Keeping Campus Ministry Relevant

Staff member Keith Davy uses problem-solving skills to help others grow spiritually.

  • by Jess Fong
Photos by Ted Wilcox

All summer long, water dripped from the Davys’ bedroom toilet valve, soaked through a wall to the bedroom carpet and out to the back porch. The family was away while the problem grew to a costly climax. Casual as usual, in khakis and a collared polo shirt, Keith Davy explains the damage. “Fortunately,” he says nonchalantly, “the house is on a slant.”

To Keith Davy, few problems are fearsome: they’re fixable.

As national director of research and development for Cru’s Campus Ministry, Keith puts his problem-solving to work all day. The problems are inherent: Some people don’t know they need Jesus, some people don’t know how to tell others about Jesus. Keith leads the team of people who are constantly working to address college students’ spiritual needs.

For the past 10 years, God has used Keith to help the Campus Ministry tackle some of our most challenging problems,” says Cru staff member Mark Gauthier, who leads the Campus Ministry in the United States. “Without Keith’s influence, we wouldn't have some of the creative and cutting-edge tools we use in personal evangelism and discipleship.”

Even good ideas have a shelf life, so when an evangelism tool or a discipleship plan stops working, it is time to fix it. Keith usually starts with a question. Or two.

“He’s a great question-asker,” says Nanci, Keith’s wife of 31 years. “He helps people think things through and enlightens them to their own situation.”

Each school year, the R&D team gathers information -- like how many hours an average student spends with a laptop -- and develops efficient ministry tools that are both designed for and used by students.

“We’re a team of learners,” says Keith.

They learn by reading surveys, calling campus ministries, and, Keith’s favorite, asking his children. He talks to Anna and Dan (both students at Florida State University) using Skype, an online video and telephone network. His oldest daughter, Sarah, works with the Campus Ministry in Kansas City.

At home, next to his side of the bed, Keith grows a pile 30-books high: business leadership, trend-watching, Christian non-fiction. The piles grow until Nanci asks him to put them away; he begins rebuilding the next day. He says he rarely finishes reading a whole book, but instead siphons out the meaty bits to use later.

Thanks to technology and what Keith calls in his blog a “worldview stew,” the college campus is evolving, and so staying on top of college trends is hard. At 55, Keith hasn’t worked on a college campus for a decade.

But Keith grounds his team in timeless facts. “The gospel itself never changes. The ultimate needs of people never change,” says Keith. “But the culture is always changing and so, because of that, our methods and even how we communicate the gospel has to change to be relevant and effective.”

The pursuit of relevance begins with thoughtful analysis. Keith logically approaches most difficulties, calmly making sense of them. That steady-hand logic helped him deal with the house leak. When he and Nanci were informed that the repair work would take days, the two decided to turn it into a weekend for spiritual development.

For the three decades they’ve been married, Keith and Nanci take a yearly weekend retreat, journaling and praying through the Bible to have a better understanding of what God wants from their lives and relationship. Keith interpreted the damage in their home as an opportunity to go away on a second retreat.

There was plenty to talk about: they had entered the challenge of being empty-nesters that fall. Additionally, both Nanci and their 21-year old daughter, Anna, have Lyme disease, which is chronic and difficult to treat. Their oldest son, Nathan, an Army officer, was deployed to Baghdad.

Keith and Nanci’s present concerns can’t just be addressed with good questions or analysis -- so Keith depends on hearing from God. From his perspective, the house problem enabled such a response.

This is Keith’s gift: he doesn’t settle with making the best out of bad circumstances. He becomes, and guides the people around him to become, more effective as the result of each situation.

Under Keith’s detailed eye, the R&D team has produced 12 years of useful materials, from a set of photographs called Soularium, used for starting spiritual conversations, to a new paradigm for evangelism called CoJourners.

At CoJourners’ core, Keith is helping people think. The idea, he says, is nothing new, although he had to make up a name for it. It reframes evangelism, not as getting someone to reach a decision-point for Christ, but rather as an invitation for Christians to join people on their spiritual journey, teaching them how to help others move closer to Jesus.

CoJourners has become the basis for Cru staff members training students in evangelism.

“We’ve seen it ripple not only through campuses in the U.S.,” says Keith. “It’s going beyond, to other ministries like Athletes in Action-Canada or other areas, like in Southeast Asia, even in churches.”

Yet for all his team’s attention to making things work and solving problems, they don’t always hit it the first time.

In the early 2000s, Keith tracked the trends of evangelism statistics, comparing several school years. He became concerned: the numbers had flat-lined.

For several years Keith had been leading an effort to see our evangelism effectiveness increase,” says Mark Gauthier, “only to come to the conclusion that what we were doing wasn’t working. I still remember the day he told me that our efforts were not bringing the desired results.”

Keith and the national leaders went back to the drawing board, asking God for a new direction. It took many meetings, many discussions and much prayer. But Keith helped lead the team through it. “That resulted in seeing our evangelism fruitfulness literally double,” says

Mark, “and it has continued to increase since that time.”

Keith knows that to ultimately solve problems, he must depend on God for solutions. He admits that sometimes he just misses it. “So often with just the volume of communications, activity and the pace of life, I can find myself either not getting to the most important, or not achieving the results that we’re really seeking,” Keith says.

But problems, really, are just job security. So he keeps asking questions, analyzing the information and finding solutions. Maybe that means leading his team toward the next great idea or teaching other leaders within Cru about what can be improved, keeping in mind that he is not here to just fix, but to be faithful.

Action Step

Below are a few more of the resources that Keith helped to develop. Would one of them be helpful for you as you take the next step in your spiritual growth?