Chapter makeover, part 1
If you’re a follower of Jesus on a college campus, how do you build a dynamic group of believers who actively extend God’s grace and truth to other students? For us, it wasn’t easy. Here is how we transformed our static InterVarsity group and energized our members for a vibrant mission to our campus at the University of New Hampshire.
I’m in my second year as the InterVarsity staff worker at UNH, and this is the story of how God did a major makeover on our group, moving us toward becoming a genuine witnessing community. Our story has four parts; here is the first one in the series.
Last August I was preparing to discuss with our student leaders how to build an InterVarsity chapter. As I sat staring at the Chapter Building Pyramid, these words stared back at me:
- Leadership Development and Training toward the Vision
- Vision for the Campus and Fellowship Growth
- Concerted Prayer toward the Vision
- Targeted Small Groups
- Attractive NSO (New Student Outreach)
- Quality Large Groups
- Strategic Evangelism
These ideals overwhelmed me, but I faithfully prepared to discuss these valuable chapter building principles with the students at our summer training week.
Looking at the Chapter Building Pyramid reminded me of my response to the last pyramid I had encountered, the Food Pyramid. “What? I have to fit three to five servings of vegetables into my diet a day?” my post-college, bachelor lifestyle inquired. “Impossible! I have trouble finding room for one!”
Trying to accomplish the Chapter Building Pyramid as a solo staff partnering with only 55 students in our fellowship left us equally perplexed and wondering where to start.
Pyramids are not a problem in and of themselves. To continue our example, the Food Pyramid did a great job convicting me of my poor eating habits. I assumed its mission was accomplished.
The difficulty with pyramids, as the Egyptians showed us, is that they don’t move. Our community at the University of New Hampshire wasn’t moving forward. We lacked the numbers necessary to implement all of the good strategies suggested in the Chapter Building Pyramid.
A year earlier, at the first large group meeting of fall 2007, we agreed not to become a monument to Christianity, a tourist attraction on campus for people to see what Jesus did 2000 years ago and, by implication, what he was no longer doing today. Instead, we envisioned being a movement of students joining Jesus at the edges of campus to transform it and, in the process, allowing Jesus to transform us as well.
We wanted to be a Jesus movement, not a Christian monument.
So as I looked at the Chapter Building Pyramid and pondered ways to explore this with students, I was already exhausted. With a limited number of people in our group, how would we move forward with this pyramid?
Our Christian monument on campus
As we looked back on the previous school year, we realized that we had carved ourselves a nice little monument to Christianity at UNH. There were 55 students regularly attending InterVarsity’s events. Five small groups met weekly and our large group meetings happened on schedule. It looked very nice — a solid granite foundation, well-chiseled features, weekly maintenance that made us feel good about the work we were doing for God’s Kingdom. Secretly I must confess (but don’t tell anyone), I was elated that in my first year on staff the fellowship had not died. I had not killed it! Praise Jesus!
Our monument was there, not tall enough to be seen, but big enough to be found if someone was looking.
As monuments are wont to do, though, our fellowship stagnated. A deeper look at our fellowship revealed that we were cold, lifeless and sedentary. A total of three students were involved in regular corporate prayer. The fellowship had low morale. Twenty-three student leaders were officially listed but, in a chapter our size, who were they leading? Some large group meetings made me wonder why anyone would come to this (even on nights when I spoke!). We had no student-led GIGs (Groups Investigating God). We only saw one student start to follow Jesus that year.
Even more frustrating, among the three Bible-believing campus ministries at UNH, we had 200 students (at best) involved on a campus of 14,000. For you math majors, that’s 1.43 percent of the campus. If we had hoped to impact the campus with the gospel, our monument was failing. But things were about to change.
Coming into the fall semester of 2008, our four-person exec team turned over completely. Two of the students on the incoming leadership team had spent six weeks of their summer on a Global Project in Uganda, witnessing first-hand the HIV/AIDS epidemic, extreme poverty and the realities of child soldiering. They also witnessed Jesus who enters into these situations and dwells in a special way with those who suffer. They caught a vision of the Jesus who goes to rescue his people, of the Jesus who enters into people’s suffering, of Jesus on the move.
When they returned mid-way through August, we met at our local coffee shop on campus, appropriately named Breaking New Grounds.
“We need to do more outreach,” Abby said.
“Yeah, we want to do proxes,” Becky added, referring to proxe stations (pronounced “proxy”), interactive displays that stimulate spiritual conversations.
I wasn’t sure how to respond. The fellowship had attempted one proxe station outreach the year before, but encouraging students to participate in it had been worse than a root canal. Yet, here sat two students who wanted to initiate and lead this evangelistic event.
And not just once, but twice — at least! My grammar radar had detected an “s” in Becky’s word, “proxes.” They wanted to do more than one.
As our conversation continued, it became clear that Abby and Becky were dissatisfied with the state of our fellowship, specifically with its lack of prayer, lack of conversions and lack of growth. The God they had seen moving so powerfully in Uganda was also the God of UNH. There was no reason why the power they had witnessed that summer could not be brought to bear on our campus.
That August afternoon, we broke new ground as we talked about prayer, conversion, growth and all the things we wanted to see happen at UNH. The conversation with Abby and Becky smashed the first crack in our monument. The student leaders had decided to move towards movement.
This was the beginning of transformation in our group and in our members.
Read more about how these students changed their chapter structure and took risks in their mission to the campus:
Chapter Makeover at UNH:
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