In May 2010, I stood in front of the ACIV students at Cedar Campus, InterVarsity’s beautiful training facility on the shores of Lake Huron.
I urged them to elevate their community to a whole new level. Among other things, I challenged them to make their chapter the most fun student organization on their entire campus.
To all appearances, there wasn’t much response to my exhortation on fun. They just stared at the middle-aged white Minnesotan who had never met them before.
But four months later, I got a call. “Rick, we’re fun now. You wanna come to Michigan and hang out with us?”
Fun? ACIV? Intrigued, I soon flew to East Lansing and spent two cold, blustery days with Asian Christian InterVarsity. I had no idea what to expect, but certainly not this: They partied me out.
There's a Biblical Reason to Party
In my opinion, parties are vastly underrated in the contemporary Christian scene.
Just read through Luke’s gospel sometime and count the number of references to banquets, feasts, weddings, celebrations, and gatherings for meals. I did and found over 20 separate instances. That’s almost one per chapter.
One of my favorites is in Luke 14 where Jesus teaches the religious leaders about true kingdom hospitality, which means inviting widely: “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23b).
A Community That Invites Widely
My first night in East Lansing, I learned that Michigan State’s ACIV invites widely.
At a lasagna dinner outreach, they packed over 30 students into a small house adjacent to campus, including several non-Christians. I remember bits of food flying through the air, spirited conversation, and noisy laughter.
An hour into the festivities, someone stood up and quieted the crowd, announcing that “Rick-from-Minnesota” was going to give a talk on the historical reliability of the gospels. I gave the talk and it wasn’t half bad, if I do say so myself.
Afterward, ACIV Staff Ben Low and I gave a ride home to a Chinese-American student whom we’ll call Dan. He was quiet in the back of Ben’s car. I turned around in my seat and asked, “Dan, what did you think of the talk?”
“It spoke to me,” Dan said. “I think I moved closer to believing in God tonight.”
“Really,” I said. “What’s holding you back?”
“I’m not sure. I still have a ways to go,” he said thoughtfully.
The next night at ACIV’s chapter meeting on campus, more non-Christians were there…ACIV had truly been inviting liberally. I spoke about the Prodigal Son and gave a low-key call to faith at the end. A couple of hands went up to take next steps toward Jesus. Little did I know, however, that the night was young.
Right about my bedtime, we all headed to a coffee shop and launched into an epic discussion about Bible interpretation, the end times, and why we pray if God already knows the future.
Dan was there again. He and I talked about two roads of the spiritual journey, one leading upward to life with God and the other curving downward in the opposite direction, toward eternal separation from God. I asked him to consider which road he was on.
When I finally left the coffee shop, there were still 15 students yakking it up about all matters spiritual. For one second, I wished ACIV were not so darn fun, so I could feel better about ditching them to get my beauty rest.
A Community Vibe That’s Effective
Over the last few years, Michigan State’s ACIV has had many students become followers of Jesus.
How did they reap this blessing? Many factors like prayer, inviting widely, and presenting the gospel regularly. Ben Low summed it up in a single word, however: community. Community is the ultimate apologetic.
I met up with ACIV again at Cedar Campus in spring 2011. The first thing I noticed about this chapter was that everyone was all fired up and the community vibe was off the charts.
Then the big surprise: Dan was there. I couldn’t believe it. I squinted at him hard, my face screwed up in guarded hope. I looked at Ben, who just shrugged. Then back at Dan, his mouth opening in a big grin. I blurted out, “Dan? What are you doing here?”
“Rick,” Dan replied quietly, “I’m a Christian now.”
Is Your Community Compelling?
Below are some questions to ponder, plus one party idea to try in your Christian community:
Evaluate Your Current Community
Is your community irresistible? Does your fellowship hang out on the weekends? Do you provide exciting alternatives to the secular party scene? Are you the most fun group on campus? Do you have both planned social events on the campus calendar and also spontaneous bursts of cool community?
Does your community provide a safe environment for seekers and skeptics to ask questions and work through the (sometimes long) process of coming to faith?
Notice that ACIV is not all fun and games. Yes, they’re a good time, I can tell you from experience. And they also find ways to share the gospel message regularly, in many forms. Is the gospel regularly proclaimed in your community in sensitive, yet bold ways? In other words, would a non-Christian learn the message of Christ by being in your midst?
Try a Candy Crawl
This event draws a crowd…no arm-twisting necessary! Your chapter moves from dorm room to dorm room, or house to house, munching on morsels of everyone’s all-time favorite candy. Along the way, more people join the herd, so make sure the final stop is spacious enough for everyone to veg out as they come down from their sugar high.
Have more ideas for creating a compelling community? Share them in a comment below.