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All week I’ve been springboarding from my outline for tonight’s lecture at Dallas Seminary on college and young adult ministry. And one of the most fun things I’ll get to present is the breadth of what’s out there. I don’t know the students’ background in ministry – I plan to ask tonight – but their location (Texas) and chosen seminary make it likely I’ll be able to offer a few surprises from the rest of this wide, wide world of college ministry.
One of the characteristics that stinks most about our field right now (and one of the biggest reasons I’ve explored in the ways I have) is that we don’t realize the unique, seemingly highly effective methods out there. Like having several chapters on the same campus (six at Berkeley, above, eleven at Michigan, etc.) – a backbone of InterVarsity’s methodology. Or like the excellent internship program run by Chi Alpha (which they happily call “Campus Missionary in Training”). The yearly students-and-leaders (plus campus-based-and-church-based-together) conference held by the Southern Baptists. Or the highly impactful focus of the Coalition for Christian Outreach on vocation… along with their highly unique hybrid-funding model. Or the excellent principles for church-based ministry established long ago by the Ascent Network.
And on and on, and on and on.
I hope you have the opportunity to observe (and therefore learn from) the deeper methodology of the college ministries on your campus. A starter might be my posts in the “Profiles of Groups and People” category here on the blog; I’ve at least been able to provide good synopses of Cru, IV, SBC, and Chi Alpha work, arising from specific opportunities I’ve had with them.
But you’ve likely got some living, breathing synopses working alongside you in your campus tribe, too. When’s the last time you picked their brain about what makes their organization different?
It’s not surprising that the largest Evangelical denominational college ministry belongs to the largest Evangelical denomination. But what might be surprising is that it’s far from monolithic, as I described yesterday. But for the sake of those of you with Southern Baptist ministry on your campus, here’s the continuation of my primer on these men and women!
(NOTE: As is hopefully clear, this discussion only focuses on campus-based college ministry. Of course, like other denominations, there are also many examples of church-based, collegiate church, and institutional college ministry in the SBC.)
Lunchtime & other times: how ministry looks
From what I can tell, most Baptist Collegiate Ministries chapters rely on the same things others do: a weekly “Sing-and-Speak,” small groups, events. In some cases, though, the weekly Large Group isn’t their only (or even their primary) front door for outsiders – that’s regularly a weekly “Noon Lunch,” possibly the steadiest tradition among SBC ministries that are large enough to support it.
There’s often an emphasis on leadership opportunities (even for freshmen), including ministry teams or an elected leadership council. Delegation to students leads to some extremely active chapters – in outreach, programs, and events.
That’s in the larger ministries (and there are plenty of those). But it’s not uncommon to find very small ministries, too, including some that seem to focus on students that don’t “fit” elsewhere. While it’s common to see a really large BCM, it’s also common to see one with weekly attendance under 20 – or even under 10 (even in the South).
What’s also interesting is the sparsity of SBC collegiate ministry in certain places – especially because it’s so prevalent in other regions. Some states are absolutely filled with BCM chapters, while in others they’re quite hard to find. All this goes back to its state-by-state autonomy (and the resources available to each state).
In other words, the presence and success of BCM depends on what the state convention has chosen to do with their budget. (In some cases, the missions arm of the SBC has stepped in to help in tougher regions.) More than Chi Alpha (it’s closest comparison, since they’re both widespread denominational ministries), BCM’s reach hasn’t spread nearly as evenly.
Your local SBC guy & his funding
In some states, this region-decided budgeting means campus-based ministries are fully funded by denominational contributions. Therefore some campuses have a full-time staffer or even multiple staff members who don’t focus on raising funds. In other places, though, SBC college ministers look much more like their other denominational and parachurch brethren, investing a significant portion of their time in support-raising.
Where it applies, this is one of the biggest distinctives of BCM. Those SBC college ministers who don’t have to support-raise have a situation that is extremely rare in the panorama of campus-based ministry. And when large numbers of Baptist college ministers have been raised up, trained, and given staff positions in these environments, later transferring to regions that require fundraising is tricky… which presumably has led to some of the geographical variations noted above.
