The more I read the evangelism numbers on the 2005 Annual Field Report, the more discouraged I became. InterVarsity was stuck in an unhealthy pattern: a year of growth immediately followed by a year of decline. But that wasn't all... It was the second time in four years that we experienced this pattern, and the number of conversions reported (1,568) was the lowest in 10 years. We had prayed that we would reach the goal of 2,000 decisions for Christ, but it seemed like an impossible dream at that point.
To my surprise, we did reach 2,000 decisions for Christ the following year, 2006. This was the start of an eight-year span of unprecedented growth in InterVarsity’s campus evangelism ministry. In both 2012 and 2013, we saw more than 3000 student decisions to follow Jesus. I wouldn’t have thought this was possible back in 2005 when I read that discouraging AFR.
It is exciting to be involved in an organization that is experiencing a rich evangelism harvest. It is fun hearing stories about how God is miraculously changing students’ lives, watching the number of evangelists on our staff teams increase, and having chapters experience the joy of seeing students say “yes” to Jesus for the first time.
What can InterVarsity do to keep this momentum going? What did we do back in 2005 to change the pattern of evangelistic peaks and valleys? Are those changes still relevant today during a time of evangelistic growth?
I would like to suggest that in order to continue growing as an evangelism movement we must continue doing the same things we committed to do to change the direction of our evangelism campus ministry in 2005.
Everyone must own and model the value of evangelism.
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said, “Christians seem to really love evangelism—as long as someone else is doing it.”
A key to organizational growth in campus evangelism is personal ownership and participation in reaching out to family, friends, and neighbors for Christ. We felt this was so important in our first strategic plan that all staff were required to make specific commitments to hours and action for personal evangelism and to include these items in their annual plans.
As National Director of Evangelism, I, too, made a personal evangelism plan. My evangelism over the last five years included spending three hours each week serving as a corporate chaplain for a 45-employee flooring business in Madison, Wisconsin. Only about ten percent of the company’s employees are Christians. Each week, I spent time building trusting relationships, hearing employees’ stories of joy and sorrow, crying and laughing together, asking probing questions, trying to help them understand how Jesus is active in their lives, inviting them to church, prayer, and into a relationship with Jesus. I left each visit more aware of the burdens these friends carry without Christ, and prayed that God was working in and through me to bring them into a loving relationship with Christ. This weekly experience gave me more integrity as an evangelism leader.
We must regularly train students in evangelism.
Many Christians today have never received any training in evangelism. This is true for InterVarsity students and staff. Each year, I read staff applications and I’m amazed at the large number of applicants who have never received any evangelism training. When we provide evangelism training, we are meeting a real need in helping our staff and students become more effective witnesses on campus.
When we provide evangelism training, we have an opportunity to identify students with evangelism passions and gifts. Evangelists attend evangelism training for inspiration and motivation. If you are looking to find more staff and students with evangelism gifts, then schedule evangelism training sessions each semester. Don’t be discouraged by low participation; it takes just one person to start an evangelism fire!
Everyone must take risks in evangelism.
A risk for some of us is, as Bill Hybels puts it, to simply “walk across the room” and introduce ourselves to a stranger. For others, a risk is hosting a multi-campus invitational like the New York City Price of Life.
Jason Gaboury, New York/ New Jersey Regional Director and Executive Director of the 2013 Price of Life, described the experience of hosting a large outreach event. He said it was like standing at the edge of a precipice, knowing you’re being asked to jump, and then discovering the joy of jumping into the arms of Jesus.
My challenge to each of us is to do as William Carey, the father of modern missions, said: “Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.”
May we continue to experience God’s harvest, and may he raise up more staff and students to share the good news on campus!
At the beginning of 2014, Terry will be retiring from InterVarsity and entering into a new calling at a church in northern Illinois. Collegiate Ministries is grateful for his faithful service to our movement over the years, and his visionary leadership in evangelism. We wish him well as he embarks on this new season of the journey, and we thank him for his parting reflections on this blog.