, an average of more than ten per year.
In addition, InterVarsity's first Five Year Strategic Plan (for 2007-2012) included an emphasis on evangelism and allocated resources to evangelistic outreaches. "Ever since the movement made it that kind of priority and invested those kind of resources, we've grown steadily in evangelism," said Rick Richardson, who served as Associate Director of Evangelism during that period.
One plan developed by InterVarsity staff was called Proxe Stations, artistic displays designed to initiate conversations about spiritual matters on campus. Chapters today use Proxe Stations in a variety of ways to identify students who are hungry to know about Jesus.
Another pilot plan was the Price of Life outreach, which used human trafficking issues to raise awareness of spiritual needs. Campus-wide Price of Life campaigns have been held at Michigan State University and Ohio State University. Another Price of Life is scheduled for campuses in New York City this fall and will be one of InterVarsity's most ambitious evangelistic campaigns to date.
Through GIGs, Proxe Stations, Price of Life campaigns, and other outreaches, evangelism has become paramount in InterVarsity again, as evidenced by a robust website. Over the 13-year period, from 2000 to 2013, the number of annual conversion decisions recorded through InterVarsity's ministry has more than doubled, from 1,600 to 3,279, for a 13-year total of 30,337.
James Choung has served most recently as InterVarsity's National Director of Asian American Ministries. But as the author of the InterVarsity Press book, True Story, A Christianity Worth Believing In, James has also become known as one of InterVarsity's leading voices on evangelism.
The book came out of a frustrating time of ministry while James was Director of InterVarsity's San Diego Division. Traditional methods of sharing the gospel seemed to be losing traction with college students. At the same time he was personally wrestling with his understanding of the meaning of the gospel.
"It started with wanting to have a gospel that told a bigger story, that wasn't so individual but more communal," he said. "The gospel isn't just about a decision that is made but of transformed life. The gospel isn't just about the afterlife, but about the mission life."
For a talk at a regional conference James designed the four circles illustration that he uses in the book (available in a video version and also as a smart phone app). He started testing the illustration with students on campus and discovered that they responded. Then he shared the circles at a conference attended by students from Occidental College.
"If you know Occidental, it's a very politically correct culture, very aware and sensitive," he said. "When they saw this way of sharing the gospel, they were really excited. Immediately they were telling their staff about it. They went to a fast food restaurant and shared it with strangers. These are people who will never be evangelists. It seemed like I was giving thirsty people who had been wandering through the desert some water."
James is looking forward to expanding on Terry’s legacy. "Terry's done such a great job that it's easy to build off of what he's done and take it to a direction that feels wider and broader," he said.
The broader details of his new job have already been defined in InterVarsity's new 2012-2017 Five Year Strategic Plan, which includes "Increase Evangelism on Campus" as one of its four Strategic Initiatives. "It's a robust, large, and beautiful plan, and I'm excited to get my teeth into it,” James said. One of his first acts is to appoint Doug Schaupp as Associate Director of Evangelism.
Time for Transition
As a student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Terry met InterVarsity's first Evangelism Director, Paul Little, when Paul spoke on campus. Terry remembers thinking that he would like to have a job like Paul's some day. "Even then my desire for evangelism was high," he said.
From his earliest days as a Campus Staff Member on Wisconsin campuses, through his time as a Regional Director in the Central region, Terry has been a pioneer. "I've always been involved in planting and rebuilding," he said. Now as he leaves the Evangelism department, he's still considering planting and rebuilding opportunities, but hasn't made up his mind about what he'll do next.
Rick Richardson is now a professor at Wheaton College, where he directs two Masters Degree programs. He has helped train a number of InterVarsity evangelists and still identifies himself with InterVarsity. He is excited about the evangelism transition.
"The tide has risen and now we're in a position to build more infrastructure, to hire more people and innovate in more areas," Rick said. “I think our brightest days are still ahead, as long as we keep on making evangelism a strategic priority.”
By God's grace, InterVarsity will continue to prioritize outreach to those who have not yet heard the Good News of the Gospel on campus.