While in many states “Baptist Collegiate Ministries” have kept “Baptist” in their names (or on their buildings), most of these ministries still function in the broader Evangelical stream. Christian students from different denominational backgrounds will generally feel quite comfortable here, just as is the case for many Chi Alpha, RUF, Wesley Foundation, and other groups’ chapters.
As for the theology that’s presented, while certain distinctives are certainly held (as should be true of any denominational group), you’ll see variation between individual college ministers on issues the SBC (or individual state groups) haven’t decided. As with most campus-based groups, a “great-in-the-basics” focus is the norm.
(Exit question: what do you think characterizes Southern Baptist ministry across the U.S.?)
On Monday, I linked the posts I’ve completed through the years covering various national ministries: Young Life College, Chi Alpha, Cru (formerly Campus Crusade), InterVarsity, ministries of the Association of College Ministries (out of the Independent Christian Churches), and a snippet on Great Commission Ministries and their collegiate churches. I write these posts for outsiders, although I hope it’s also a tool for “insiders” to see how others (including an experienced college ministry researcher) might view them.
As for why I haven’t profiled more groups: I generally don’t want to offer an overview until I can present something authoritative. So most of the time, I wait until I’ve seen plenty of versions of a ministry and can sum it up fairly well.
In the case of the Southern Baptists’ campus ministry efforts, my difficulty has been the latter, not the former. I certainly have observed hundreds of examples of SBC campus ministry, including attending several SBC college ministers’ conferences. Anyone exploring campuses will run into lots of SBC ministry, all over the country.
But “pegging” Southern Baptists’ methods of college ministry is much trickier. So… I guess that’s part of the story, too, and it’s where I’ll begin in my synopsis for the uninitiated.
Autonomy & Its Effects
There’s no “rule from on high” that directs individual churches’ operations in the SBC. In the case of campus-based ministries, that autonomy generally applies – although it’s more accurate to say that each state oversees campus ministry as it sees fit. Unlike many college ministries, Southern Baptists share no standard methodology (like Cru’s Win-Build-Send), and they aren’t planted or overseen by some national body (like Chi Alpha). So each region – and even each campus – may look pretty different. For a college ministry nerd like myself, it’s all rather fascinating, but it can be tough to follow at times.
Where all this state-by-state autonomy plays out most noticeably for outsiders is in the variety of names used by Baptist Collegiate Ministries in each state. (So you may have Baptists on your campus and not even know it!) “Baptist Collegiate Ministry” (BCM) is the official national name (this decade, at least!) and is used in many local ministries. Baptist Student Union (BSU) is the historic name (and is still used in a few places). In Texas, there are dozens of BSMs (S is for “Student”), but outside of our state, I’ve only seen “BSM” in Delaware. Out west, the Baptist appellation has been dropped altogether, with “Christian Challenge” most often used.
That doesn’t cover all the names out there (they’re autonomous, remember!); for more options, reasons for the variety, and a look at the resulting “brand difficulty,” check out this post.
Reaching the “least of these”
While their reach is by no means exhaustive, I feel like I’m more likely to find Southern Baptist ministry on small campuses than any other campus-based ministry. Even many community colleges have a BCM led by an adult staff member (even if, in some cases, that college minister oversees a few campuses). Because a state or even a few local churches help decide where ministries end up, sometimes easily-overlooked campuses… aren’t.
Longstanding (in more ways than one)
I’ve also seen that history is big in the BCM world, at least in the cases where there’s a longstanding ministry (and at many major schools around the country, that’s the case). Plenty of American Christians fondly remember their time in “The BSU,” and ministries often work to stay connected to alumni.
Not only do ministries have a long history, many BCM directors do, too. While each national collegiate ministry has its share of “lifers,” the sheer number of BCMs has certainly led to a proliferation of those men and women who have served for decades.
Among Evangelical denominations, the SBC campus-based ministries are the only ones I know of that regularly have buildings next to (or occasionally, on) campus. At least at mid-sized and large state colleges, it’s very common to find a Baptist building with space for a large-group meeting, an office, and “hang out” space.
