Yesterday, one of our healthcare campuses held its annual “Activities Fair” outside on the quad. Every club on campus was represented: the surgery and pediatrics clubs, the pro-choice group, and all the religious organizations, including our own. No doubt aided by the free ice cream and dancing bears, everyone was having a great time.
It was fascinating to watch reactions as people walked by our ‘booth.’ Some people, clearly not interested, bounced away from our table as if it were a magnet with a charge opposite to their own. Others, smiling, came right over and told us they had been looking for “the Christian group.”
As I later reflected on the afternoon, I found myself thinking that these two groups rarely interact. And, thinking that it’s a shame.
There are many reasons for this that we can’t explore here, but how do we begin to overcome it? How do our fellowships start to attract people who are normally repelled by them?
One clue may lie in a third, smaller group at the fair yesterday. I’ll call this group “friends of the fellowship.” These are people who, for one reason or another, aren’t part of the group, but know someone in the group. In most cases, that “someone” took an interest in, and built a relationship with, them. And so, even though they aren’t attracted to our message, they are attracted to us. We had a number of people like this come up and talk with us yesterday, something I thought was a great sign.
A key takeaway, then, from the activity fair is this:
We need to take the first step in building strong relationships with people who disagree with us. Like Christ, who left heaven for earth without invitation (or a “friend request”), we need to take initiative with those around us.
In all honesty, we’re not very good at taking the first step. We’re (albeit quietly) afraid of being rejected, and so a lot of times we don’t reach out to people who are on a different spiritual wavelength than us.
Yesterday, I was impressed when someone approached our table, said she was from the pro-life group, and asked if we wanted to be part of a debate later this year. Although we probably differ in some pretty foundational areas, I came away thinking, “we need to be more like that.” We need to say “hi, I’m [whoever]” first, take an interest in people and make them feel welcome, and talk about things that go deeper than medicine and the weather.
As the year begins, you and your fellowship have a special opportunity. This is a fresh beginning – forming relationships with incoming students, and, turning over a new leaf with ones you already know.
In God’s wisdom, almost everyone who meets Jesus will meet him through one of us. As Paul puts it, we “are a letter from Christ… written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Corinthians 3:3). When people meet us, it’s supposed to be like receiving a letter from God! Depending on how we represent him, they may either want to open it and peek inside, or, scribble “Return to Sender.”
Let’s this bring this in for a landing by making it personal and practical. First, are you and your campus fellowship willing to start moving outward, to “go first” in forming relationships with people who disagree with you? If you are, great! That’s by far the most important step, and one we’ll need to keep re-engaging.
But once we’re open to it, we need to actually do it. Grab a few others to pray and make it happen. Maybe it’s coffee and junk food for the first-years before their first exam. Maybe it’s making a point of introducing yourself to everyone you can. Or maybe it’s asking another club to join yours for a clinic or an outreach sponsored by your school.
Whatever you decide, I pray that you will seize the opportunity of these first few weeks by ‘going first’ and calling others in your group to join you.