New Perspectives on Initiative Evangelism

  • by Eric Heistand

Since the beginning, Cru has measured successful evangelism with this tidy jingle: “Taking the initiative in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.” The phrase correctly assumes that God is the one changing lives. The other assumption is that we, as Gospel messengers, will initiate and interact with the world around us.

I wonder if those of us who train college students in evangelism have glossed over the current reality of today’s college students: Young people rarely initiate direct conversation with anyone. Direct conversation among young people is optional. It’s certainly not due to a lack of connections. Our students have more “friends” than ever, yet they are often lived out in indirect fragments of 140 characters or less on a screen.

As Tim Willard puts it in his book, Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society :

“Our lives become strewn about the Web. Fragmented. People encounter online lifewidgets, but they don’t see the grit; they see the facade we hoist up for all to see. Our life story, a miniwiki page: bookmarked, filed, accumulated. At the end of the day, we can close our relationships as we close our laptops, untouched and unmoved by the lives of others.”

How might we invite students to begin Gospel conversations in a world where the high bar of initiation is clicking an ‘Accept friend request’ button?

AN AMAZING WEEK OF PERSPECTIVE AT APPALACHIAN STATE

Last week, something special happened at Appalachian State University. Students initiated. Using Cru evangelism tools, over 100 students spent the entire week initiating spiritual conversations with friends, classmates, professors and perfect strangers. You couldn’t walk on the main campus quad without seeing Christian students talking about Jesus, faith, and the meaning of life. Thousands of significant conversations were sparked, a 24/7 prayer room was launched, and lives were changed for eternity. Here are some perspectives we embraced:

PERSPECTIVE CARDS

The students with whom I work have an aversion to packaged ministry tools, especially those of the evangelistic nature. I can’t say I blame them. We are bombarded by hundreds of sales pitches a day sneaking into our inboxes and newsfeeds. The cumulative effect is that we have become inherently distrustful of anything resembling one more promise that won’t make our life any better. Last spring, we showed our evangelism team a new Cru tool called Perspective Cards. The response was lukewarm at best. How did we go from a lukewarm response from a handful of students to 120 students eager to share their faith using Perspective Cards?

  • Vision. We started with a great question: “What would it look like to spark a thousand significant conversations and move our campus one step closer to Jesus?” Beginning with our Gospel in Action team, we progressively and constantly cast vision until every student in the movement had the vision. The progression of vision: Gospel in Action Team--> All student leaders-->Fall Retreat-->Weekly Meeting
  • Student ownership. Staff initially cast vision and showed how to use the cards. We field tested it with our Gospel in Action team saying, “Let’s try this and if it doesn’t work, we will do something else to engage the heart of our campus.” Immediately after field testing, we quickly invited the same students to own and modify the idea. They got rid of one category of cards. They began a closed Facebook Group for practitioners. They were empowered to answer the question, “How can we make these cards work for our campus?”
  • Simplify. We decided that we could get more students to use the cards for a longer period of time if we modified the way they were used. Rather than going through EVERY category, we shot for one category per day for 4 days. The Perspective site has more thorough training; we decided to err on the side of being messy practitioners. We reduced the training steps from 12 steps to 5.

PRAYER

We decided to have a prayer strategy that was just as robust as our evangelistic strategy. We were well on our way to offering a few token prayers to cover the week when a student asked how we were going to intercede for the campus in prayer. His passion for prayer exposed our lack of prayer dependency. Several calls were made and later that day we had a new place of power: an on campus prayer chapel that turned into a launch pad for all of our efforts. We had around the clock, 24-hour prayer that brought in hundreds of students and emboldened them to share their faith on campus. It was such a powerful room that one guy actually came to faith when he stopped by the room in the middle of the night. Lesson learned: we will never do another outreach without an equally compelling prayer plan.

POSTURE

Nowadays, everybody is a self-made author. We can follow each others’ next keystroke, breathlessly awaiting new revelations of self-discovered truth. Everybody wants to talk, but nobody wants to listen. Suspicion grows: “Are people really listening to me or simply waiting for their turn to speak?” With this as our cultural backdrop, we decided that our posture was just as important as our message. We became world-class listeners. An interesting thing happened when we actually began to listen to the stories of our campus. People felt heard and understood. And we were changed people, too. We heard their stories and struggles. We saw the grit of their lives. We walked away with a compassion that didn’t exist before the conversation. More often than not, when we were just about to leave, our new acquaintance would say, “Hey, aren’t you going to share your perspective?”

PROVOKED

When Jesus saw the crowds, his heart was provoked. Compassion overflowed and people were healed, both physically and spiritually. When Paul entered Athens, the book of Acts tells us that his heart was provoked by the misplaced worship of idols he saw. He had to act. There seems to be a direct connection between truly seeing people and moving into compassionate action. Our Cru movement has spent a great deal of time trying to help our students to “see” and be moved to action. We often ask, “How might we put the Gospel into action and truly engage the hearts of our campus?” We have found it helpful to think about two identities that we always hold in tension:

  • We are Gospel Messengers - We have been called to proclaim a message of good news to all who would hear.
  • We are Gospel Neighbors - We have been called to demonstrate and live out the good news to our neighbors, regardless of whether or not they have accepted our message.

When we think of ourselves solely as gospel proclaimers, it is easy to simply focus on what we are supposed to say. We fail to move into the messy stories and true grit that form the life of our campus. We stop caring. But when we think of ourselves solely as gospel neighbors, it’s easy to forget that we actually have the best story in the world to tell others. It is great news of a historic event...and the hero changes everything!

MORE PERSPECTIVE

ASU Perspective Video : 3 minutes of vision and student commentary on the week.

Perspective Week 101 : The nuts and bolts of how to pull off a Perspective Week on your campus. (Password: compassion )

www.asuperspective.com : Our Perspective Week website.

NOTABLES AND QUOTABLES

  • 120 students actively stepped out in faith every day to initiate spiritual conversations.
  • 1000+ conversations were sparked over 4 days.
  • 1 student began a new relationship with Christ and is currently being discipled.
  • 100+ students spent an hour or more in dedicated prayer for the campus. Many students committed to fasting and praying throughout an entire evening.
  • Dozens of conversations that began during Perspective Week are continuing in dorm rooms and coffee shops throughout Boone.

“I’ve learned how my excitement to have genuine conversations (with the hopes of sharing the gospel) grows only through taking the initiative and making time to step out and have those conversations. The more time I let go by without being intentional, the more I feel apathetic or wary about initiating conversations. It’s been so exciting and encouraging seeing everyone’s excitement to get out and do Perspective this week ...

“I hope it continues and that having real conversations with people would become so much a part of who we are, it would just be second nature!” — Jennifer

“Hey guys, I just spent some time in the prayer room. Truly one of the best nights of my life. We sang, prayed, and read scripture together. I have such a better understanding of what prayer is and the real feeling

of it. I just want to thank God for putting me in that situation tonight and I would like to thank all the CRU people who got this all organized and planned.” — Aaron

“ I learned how present God is in our lives, and how by such a small act of courage as going out and talking to people and loving them enough to really engage with them on real questions we all need to be able to answer, that he will reward us twofold the effort we put into it. I witnessed power in prayer and I saw someone's life get saved and changed forever. Great week, great idea.”  — Dylan

“I learned a little more about God’s heart for those who are lost. He loves them, He’s working in their lives, and He’s more than ready to use us to touch their hearts.

God is so powerful!” — Madison

“I learned how willing people are to actually open up and talk about serious things if you just take the time to listen!” — Sophie