Many of these buildings are clearly old, but they’ve been serving successfully as ministry space for decades (sometimes right next to the Newman Center, the Canterbury House, and/or the Wesley Foundation). This is one of the areas that varies widely state-to-state, of course, but I know I’ve run into BCM buildings at campuses I certainly didn’t expect to (like little Montana Tech, shown at right). This dynamic alone affects SBC ministry in a major way, as you can probably imagine.
One of the most exciting things about the unique explorations I’ve gotten to undertake has been seeing the broad diversity of American collegiate ministry. I’ve gotten to examine – from the ground level, from the national level, and from levels in-between – the differences between these many groups.
While you’ve (hopefully!) gotten to know the other college ministries on your campus, truly knowing them well means knowing something about their national organization (for those that are tied to one).
So that’s what today’s post is: your chance to catch up, as a new school year dawns. (You might even find out a local ministry is a part of a group you didn’t realize!)
The posts linked below are my reflections on several of the largest Evangelical campus ministry outfits. This doesn’t cover everybody; usually the posts arose because of a conference or other event. The most glaring omission is probably the work of the Southern Baptist Convention; that denomination’s campus work is incredibly widespread – but is also extremely tricky to “pin down” in a synopsis. (But don’t worry: I’ll try that feat later this week.) And of course Navigators, RUF, and many others are very, very worth knowing. So if your group isn’t included on this list, please don’t take offense. I’d love to include you in the future if I can encounter more of your chapters, attend a conference or two, and otherwise get to know the wide, wide world of college ministry.
Meanwhile, I urge you to take a look. We should be familiar with our colleagues, and this provides a start.
- Chi Alpha
- Cru / Campus Crusade (and you can also read here about the name-change, another thing you should catch up on before the school year starts)
- ACM / Independent Christian Churches
- Young Life College
- Also, I give a little snippet about Great Commission Ministries here (if you have a collegiate church that meets on your campus, there’s a very good chance it’s a GCM church)
And as a bonus, here’s a quiz to see if you recognize the ministries on your own campus!
One of my big hopes for this blog is that I’m able to provide a solid view of college ministry around the U.S. – including a helpful perspective on groups that minister to your own local campus tribe. If we’re called to college ministry, we should be learners. And one thing we should learn about is what God’s doing in other circles and regions.
an established college ministry
In the underdeveloped field of collegiate ministry, it’s disappointing that even the most major of organizations – except perhaps Campus Crusade – are not very familiar with college ministers across the board. Here in Texas, for example, Chi Alpha is not particularly well known – unless, for instance, you happen to be at Sam Houston State. There, the Chi Alpha ministry apparently draws students in the range of many hundreds or a thousand per week – placing it among the largest campus ministries of any kind.
Other Chi Alpha groups draw several hundred students (as I’ve seen firsthand at UVA and the multi-campus Fargo/Moorhead chapter). But like all major national ministries, Chi Alpha ranges in size, with plenty of groups drawing dozens rather than hundreds. Yet with its geographical spread (nearly 300 chapters), number of students reached, and a history stretching back to 1953, Chi Alpha is certainly one of the most established college ministry (both historically and presently).
theology and sleeves
Many outsiders to the Chi Alpha world are probably surprised to learn that it’s the denominational ministry of the Assemblies of God. But from what I can tell, many members might be, too – or at least they’d be surprised if their campus pastors suddenly started wearing their specific theologies on their sleeve. Like most college ministries, Chi Alpha Christian Fellowships seem to place “great-in-the-basics” discipleship above discussion of doctrinal complexities.
Clearly, denominational college ministries are (and should be) a bit more specific in their beliefs than fully parachurch ministries. As an A of G ministry, Chi Alpha ministries and staff do hold to Charismatic doctrine and other Assemblies distinctives. Yet these show up in different ways and in different measures campus-to-campus. And as in most college ministries across the Evangelical spectrum, Christian students from different backgrounds presumably feel comfortable and find opportunities for growth in the average Chi Alpha chapter, even when the students remain in their original faith tradition.
missions. it’s missions.
