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?
It was my junior year at UC San Diego. I was a new believer and so pumped to bring my roommates to The Edge to hear Ryan Pfeiffer speak. All week, I fasted and prayed that they would come to The Edge, because it was our once-a-quarter outreach, and the only place in our ministry where someone would be invited to make a decision for Jesus. I invited them, made sure they knew where it was, and even met up with them to study before the event.
But none of them came.
I went to The Edge by myself, bummed and hungry. And even more frustrating: the talk Ryan gave was great. I thought they would have responded, if only they were there. When I got home, I told them all about Ryan’s message. But that was it. It was all I knew, and I sulked knowing that it would be another quarter before the next Edge where they could respond to a call to faith.
It seems silly now, but it never occurred to me that they might never come to The Edge. I just figured that my goal was to get them there. I was not the “cool event speaker,” so I assumed that it surely wouldn’t be me who presented the gospel or called people to faith. I just thought that was Ryan’s job.
I wish someone had taught me, back then, to invite people to follow Jesus in a smaller setting. Instead of waiting for the big event, I wish I had been shown how to help my friends respond to Jesus in the places where I had my relationships.
Because the truth is that, no matter how big you can make your large group or outreach events, the majority of the campus will never attend them. You still need them, and you should absolutely make them effective. But if we’re serious about reaching every corner of every campus, we’ll need more InterVarsity students who are not only equipped to invite people to large groups or conferences, but who could also help someone begin to follow Jesus where they are at. And given that we have a wide network of student-led small groups, what would it look like to help our students make calls to faith in the communities they serve and lead?
As more students across the country are being equipped to make a call to faith in small groups, we are finding these benefits:
1. You can reach every corner of campus. As we plant in new communities, there are more students involved in a chapter who will never come to a large group. But they could be connected to a BCM, Arts, Athletes, or LaFe small group. If you want to reach every corner, you’ll need people who can make a call to faith in every corner.
2. Everyone gets to play. Evangelism doesn’t have to be merely in the hands of staff experts. Instead, Jesus invites every believer to experience the joy of inviting friends to follow him (Luke 14). Sure, it’s risky. But it builds faith. It also solidifies a skill in a student or faculty member that they can use for the rest of their lives. As a new believer, I was ready to go. I needed permission to share my faith like that.
3. Follow-up is built in. When someone responds to the gospel in a small group, the community is already there. The gospel is shared by a friend, a group of friends witness the decision, they celebrate together, and they pray together in those first precious moment. Since the follow-up is already built in, students who make decisions in this context are more likely to stick with the community of faith and continue to grow.
4. You can start a movement. Empower your students to be witnesses, because it communicates permission and inspires others to do the same. When that happens, momentum builds. It becomes the new normal. Last fall, one Arizona student planted a small group and five students showed up. She gave a call to faith, “not because anyone asked her to—but because it had become normal.” You’ve equipped another witness. And when this becomes the new normal, a movement is born.
It’s not easy work to coach students and faculty to make calls to faith in small groups. But if you’re serious about reaching every corner of every campus, you’ll need to equip more workers for the harvest, particularly those who know how to help people respond to Jesus and start to follow him.