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.