I noted yesterday how intrigued I’ve been by the apprenticeship structure in Chi Alpha. But I’ve learned something else about Chi Alpha that excites me all the more: Chi Alpha Campus Ministries very explicitly considers its staff missionaries. As I note in Reaching the Campus Tribes (p. 56),
The Assemblies of God promoted a missiological understanding of college ministry by declaring Chi Alpha to be a “campus mission” and moving its oversight from the denomination’s youth department to U.S. Missions in 1986. National leaders feel the change has significantly aided Chi Alpha’s growth since that time.
I certainly can’t argue that every denomination needs to make this specific move, though it’s worth their consideration. But I can (and do) argue that American Christians will reach college students best when they approach it as a true missions effort. Chi Alpha has chosen to do that, and far more than just “on paper” – at least from what I’ve seen as a well-traveled outsider.
I’ve had a few cool opportunities recently to “dive in” in extra-special ways to various campus ministry groups – and then to return to the surface with something to share. After the Urbana conference, I got to highlight InterVarsity. After the local Campus Crusade Winter Conference, I shared the ways it reflects Cru as a whole. And after my surprise trip to a conference last August, I shared some distinctives of the campus ministries of the Independent Christian Churches. (For all the Profiles of individual ministries, check out that category.)
Hopefully those posts have been helpful, whether you’re outside of those groups (like me) or whether you’re inside (to see the viewpoint of an educated outsider)!
So that leads to today’s post, yet another Profile on a major college ministry org, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. If you’re unfamiliar, not-super-familiar, or completely familiar with Chi Alpha, below you’ll find my take on some of their key distinctives – especially in comparison to the wider world of college ministries out there.
But make no mistake: Whether you know a Chi Alpha ministry or not, this is one of THE major college ministries in the U.S. – certainly among the 4 or 5 best-known. (More on that tomorrow.)
This past semester, I had the marvelous chance to visit 10 chapters of Chi Alpha. The innovative National Office guys actually sponsored me to visit their ministries around the country, attend their large group meetings, visit with their Campus Pastors, and write articles about what I saw. Not a bad plan for sharing their strengths with supporters and other constituents, I thought.
I had, of course, been around Chi Alpha ministries before. And those guys have actually been some of the most supportive of my exploits – including spreading my free book – of anybody out there. Now that I’ve gotten an even bigger national picture, I wanted to share some of the perspective I’ve gained. Hopefully it’s a helpful introduction…
College minister, meet Chi Alpha.
I recognize that a sizable portion of college ministry energy across the board is spent working to build community, so it’s not particularly interesting that XA ministries aim for that target. What does seem to be noticeable is their success in hitting it.
“Community” – or if you prefer the trendy use of Greek, koinonia – is of course fairly intangible and even more unquantifiable. But the fact that I’ve visited hundreds of college ministries in the last few years, yet notice a high level of “community-ness” in Chi Alpha ministries, has to mean something, right? I don’t mean that they’re nice to me – although they’ve been great hosts and seem to have built a cool climate of hospitality (or at least meal-reimbursement!). I mean that I observe out-of-the-ordinary camaraderie – among students and between students and leaders – in chapter-after-chapter, in a unique way.
Like all aspects, your local Chi Alpha ministry may differ. But the level of community I’ve seen in XA has been noticeable. That’s all I’m sayin’.
Perhaps more than any other aspect of Chi Alpha, I get excited about the way new Campus Pastors are trained. (Check that: There’s an aspect I’ll bring up tomorrow that’s even better.)
While I haven’t learned every detail of the XA system, the distinctive point to me is the standard internship year. New Campus Pastors (whether recently graduated or older) apply to various internships around the U.S.. Only a handful of Chi Alpha chapters have generally housed interns; these designated locales seem to be strong campus ministries that also have experienced Campus Pastors to oversee the internship. So the internship year is a sort of “apprenticeship” – notably, at a location where most apprentices did not go to school and where most will not remain.
I recognize that other ministries have training and internships, and maybe some do it this way, too. But here’s the huge asset for Chi Alpha: They end up with so many college ministers with multi-campus experience! I am totally devoted to the idea that having experience in multiple settings prepares college ministers in profound ways – I’ve seen the fruit time and time again, in conversations with all types of college ministers and through my own multi-campus exposure.
