It was the beginning of the fall semester and the start of my third year of planting a chapter on a community college campus. The previous semester had ended well with roughly 25 students attending our last gathering. Over the summer, reality set in and I recognized that nine students had transferred to other four-year colleges or universities and still others were taking a break from school for a while until they could earn enough money to be back on campus. As the semester began, only four people showed up to our first meeting. I cast vision and we made plans for a table outreach the following week.
The day of the table outreach I had planned for these four students to help set up. I waited and no one arrived. There were two unbelieving students who were sitting with me, so I asked them if they would help me set up our table. They obliged, but chose not to stay at the table with me.
I sat there alone, trying to look friendly and catch someone’s attention. People kept walking by trying not to make eye‐contact. I prayed, “Lord please send someone to the table”. Then an older man came over to inquire about what I was doing. I told him that we are an interdenominational Christian community that is sharing about Jesus. He cut me short and raised his voice, “Oh don’t you start with me! You are preaching a false gospel! You don’t know Jesus like I do!” He went on and on about his particular religious beliefs and how his was the only correct way to worship Jesus. I calmly responded and asked if we could discuss the identity of Jesus (we were using the ‘Who Will You Be?’ pocket proxe as a conversation starter). But this man continued to ramble on showing no gentleness or respect. I put my hand up and stated, “Sir, I can see we are not going to have a productive conversation and so I am asking you to move on.” He left, still mumbling under his breath. I took a deep breath and felt some relief. Moments later, he came back and continued yelling. Again, I stopped him and told him to move on. He did, but gave one last verbal jab.
I sat there wounded and alone at the table. I was feeling frustrated and bewildered as to God’s purpose for this day. Several people were staring at me from their distant tables. I silently prayed and expressed my frustration, “Lord, don’t you have ANY Christians on this campus who love you and want to reach out to the unbelievers?! Don’t you have ANY unbelievers that need to hear the gospel?! Why am I here?! Don’t you care?!”
When I had finished praying, a student came up to the table and shared that she was a Christian. She was really excited to see our group on campus. I asked her if she would like to sit at the table with me. She did not only that, but also asked if she could have an InterVarsity t-shirt to wear. In a matter of minutes, a few more students came to the table and joined us in our outreach efforts. I coached them in how to use pocket proxes. We shared the gospel with several people and two became believers that day. We received several other interested names and followed up with all of them throughout the course of that semester.
Following our table outreach, our core group meetings began to show some growth. We were gaining momentum. By the end of the semester we had 29 active students with an average weekly attendance of 15‐20 students.
One of our most popular events during the semester was what we called “My Story, Your Story, God’s Story”. We began with prayer and then we personally invited students to a free lunch (usually with pizza). We did not advertise beyond word of mouth. Our average attendance was 30‐40 students, mainly because the room was not big enough to hold more people than that. We welcomed them and collected their contact information. We then invited students to enjoy a plate of food and to sit at a table with a group of 5‐6 others. Our table leaders hosted the tables and facilitated conversations around the topic of “story”. They began with questions like, “So what is your story?” We asked questions about students’ majors, interests, where they grew up and their family. As we gauged where they were in the threshold of conversionwe asked about their religious or spiritual backgrounds. Throughout our time together, students had the opportunity to learn their own stories. Often students did not recognize how God had worked in their own lives until they were prompted to reflect. Throughout the conversations, students often shared deeply and transparently regarding their lives, past hurts, their faith or lack‐thereof. We then had conversations about the true identity of Jesus and were able to share the gospel. Sharing the gospel meant very little until students grasped the big picture and recognized their own broken and sinful states – then the need for Jesus became a reality. During our time together, we also shared our own stories, which are threaded with the story of how God has redeemed us through his son, Jesus. Trust was usually built quite quickly. Story makes the gospel authentic, real and relevant.
What we have found is that conversational storytelling, along with hospitality, has opened up and welcomed people from all backgrounds and helped them to belong. People need to be listened to and loved. Though the world is more connected than ever, personal face-to-face relationships lack depth. We want to go deeper with other students on campus and deeper with God.
Overall, our structure for “My Story, Your Story, God’s Story” has served to equip students, build community and gather unbelievers as well as believers into a place of hospitality and conversational storytelling that leads to Christ. It has become an event that our students look forward to and is an excellent place of invitation, mission and community.
The ideas in this blog post are based on evangelism training that Todd received while in school for youth ministry at William Tyndale College (2000-2005)and in attending Youth Specialtiesconferences.
Todd Jerdon was a member of the 2009 Chapter Planting Cohort with InterVarsity. He previously served in youth ministry at a church in Belleville, Michigan and had a career in architecture. He is currently staffing the chapter at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Todd is married to Laina and they have a daughter, Kysa Lael, and another little Jerdon due to arrive in November 2013. Todd’s free time is spent with family, gardening, remodeling his home, playing saxophone and guitar, singing and playing sports when time allows. Todd is passionate about starting new things for Jesus, especially on campus.