“It is possible for communities to grow their witness.”
A Case for Hope
It is actually possible to help a community grow its witness: tepid huddled communities can learn to mobilize witnesses, and witnessing communities can become red-hot conversion communities.
Is this kind of change easy? No way. In fact, over time there is a tendency for communities to wither in their witness. Left to themselves, witnessing communities will tend to regress back to being merely huddled; such is the reality of our flesh and our very real enemy. But the great news we have experienced firsthand is that it is possible for communities to grow their witness.
Just consider what happened to an InterVarsity community at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). Back in 2000, they were a very huddled community. They loved Jesus, they were devoted to digging deep in their lengthy Scripture studies, they had sincere prayer lives, they were passionate about urban ministry and serving the poor, they went to church faithfully, and they really enjoyed honest friendships with each other. They were a smart, sociable, passionate, huddled group of about two hundred members. Meanwhile, there were an additional 25,000 students on campus, most of whom had no experience of God’s transforming love.
This huddled community had a powerful narrative about why this was the case. People at UCSD are focused on science and too intellectual to be open to God. This is hard ground. The harvest is not ripe here. We are not good at evangelism—other communities are better at that. That is not our thing. We are focused on Scripture and serving the poor. In fact, people would join InterVarsity for this very reason: they did not want to be challenged to make non-Christian friends. They did not want to be around the “E-word.” For some of them evangelism was a dirty word. These members chose the huddle because they loved the feeling of the huddle.
UCSD was not the only huddled community in San Diego. As all the InterVarsity San Diego leaders looked at their ministries, they began to face the empirical facts. They were very honest with themselves: Why are we so ineffective at helping those far from God become followers of Jesus? How come only two people became followers of Jesus through our ministry last year? That is just 1 percent of our whole group. That should bother us. Let’s listen to God and see what he puts on our hearts.
They wrestled with God over the internal question that plagued them as they looked at the facts and asked, What’s wrong with us? How did we let ourselves get so huddled? They decided they needed to break the huddle. They decided to believe God for more. They shook off the old narrative that their context was simply not very open to God. This godly discontent was a profound turning point.
At UCSD, Megan, Ramiro, Ryan, and Serene formed a new team. Loving those far from God and investing in these new friendships became their top priority. They invited others from their community to join them. Very few did. But together they took risks. They failed. They learned. They had conflict with each other. They got new mentors. They prayed. Some other members of their huddled community accused them of turning their backs on their core values, like serving the poor and the oppressed and caring about God’s heart of justice. This rift got worse, to the point that it threatened to split their community in two.
But Megan, Ramiro, Ryan, and Serene saw the change process through. They hung onto each other and onto the mission. They insisted on being aligned around witness, and God used this persistence and rugged faithfulness to indeed break the huddle. You might find it hard to believe what happened next.
If you visit InterVarsity at UCSD today, you would never guess they were once a huddled community. They have a thriving conversion community. For each of the past five years, they have helped over a hundred students per year become followers of Jesus. (This has tipped toward a whopping two hundred per year in the past two years.) Amazing! Today, no one says that people at UCSD simply are not very open to God. But it took a small community of four to begin to break the false narrative, to break the huddle.
Ryan, Ramiro, and Serene have each become leaders of this conversion movement. In addition, they now help inspire and equip other movement leaders across the country to believe God for more. To shake off the old narratives. To pray and go deeper with the Holy Spirit. And, ultimately, to break the huddle in their respective communities. In fact, several of the stories in this book come from conversion communities they have helped lead. (This is all the more amazing when you know that back in 2000, you would never have picked any of these folks out to be movement leaders.) God can use the most unlikely leaders and risk-takers to help a community break the huddle and grow its witness.
Taken from Breaking the Huddle by Donald D. Everts II, Douglas R. Schaupp, and Valerie Gordon. ©2016 by Donald D. Everts II, Douglas R. Schaupp, and Valerie Gordon. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com