The last couple of months on campus have been a complete blast!
Every fall, the three biggest ministry opportunities we face are connecting with as many new graduate students as we can, creating a way to help new students become involved long-term with our movement, and having spiritual conversations with as many not-yet Christian grad students as we can. This fall we have seen the Lord enable and lead us to make major steps forward in all three of these opportunities. We would love to tell you about them! And celebrate with you! And say thank-you! Your partnership with us is making a huge difference here!
CONNECTING: FROM 15 TO 50 STUDENTS
Every fall, we take part in an organization fair for grad student organizations on campus during Graduate Student Orientation. For most of the day, incoming grad students pile into Eisenhower Auditorium to be welcomed by top-level administrators and deans. Towards mid-afternoon they are more then ready for a break. So, they are released for 30 minutes to get a snack and beverage. And they are directed towards tables in the lobby where they can learn more about available grad student organizations. That's where we come in.
As soon as the doors opened, students stopped by our table and they kept coming the whole time. It was so exciting! We told them about our ministry. We gave them information about local churches. And we invited them to our first meeting of the year. Over the past four years we have connected with about 15 people on average each year. This year, we left with the names and emails of 36 students!
And it didn't stop there. The students we met told other new students about our community and invited them to join us at our first weekly meeting and/or our welcome picnic. Through it all, we connected with over 5O new students!
INVOLVING: FROM 5 TO 20 STUDENTS
For the past several years, we have struggled to find an effective way to plug the new students we meet into our small group network. One year, we tried to recruit the students to join a missional community - small groups that equip and train students for reaching out to their peers and sharing the gospel with them - right away during their first semester in grad school. However, by doing so we learned that we asked new students to make too much of a time commitment too early on. And we learned that they were not yet ready to be involved in sharing their faith. So, we had only 1 person decide to join.
Another year, we decided to wait to recruit students to join a missional community until the second semester. However, only a few ended up joining. Most of the rest of the new students had become involved with other groups because they offered small groups during the first semester that required less commitment and time.
We went back to the drawing board this summer and came up with the idea for venture groups. Venture groups are our small groups for new students during their first semester at Penn State. Through venture groups, these students quickly find community with other grad students. They grow in their understanding of how Christ and the gospel impact their lives as grad students through studying Scripture together. They are exposed to the vision we have as a movement to help bring the gospel within arm's reach of every grad student on campus. They meet for only one hour a week, and they meet on campus at a time that is convenient for new students.
It has been a hit! Before this year, we had about five students-at most- become involved with us long-term. This year we have over twenty new students involved with us in venture groups. It looks like most of them if not all of them will continue to be involved with us after this semester once the venture groups transition into missional communities and peer groups! Not only are they staying involved, some of the students have already begun reaching out to other grad students in their classes with the gospel! We couldn't be more excited or grateful for all that the Lord is doing!
SHARING: FROM A HANDFUL TO 60 CONVERSATIONS
For the first time ever, we had to almost immediately adjust the plan for our Sunday Night Weekly Gathering. We had to do so because we realized that several of the new students coming on Sunday nights were either not-yet believers or had not been walking with Christ for a long time. We needed to adjust some of the content we had planned. We also needed to share the details of the gospel message more completely and more regularly than we had in the past. It has been so amazing to see the Lord work in these students' hearts and minds.
We have also seen the Lord give us many opportunities this fall to initiate spiritual conversations using several different tools including a questionnaire we created this fall (see a picture of it on the right). We have shared with students we had not met before. We have shared with spiritual conversations students that we connected with at the grad student orientation table. And we are beginning to initiate spiritual conversations with peers of students involved with us. It gives our students a great opportunity to do ministry with us and to learn how to reach out to their peers better. Please pray for these conversations. Several students are close to responding to the gospel! All in all, we have gone from a handful of conversations in the past to over 60 in the first two months!
Ashley and Heather Holleman
408 Candlewood Dr., State College, PA 16803.
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