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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Chi Alpha: Student-Led Outreach Brings Ministry Growth

By Christina Quick
July 01, 2012

When Pete Bullette and his wife, Amy, began pioneering a Chi Alpha group at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 2001, none of the students he encountered had even heard of the ministry. Today, Bullette leads the largest Christian organization on campus and one of the most successful Chi Alpha groups in the country.

“It’s been a steady growth for 11 years,” says Bullette, whose Chi Alpha group has burgeoned to include more than 500 students. “There’s never been a year where we haven’t grown.”

Bullette attributes the ministry’s success to students who have embraced the Great Commission by stepping into leadership roles.

“Our model is built very simply,” Bullette says. “We want to see students get into a vibrant small group that we call core groups. We work hard to train and mentor our student leaders. We call them the heroes of the fellowship.”

More than 100 student leaders oversee 40 small groups that meet in dorms, homes and other sites on and off the campus.

“I see about 15 percent of what really happens in Chi Alpha,” Bullette says. “The rest is happening on a Wednesday in a small group or a Saturday afternoon hanging out at somebody’s house. That’s part of the nature of being the community of God.”

Student leaders receive extensive training. They attend an annual, weeklong conference, as well as a weekend retreat. In addition, leadership meetings are held every two weeks throughout the school year.

“Most people who come to Christ do it through these core groups,” Bullette says. “It’s usually the result of someone loving on them and bringing them to Christ. Our main weekly meeting is more of a family reunion than anything. It’s core groups coming together to celebrate what God is doing. Our ministry is built on relationships.”

Bullette says today’s young adults are seeking a place to belong and connect with one another.

“This generation wants a substantive understanding of their faith, and they want to live it out in deep relationships,” Bullette says. “They’re more technologically connected than ever before, but technology doesn’t replace a need to have true, deep relationships.”

Bullette says if students don’t make connections in the Christian community, they will inevitably seek out relationships elsewhere.

“Students are like liquid cement when they come to a university,” Bullette says. “Over the next four years, through the relationships they make and the experiences they have, most of them will solidify into the people they will be for life. Among all the temptations that students face during campus life, we need to be here to plant the cross in the middle of the crossroads and give students an opportunity to respond to the gospel.”

Across the country, many Chi Alpha groups are finding success by empowering students to reach their campuses.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth on campus because we’ve been able to capture the hearts of our student leaders,” says Joel Schreiber, campus pastor at Edinboro University near Erie, Pa. “We’ve presented the needs, and they’ve caught the vision of reaching their peers.”

Since the Edinboro campus ministry launched in 2005, it has grown to include about 100 students. Small groups meet weekly, and Chi Alpha students regularly interact with others on campus as they promote activities, giveaways and special events.

Joshua Ernst, campus pastor at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, has seen his group grow from three students to 90 in four years. The Chi Alpha ministry has a dozen student-led discipleship groups that meet in residence halls. The students also develop and organize a different dorm outreach every month.

“Through one-on-one mentorship and discipleship through core groups, they become Spirit-filled witnesses who will transform the university, the marketplace and the world,” Ernst says.

The group maintains space on campus as a prayer room, which is the site of as many as nine prayer meetings each week. Ernst says students become more outreach-focused as they draw closer to God and experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

“We need to help students fall in love with Jesus,” Ernst says. “You do that by getting them filled with the Holy Spirit. When that happens, their love for Jesus grows, their hatred for sin and ability to overcome temptation grow, they have a deeper hunger for the Word of God, their boldness to witness expands, and their whole spiritual life just skyrockets.”

CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer. She attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Mo.

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