Think about it. If I’m doing the math right, a large percentage of Chi Alpha campus ministers have experienced two or three different campus ministry settings AND have spent at least a year under a particularly strong leader. I’m telling you, the fruit of that system becomes clear with the XA Campus Pastors I meet.
more tomorrow! Here’s the continuation of this post. And feel free to add what you’ve seen (or correct what I’ve seen) – whether you’re a Chi Alpha insider or outsider!
I had the neat opportunity during the past week to attend the local Campus Crusade Winter Conference, one of ten college student conferences put on by Cru around the country. And as I began describing yesterday, the DFW Winter Conference did a great job of reflecting on Crusade’s ministry as a whole.
Today, I note a few more ways this conference mirrored the Campus Crusade ministries I’ve come to know around the country.
Another way the DFW Winter Conference reminds me of the various Cru meetings I’ve attended is the “smoothness,” “excellence,” “streamlining,” or however you might choose to characterize well-assembled presentation. The speakers were solid, the schedule flowed nicely, students were consistently pointed to next steps of involvement (as described yesterday) without seeming heavy-handed, the band on stage (a student band from LSU) was superb, the many videos were professional-quality, etc.
It’s obviously hard to convey “smoothness” in a post, but the presentation of everything was simply done well. It wasn’t “amped up” like I imagine participants in the Passion Conference experienced. But it was certainly far from rough.
Another characteristic of Campus Crusade that seemed to show up at Winter Conf was a devotion to basics, in both theological discussion and methodology. Crusade’s methodology mantra is “Win. Build. Send.” – and that simple pattern (especially in the latter two areas, in this case) is simply and concretely taking place at Winter Conference. Meanwhile, Crusade’s discipleship focuses tend to be the basics of the spiritual walk; at the conference, themes rarely strayed far from foundational concerns like prayer, evangelism, Bible study, and being “on mission” for God. Even the presentation style of large group meetings (as described above) is smooth and simple – both at Winter Conference and in probably every Cru large group meeting I’ve ever attended.
Finally, another element of Campus Crusade for Christ that I recognized within the Winter Conference might not be abundantly apparent to a casual or one-time observer. But having seen and discussed Cru ministry all over, I was reminded of how well the official Cru Methods are transferred throughout the organization.
The terms I’ve mentioned yesterday and today – like “Winter Conference” and “Summer Project” and “movement” and “Win-Build-Send” – are elements that one will hear anytime they hang around Cru folks long enough. I heard other “commonalities” in the conference, too:
- “Ministry Partner Development” (Crusade’s term for fundraising)
- the Four Spiritual Laws (along with newer, widespread evangelistic techniques within Crusade)
- emphatic claims that Crusade encourages students to be “sent” in whatever calling they have, even if that’s not to join staff (the in-house term for this push is “100% Sent”)
- encouraging students to take the initiative to start Crusade chapters at new campuses (either now or later)
Each of these ideas, methods, or themes is a major commonality shared throughout Campus Crusade.
Without attending the other Winter Conferences, it’s hard to say how similar they are; I have seen first-hand the uniformity shared by the local campus ministries. So I’d be surprised if the DFW Winter Conference “felt” terribly different from any other. (The most interesting difference I did notice was the use of “background technology” – like blogging and Twitter – between the various conferences.)
I’ve written before about Crusade’s masterful building of this kind of national commonality, if you’re interested. But the point here is that this commonality, which showed up at Winter Conference as easily as it might anywhere, is one more major facet of Crusade as a national college ministry.
As you may have seen via Twitter, I’ve had the wonderful chance to visit one of Campus Crusade for Christ’s famous Winter Conferences. These annual conferences are seen as key components of Cru ministry to students, so it was a joy to experience one.
(As you may have seen, I also got to learn InterVarsity through its mega-vanguard, the Urbana conference, last week!)
Unlike my surprising St. Louis voyage last week, I didn’t have to go too far to get to Winter Conference – simply across the Metroplex to Ft. Worth. What’s particularly cool about attending this one is that the Dallas-area’s Winter Conference seems to be one of the most historic. (So now I’ve been to the UCLA movement and DFW Winter Conference… I just need to make it to Ocean City Summer Project, right? What am I missing, Cru friends?)
