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Christian Union
October 11, 2013

Ministries Reach Out with a Sense of Urgency

Timing is everything; especially when it comes to freshmen.

The first few days on campus are filled with opportunities for the new students to make choices about relationships and social circles that will impact their college years, and beyond.

That's why ministry leaders throughout the Ivy League are working tirelessly to reach out to freshmen and help them make intentional choices about being part of a Christian community.

"Beginnings are important. And it's important for students to begin their collegiate journeys well," said Penn Chaplain Charles Howard '00. "It is critical that [they] find communities to plug into upon their arrival on campus. It's God who saves and protects our students, but often He does this through our communities of faith."

According to Tim Henderson, the vice president of University Christian Union, social circles are set within the first days of freshmen arriving on campus. Often, students tend to follow their roommates or classmates without including God in the mix.

Ministry leaders agree that reaching freshmen is of paramount importance, especially when they consider how they can grow in their faith and devotion to Christ and emerge as leaders over their first two or three years on campus.

...social circles are set within the first days of freshmen arriving on campus.

Harvard College Faith and Action (HCFA) has witnessed this dynamic and works hard to mobilize upperclass students to reach out to freshmen.

Nick Nowalk, a Christian Union teaching fellow at Harvard, said this year's HCFA pre-retreat—which focuses on preparing students to reach incoming freshmen—was one of the best yet. HCFA is a leadership development ministry supported and resourced by Christian Union.

"There was a rise in the spiritual passion of worship and prayer," said Nowalk.

Upperclassmen play a key role in freshman campaigns as they can connect with fellow students in a very tangible way.

"We see upperclassmen go from being receivers to givers," said Henderson. "We see them grow and develop and realize it's not just about them, but it's about loving and serving others."

And that service toward freshmen often begins before the new students ever arrive on campus.

For many freshmen, their first contact with a campus ministry is through social media, especially Facebook.

"It's where upperclassmen can say, 'I was in your shoes and I would love to show you the ropes,'" said Henderson.

The primary focus of the freshman outreach is to help students build relationships, says Henderson.

Ministries spend significant time during the first weeks of the academic year hosting a variety of events designed to engage students and generate relationships around common areas of interest.

These relationships are often a key reason students are willing to engage more deeply in ministry programs to study Scripture, explore Christian faith, and learn to seek God intentionally.

For example, ministries invite students to professional sporting events, movie nights, pizza parties, and ice cream socials.

In early September, many Harvard freshmen attended the debate co-hosted by Harvard College Faith and Action and Harvard Community Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics.

At Cornell, Campus on a Hill hosted a ministry fair BBQ which allowed students within the various campus ministries to engage with freshmen on campus and facilitated a larger sense of unity for the Christian organizations.

"For me personally, seeing the body of Christ come together in such a unified manner was simply inspiring," said John Hui, Cornell '15, who helped organize the event.

Once freshmen plug into a Christian organization on campus, they often participate in weekly Bible studies and/or large group meetings. Christian Union ministry fellows and upperclassmen encourage freshmen to sign up for the ministry's Bible courses.

This semester's Bible courses, based on Philippians, offer the same intellectual rigor and depth as the academic courses on campus.

This period of reaching freshmen is often a high-paced, non-stop effort to engage as many students as possible in meaningful conversations and activities in order to provide a path of relationships and faith that strengthens them and furthers the Gospel.

"It's a whirlwind," Henderson said. "People work hard day and night. It is exhausting. But these are weeks of enormous consequences."

Chaplain Howard agrees.

"Every year, I see students land softly by connecting with one of our campus ministries and/or one of our local congregations; making not only the transition easier, but I believe their next four years richer, healthier, and more fruitful," he said.