“Oh my gosh, thank you guys so much! This is awesome!”
As a college or campus minister this is how you pray that every meeting with university staff would end. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t…but either way you still ask God to provide opportunities to pioneer the Gospel into the foreign land in our backyards. This is my prayer as God has provided some in roads to Greek Life at Florida State University. The statement above was made to me by the Vice President of Membership for FSU’s Panhellenic Association after a meeting we were able to have with them about helping with fall recruitment. The relationship with the Office of Greek Life and the Greek houses on campus didn’t happen overnight, but I’d like to give you a short history of how God has allowed me to work with a large group of students that are many times “written off” by the church.
As a freshmen in college I received bids from a couple fraternities at the University of Central Florida, but ultimately I landed on Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s bid which was given conditionally based upon my grades. Suffice it to say I never became a brother as it took me nearly a decade to graduate with my bachelors. Along the way I had many friends that were Greek. Most of them joined houses for the same reasons students still join today: friends, family members were Greek, networking opportunities, and partying. In 1999 I met a fantastic girl (who I managed to talk into marrying me) that was a member of Gamma Phi Beta here at FSU…up until a couple years ago that was my biggest piece of street cred in the Greek scene.
For the last five years I have actively reengaged FSU’s campus allowing our church & college ministry to become recognizable again. About a third of my efforts at FSU are collaborative with other campus ministries (i.e. BCM, Cru, etc.) and have created an environment of mutual respect and trust with the university. The summer of 2013 my pastor and I were contacted by a national representative of Beta Theta Pi asking to meet about the possibility of helping in an advisory roll for the re-conlonization of their chapter at FSU. Bradley presented a very inspiring pitch on the organizational turn around that the Beta was making nationwide. If you can’t see “God’s good, pleasing & perfect will” in a fraternity asking a Baptist pastor to be an advisor, you may need to reevaluate your hermeneutics.
Beginning in the fall of ’13 I stepped into a great opportunity to work alongside a group of men and advisors that I respect. This fraternity is headed in the direction that many universities hope that their houses are moving toward…highest GPA on campus, involved regularly in student and community life, have a good reputation among the sororities and care deeply about one another. I’ve learned valuable truths and tips just sitting through chapter meetings and recruitment workshops with them. Involvement though, doesn’t always manifest itself in influence…especially as it relates to the Gospel. As many people have rightly said for years, “The trouble with relational evangelism is that if focuses more on the relationships and never gets to evangelism.” There are times those words are a filter for me as it relates to spending time and resources in serving Greeks. That sentence has also echoed in a convicting way in my heart and mind as well.
Gospel influence is something that God gives and desires to give to churches and campus ministries to reach our colleges and universities. I believe that one of the plentiful harvests yet to be reached on our campuses is that of the Greek fields. Whether or not you identify with letters or a house, if you are familiar with college students you know that those three to eight years (as was my case) are filled with a search for satisfaction. This satisfaction is ultimately only found in Jesus and many in the current generation of college students have NOT ever personally heard the Gospel. So let me share a few ideas with you that you can take and contextualize for reaching Greek students in your city.
- Go to them and invite them to something. The internet is wonderful and advertising in the school newspaper is great, but face to face and word of mouth is where it’s at. Even if it is only inviting Greek students to your Sunday Bible study and worship service…go to their house and ask them yourself. A couple of years ago I went to each house on campus with flyers and personally invited and handed to a brother or sister who answered the door an invitation to church and a lunch (I’ll talk more about this below). I was welcomed at every house, had great conversations with the guys and girls who answered the door, and on a half dozen occasions had a student tell me, “We’ve never been invited to anything by a church, thank you very much.” Make it personal by going to them.
- Offer your facilities to them. Each semester houses are looking for space to use for induction ceremonies, initiation ceremonies, recruitment workshops, alumni events and educational space. One of the great assets that many churches and campus ministries have is space to offer. No you aren’t going to invite 80 fraternity guys to come up and use the Youth Ministry room or Chapel on a Wednesday night, but there are appropriate times when calendaring space to these outside groups could be a huge step toward building a bridge with a house (or houses). Do your due diligence by making sure they aren’t sacrificing animals on the Lord’s Supper table during initiation (a little sarcasm here), but many of these chapters have a history of Christian influence as part of their rituals.
- Meet your Greek Life Office and ask them how you can help. So you may not have the budget to buy water coolers with your ministry’s name on it for each house, but could you staff a couple coolers during sorority recruitment or fraternity rush and offer water to students who are visiting houses in the 90+ degree heat with 100% humidity? If they needed extra hands to pass out supplies, stuff PNM (Potential New Members) bags with literature, help with registration check in or early move in for the girls…hands and feet are an invaluable resource you have.
- Leverage the alumni relations in your church. If you are trying to reach Greek students chances are you have alumni in your network that can help. These alumni can communicate with their houses to share invites from your church or campus ministry at chapter meetings. We held a Greek lunch several years ago and used members of our church as table hosts for those girls and guys who came from their house. Even though the first event wasn’t as successful as I would have liked it to have been, the opportunity for our members to help our college ministry with a targeted outreach to a group they were fond of was a huge win for our church as a whole. Sometimes these initiatives can allow adults to redeem what may have been a not-so-Jesus-filled time in their life by living on mission now.
- Connect Greek students to other adults who have experience in the vocation those students are majoring in. There were a couple students involved in Beta who were wanting to pursue a career in Sports Management. It just so happened that two of my good friends currently work in that field and hire college interns each semester. Getting the five of us together for lunch and allowing my friends to share with these guys the principle of, “work for free now and get paid later, or work for free later,” was valuable advice this student needed to hear headed into his junior year. Networking in most sororities and fraternities is a huge priority because it is where brothers and sisters find jobs, which mean they can be called on later to give money back to the chapter. The church provides a natural network of people from all walks of life and vocations and this could be an asset when trying to reach Greek students.
Reaching Greeks can be a scary and thankless job sometimes, but we have to believe that when God promises a harvest, that there will actually be one. My firm belief is that we have assumed for a long time that this group of students wants nothing to do with Jesus & His Church, but we all know what happens when you “assume” (and if you don’t, just ask a friend). These men and women will surprise you with their honesty and interest in a lot of the things that you and your church or campus ministry hold important. Yes, they are super busy and may be a little rough around the edges, but those aren’t excuses or reasons not to go after some of the most influential students on your campus. I hope you will prayerfully consider investing ideas and resources toward the houses or chapters at your school. We don’t do it perfect here in Tallahassee, but we do pray and try to make a difference, leaving the results up to God. When you do that, you just might get a response like, “Oh my gosh, thank you guys so much! This is awesome!”
Guest Blogger: Zach Allen, College Minister, First Baptist Tallahassee