So, as I did last week with Urbana / InterVarsity, I’d like to reflect on some ways this Winter Conference seemed to reflect the organization from which it comes. For those unfamiliar with CCC, maybe it’ll be a helpful primer. But please note: This is neither meant to be comprehensive or comparative (with other organizations). It’s just some of the distinctives that seemed to show up at Winter Conference.
I’ll make a couple of points today, with more tomorrow. If you want to see more of my varied reflections, you can read back through my tweets from Saturday and Monday, or see the dozen or so I tagged.
One of Cru’s hallmark strengths, from what I can tell, is the preponderance of fun in its chapters. I’ve written before about this being something the other branches can learn from campus-based ministries – but even among those ministries, Crusade certainly seems to be one that places a high value on fostering a Culture of Fun.
Of course, that showed up at Winter Conference. School pride was on display, the emcee-gal was full of dry humor, a crazy monkey-suited fellow roamed about, students and leaders seemed to share true camaraderie inside and outside of official activities, and the atmosphere itself “felt” really lively – that final point being the most noticeable difference between the average Cru chapter I visit and some other ministries.
movement through levels of commitment
One of the most fundamental aspects of Campus Crusade for Christ methodology is its focus on pointing students toward next, deeper steps. Not only are attending students pushed toward small groups, but Cru also places a big premium on funneling students to Winter Conferences, Summer Projects, STINTs (short-term international missions), and, after graduation, staff involvement. In other words, their efforts at movement are energetic, to say the least.
(Cru calls their chapters “movements,” but my use of the word here actually comes from the book Simple Church; there, “movement” describes how organizations help attendees flow toward deeper involvement.)
Winter Conference certainly reflects this aspect of Crusade; the same focus on “movement” found on-the-ground was quite evident across those conference days. While many of the large sessions and seminars did focus on topics students can apply now, there was also plenty pointing students to future (and more committed) experiences. Seminars (often with free food attached) on upcoming Summer Projects, staff opportunities, and international missions through Crusade made up a sizable percentage of the week’s offerings. And those kinds of opportunities were also discussed at every main session I attended, I believe.
More tomorrow! [Here's the continuation, with three more points!]
My amazing and out-of-the-blue opportunity to view THE Urbana conference this week has provided a really solid window into the InterVarsity campus ministry world. (To clarify, LOTS of non-InterVarsity college ministries and other Christians attend Urbana, and I would highly recommend it. But it is indeed organized by InterVarsity every three years, and they do so in a way that’s very consistent with their identity and emphases.)
Yesterday, I posted three ways Urbana reflects its parent organization; today, three more. My hope is for all of us to get to know all of us better. If you could use a primer or a brush-up on the InterVarsity world, read on!
inductive Bible study
InterVarsity calls their specific style of inductive Bible study “manuscript studies.” This format is very widely used within IV’s small group settings nationwide, to the point that it’s known as one of the “classics” among college ministry methods – up there with Four Spiritual Laws and the Navigators’ “Wheel” illustration. From what I can gather, it really just involves treating selected texts of Scripture as manuscripts – with an emphasis on inductively learning from the texts themselves, without bringing in too much preconceived “baggage.” (Their use of the Book of Mark for these studies is especially traditional in the IV world.)
Urbana’s schedule is chock-full of manuscript study; in this case, the mornings were used to work progressively through the first four chapters of John. Students practiced manuscript studies for an hour-and-a-half first thing each morning, then the speaker in the main morning session picked up the exposition where the morning’s manuscript study had left off.
a different sort of Big Show
Another way Urbana seems to somewhat reflect InterVarsity’s work on the ground is through a pretty “unshowy” large group gathering experience. Neither the worship nor the speaking feels especially “popular” but instead seems to aim for different ends – including a large emphasis on multiculturalism, as I shared yesterday. From what I’ve seen, I think this methodology extends to many “on the ground” IV college ministries.
I don’t really know how to describe this without sounding like I’m either bashing InterVarsity or bashing those ministries that do aim to build large-group experiences in a different way. I certainly don’t consider either sort of methodology bash-worthy in the least! They’re just different, with different purposes behind them. Perhaps it suffices to point out that the large gatherings of Urbana feel very different from what next week’s Passion gatherings (if they resemble years past).
