This article is part of the 2Calls2Faith campaign to encourage InterVarsity staff to give calls to faith at the first two large groups of the semester.
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14)
At University of California—San Diego, we held quarterly evangelistic outreach gatherings called The Edge. The goal of these meetings was to inspire skeptics and cynics to take a step closer to Jesus by doing a GIG with a Christian friend. After four years of doing The Edge, we realized that, even though we had a good number of seekers attending, we never explicitly invited anyone to become a follower of Jesus. To be honest, we were trained not to. We didn’t want to weird anyone out by being too pushy.
But relatively few were giving their lives to Jesus.
After four years of doing The Edge without making a call to faith, we finally stepped out and did one, not really expecting anyone to respond. To our surprise, 12 students stood up and came down to the front for prayer!
This inspired us to ask, What if we began giving calls to faith more often? James Choung and I began to dream of a ministry where students were given a weekly opportunity to respond to a public call to faith. So we started doing it, and not one person responded at large group for an entire year. The only reason I didn’t quit was because I would hear about students coming to faith after large group, or later in the week; in each case, they indicated that they wanted to stand during the call to faith, but couldn’t get themselves to do it. So I kept inviting and working at it, until first one student, then two, then three, then eight students at a time began responding at large group.
When someone does come to faith publicly, there is something electric, something energizing for our students’ faith. Public calls to faith inspire the faith of believers who have been reluctant to engage in witness, quicken the faith of students who have been faithfully witnessing to their friends, and encourage the faith of seekers who are sitting on the fence.
After giving calls to faith for a couple of years, we noticed that the calls to faith at large groups closer to the beginning of the year saw a larger response than at other times. We began to wonder, What if we made an invitation at our largest large group of the year—the first one? That fall, we gave a call to faith at our first large group of the year and saw the largest response we had ever seen: 10 times the size of the response to any other call to faith. It was amazing! Students were stunned as they watched friends respond to the call.
Across the San Diego division, at every chapter, we now make it a practice to give calls to faith and calls to recommitment at all of our first two large groups. It has had a dramatic impact on the ministry in numerous ways. Here are a few of the benefits we've seen:
1. Every chapter that gives a call to faith at their first two large groups sees their largest number of responses those nights.
2. Giving calls to faith at the outset of the year helps distinguish InterVarsity as a movement of conversion. New students who are evangelistic and passionate about seeing their lost friends come to faith are more likely to join our fellowship.
3. Giving calls to faith is an energizing experience, even for the non-believers who don’t respond. They see our community as a place of transformation where exciting things happen. They see that we don’t just sit around. We act on our faith.
4. Giving calls to faith energizes students because they see it as a manifestation of God’s power and presence in our midst. When they see their friends being transformed by the Spirit, it’s almost intoxicating.
I would guess for many chapters around the country have their largest attendance at large group during the first month of school. Also, we all know that the first four weeks are a special window of student receptivity to spiritual things. Giving calls to faith during our first weeks of large group provides students an opportunity to respond to Jesus during the time of their greatest openness and receptivity and participation in our large groups.
In Romans, Paul asked, “How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” One could justifiably add to Paul’s statement here, “How will they receive Jesus as Savior and Lord unless someone invites them?”
If your chapter has given calls to faith at the beginning of the semester, have you experienced some of the benefits Ryan shared above? Share a brief story in the comments section about your chapter's experience.