Interest Groups: Sharing Christ Through Social Activities
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16
How do we make the most of every opportunity like the Ephesians were encouraged to do? This is the question I haven’t been able to get out of my mind when considering how to seek the lost (Luke 16:10) on campus this semester.
Here at Challenge at Chico State, during a normal “Fall Outreach” we go all out! We table every day on campus for the first 2 weeks, throw huge outreach events every night to attract as many students as we possibly can, and then we set up gospel appointments with every student who comes to any of our events to get them connected. Due to COVID restrictions, this large scale, centralized strategy is not possible. We will need to decentralize our efforts to reach as many students as possible! We are still waiting to hear from campus if we are allowed to do official club events at all! This obviously put a huge wrench in our outreach plans this year!
We know the mission isn’t canceled! We are committed to doing whatever it takes to reach lost students. This fall -maybe more than ever before- incoming freshmen are bored, craving friendships and real connections, and need Jesus!
Since our previous outreach strategies have been taken away, we knew we needed to make new ministry pools to reach students. We started reaching out to new freshmen through Instagram, which is a great way to get contacts. But the dorms will be at half capacity, so about half of the freshmen will be stuck on campus with nothing to do! This has left us scratching our heads. There has to be a way to engage with them in-person while following government and school guidelines.
Through much brainstorming and discussion, we are starting a new outreach strategy through interest-based groups.
What are Interest Groups?
Interest Groups are student (or staff) led weekly groups based on hobbies. Some examples include Spikeball, hiking, movies, painting, basketball, video games, baking, board games, working out, etc.
We are encouraging our student leaders to pick or start a group that they and their friends would be naturally interested in and start a weekly time to get together and do it! The hope is that they can invite friends from their dorm, classmates, and coworkers to these groups to get to know them better and introduce them to other students in our ministry. Common ground over Spikeball is a great way to form a friendship and potentially invite them to other Challenge events or set up a gospel appointment with them.
We are gauging students’ interest in different groups by creating a Google Form that we shared with our Core Team. We gave them lots of different options and told them to pick their top 3. Once we get the results we will be able to see what groups we will do! We really want them to feel invested in the idea, and lead with their personal interests.
We are giving students a lot of freedom in these groups. They will be planning when and where they are happening, managing the materials and activities, and inviting their friends. Of course, we are happy to help if they need it or have questions.
We have always thought of this funnel illustration when reaching out to students, but this year, reaching the “community” has to be done differently. So instead of one big “funnel top” we have to make lots of tiny “funnel tops” to reach the same amount of people. If we engaged with 200 in the “community” through a free BBQ, we would need to have 20 interest groups with 10 students each to reach the same amount of people a week.
One great aspect of interest groups is that they are scalable. For instance, you can have 2 or 20 weekly groups based on how big your ministry is. The size of each group will depend on the interest. If you try a group and get no interest, it’s not a big deal to stop and try another one.
These groups can be more or less “official” club meetings based on the rules of your campus. We might end up “branding” them as Challenge sponsored groups, or we can just leave them as simple groups of friends that happen to have Challenge students.
We explained to our core team that usually we make the ministry pool for them by throwing epic large events for them to meet non-Christians at and invite their friends to. Since we are limited in doing that this fall we are relying on them to do that themselves! This isn’t a new idea, and is how ministry will be for the rest of their life! There won’t be an awesome college ministry throwing fun events to invite their neighbors and co-workers to in their 40s.
This method is nerve-racking because it is almost completely relying on our Core Team of students to make it work. We will have staff overseeing the groups to help train students and offer coaching and advice. This will be a great relational evangelism experience for our students. The skills they will learn from developing these groups, inviting friends, and reaching out to them are invaluable for college life and beyond. Although this strategy birthed during COVID, it is something we could picture continuing after everything gets back to normal. We see this as one way a student can develop their own personal ministry target.
Through this method, we are hoping to see people connect deeper and faster into Challenge. There is value in a new student connecting with 5-10 people over a shared activity instead of a 200 person dodgeball tournament. This should lead to more spiritual conversations and, Lord willing, more salvations!
How could your ministry incorporate this interest group strategy this fall? What other fall outreach ideas are you trying out during this unique season?