Again, I’m a fan of both.
an international allegiance
Finally, an aspect of InterVarsity that comes out bigtime here at Urbana is its connection to the larger Christian world. InterVarsity USA and Inter-Varsity Canada are members of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, “a community of national student movements who are committed to being partners in global student witness.” In other words, IV is a happy member of a network of worldwide college ministries. And it’s clear InterVarsity celebrates this fact – most explicitly through the fact that many of the main stage speakers aren’t North American.
While local InterVarsity campus ministries might not hype the IFES connection on a weekly basis, it certainly seems to be an important part of understanding IV. Clearly, the missions focus of Urbana further points to InterVarsity’s desire to be involved in the nations – both in witness and in works, but also beginning with a deep respect for the glories of the Christian communities that already exist in those many places.
Written from Motel 6 by Lambert-St. Louis International Airport
If an outsider – someone from outside the InterVarsity world, I mean – shows up at their triennial Urbana conference, what might that experience “shout” about IV? Would it be accurate?
Of course, like any conference, not all aspects pertain to the ministry “in general”; for instance, it’s rare for a local InterVarsity chapter to draw 16,000+ individuals… But from what I can tell, seeing Urbana provides an immediate and largely accurate window into the world that is InterVarsity. (Not all college ministry conferences are like that.)
So having seen InterVarsity around the country (but still being an outsider, of course), I thought I might reflect on what Urbana reveals about the broader work of InterVarsity.
In the session I attended yesterday, the speaker joked at one point about 2/3 of the room being Asian. Students laughed a little bit (since there were plenty more non-Asians in the room), but the fact that such a joke “landed” says a few things:
- The room really was quite ethnically diverse
- Much of that diversity was of Asian persuasion
- Students and leaders all recognize that IV has a large percentage of Asians
As far as I can tell, InterVarsity may be the only national college ministry that can be described as thoroughly multicultural. (And yes, much of that – but certainly not all – comes from Asian students.) IV is also quite clearly intentionally multicultural. Both of those aspects quickly become clear in a trip to Urbana – for example, the high ratio of non-Caucasian faces reveals the former, and the program lineup (in speakers and worship) reveals the latter.
a major campus ministry
Regardless of the state of InterVarsity on your campus or in your region, this ministry is probably the second-most-prestigious college ministry in the U.S. Attending Urbana provides a glimpse of that – there are, after all, over 16,000 people here from an enormous number of different ministries.
As I just described to someone at lunch, it saddens me that our field is so underdeveloped that many of us aren’t familiar with the national scene of College Ministry. Hopefully that will change, and we’ll learn about groups that are prominent – even if they’re not prominent where we happen to serve. But I think coming to Urbana (or even learning its history) might provide a clue that InterVarsity is a major force in our world.
Attending Urbana has also reminded me of how wide the Evangelical spectrum is under the Urbana umbrella. Case in point, the exhibit hall includes booths from Crossway and Christians for Biblical Equality, Duke Divinity and Moody Bible, and, perhaps most surprisingly, Campus Crusade and Navigators and FCA! Of course, this is the missions conference to end all missions conferences, as well as drawing thousands of college students hungry to serve. So it might be a little ridiculous not to show up.
But I feel like each of those booths and the wide-ranging dozens of others fit here, better than they might at a lot of places. I get the feeling – again, Urbana’s crowd simply reflecting what I’ve seen elsewhere – that IV has a wide theological diversity. (Among students who attend IV and Urbana, the diversity is of course all the wider – including, I believe, a number of non-Christians and non-Evangelicals.)
Their teaching-offerings reflect the same thing. This is a missions conference, but scanning the list of seminars provides opportunities to learn about everything under the sun. (You can see the topic categories here.) Think about the spectrum from which InterVarsity Press publishes; that might be a helpful way to think about its sister organization’s diversity of emphasis.
See Part II here, with 3 additional thoughts on how Urbana reflects IV as a whole.
Written from the Starbucks across from Urbana 2009, St. Louis