During Chapter Focus Week the InterVarsity chapter from Columbia College in Chicago created a new vision for their ministry. Staff workers Dave and Erin Foster asked their students to consider who they want to reach. Their answers resulted in a new vision in which the focus was taken off of their community and directed toward the whole school. The students wanted to be more than a self-contained Christian group; they wanted to reach outside their chapter and point others to Jesus.
The chapter has already seen some fruit from their labors. At their second Large Group meeting of the year, and coming off of a successful Proxe station (an outreach display for students to respond in writing to a provocative spiritual question) from earlier that week, 63 students filled the room. Last year, the Large Group meetings had only 25-30 people coming regularly. This week before Large Group started, the room, lined on one side with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a foggy downtown Chicago street, was full of warm greetings and cheerful discussion. The InterVarsity leaders welcomed all the new faces entering the room, no one stood by lonely and forgotten.
To the left of the entrance sat the Proxe station, its bold letters splashed across the top reading “I Hate Religion Because….” Underneath were written responses from students, most of whom held a disgruntled attitude towards some aspect of the church. The InterVarsity students spent time the previous Monday talking with each responder and inviting them to Large Group where the title would be “Where is God in the Hypocritical Church.”
Several students who participated in the Proxe station came to Large Group, impressing the InterVarsity students with their boldness in asking difficult questions in front of a largely Christian crowd. An InterVarsity leader, Taylor, recognized one young man from her Spanish class who she spoke with at the Proxe station. He took Taylor’s invitation to attend Large Group. After the evening’s speaker had finished, Taylor took the opportunity to discuss with the young man the claims of Jesus. They spoke for some time, but he left the conversation still doubtful. Although Taylor’s new friend continues to be skeptical about Jesus, she knows that God’s hand is in their friendship, and she hopes to maintain more discussions with him.
Dave and Erin have been awed by their chapter’s attitude this year. The students have taken bold new risks in the life of their chapter and in their faith. Most of them have never had spiritual conversations before and were nervous before the Proxe station, but were rewarded by the positive response of students and faculty alike.
Dave and Erin believe that the outreach event was successful even without conversions – it helped to deepen community among InterVarsity, and stretched them in their ability to have spiritually focused conversations with unbelievers that were constructive and fruitful.
InterVarsity at Columbia is only a few years old, and in that time the ministry has grown tremendously. Now, the chapter is heading into a new phase and has taken on the challenging prospect of changing the focus of its ministry.
The students could easily stay in the comfortable familiarity of a group that reaches mainly other Christians. Instead, they have taken the bold and risky step of focusing outwardly; a change that brings with it the possibility of disappointment, as well as the tremendous reward of seeing the birth of new believers.
With the Foster’s guidance and prayer, the students are facing the challenge of their new vision and doing it with grace. Their friendly demeanor has made people from many backgrounds feel welcomed into the chapter. And given the response at Large Group, students perceive it to be a safe place to ask questions and make friends.
Through prayer, and with courage, the InterVarsity students have taken steps to make their chapter more outwardly focused. In so doing, they have seen their chapter begin to grow and become more diverse. Although it’s only the beginning of the year, their Large Group has welcomed several students who would not consider themselves Christian. What began as a homogenous Christian group is becoming a community of believers who have opened their doors to a campus in need of a savior.
You can make a direct financial donation to support InterVarsity’s work at Columbia College by following this link.