College campuses in the U.S. are not generally considered bastions for Bible literacy or interest, say officials from the Christian organization InterVarsity. However, in light of a recent Barna Group study released about the most and least Bible-minded cities in the nation, InterVarsity optimistically points to thousands of Bible studies "breaking out across the country," following commitments made at its student missions conference (Urbana 12) at the end of December in St. Louis.
"In a week when the Barna organization has highlighted the most Bible-Minded and least Bible-Minded cities in the U.S., and classes have resumed on college campuses across the country, it's exciting to know that thousands of college students are leading many of their friends into new relationships with God through Bible study," said InterVarsity Evangelism Director Terry Erickson.
In the Barna findings, Knoxville, Tenn., was named number one on the "Most Bible-Minded Cities" list, while Providence, R.I. and New Bedford, Mass. shared the number one spot for "Least Bible-Minded Cities" out of 96 cities.
At Urbana 12, attendees were invited to commit to lead an Evangelistic Bible Study (EBS) with a friend and 8,153 responded by filling out a commitment card and by taking an Evangelistic Bible Study Guide. The Bible studies (also known as GIGs-Groups Investigating God in InterVarsity parlance) are focused on passages from the Gospel of Luke.
The number of those who made an EBS commitment represents about half of the 16,000 Urbana 12 attendees (All 50 states were represented at Urbana.) Over half of them, 4,372, were students.
"Our Bible studies are aimed at college students on college campuses," Erickson said. "The college campus is definitely not an area of the country with a high Bible-minded score. The northeast scored low on the survey and there are many campuses with InterVarsity students in the northeast so our efforts on campus in that part of the country hopefully will raise their Bible-minded score."
He added, "We are surprised how open non-Christians are to studying the Bible with Christian students. A national launch increases the number of students willing to invite their friends to study. The effect is more students asked to do Bible study, more studies on campuses, and more students introduced to the Bible and Jesus."
During Urbana 12, attendees participated in Bible studies focusing on portions of the Gospel of Luke. They also heard teaching from the Gospel of Luke by expositor Calisto Odede, Senior Pastor of Nairobi Pentecostal Church. Bible study has been an InterVarsity distinctive throughout its more than 70-year history in the U.S., officials said.
Training resources are available on InterVarsity's Evangelism website, and a Facebook group has been created for those leading the Bible studies to share their stories. On the Facebook page one student told of sending handwritten Bible study invitations to all 27 girls in her hall. Another student has invited the entire drumline of his school's band, while another is inviting her sorority sisters.
Lindsay Olesberg, who is the Scripture Manager for InterVarsity's Urbana Missions Conference and author of the Bible Study Handbook, said the studies use an inductive approach and a printed manuscript of the Scripture.
"These studies are highly engaging, communal, and engage a variety of learning styles," Olesberg said. "The studies are text centered rather than teacher centered and have proven to be effective in making space for the Holy Spirit to speak powerfully through God's Word."
InterVarsity's goal in the campaign is to introduce students to the Bible and more importantly to Jesus, said Erickson.
"Sometime during each of the studies, leaders will invite students to make a decision to become a follower of Christ," he said. "I am most excited about the possibility of seeing many students make faith commitments this spring."
Olesberg added in an email exchange with The Christian Post: "My hope is that as students help their friends look at Jesus directly through Luke, 1) hundreds of people will become followers of Jesus, 2.) Christian students will gain confidence that God is at work seeking the lost and will develop a life style of extending God's invitation, 3) InterVarsity chapters will experience joy and vitality as the participate in what God is doing on campus, and 4) that new Inter Varsity chapters will start on campus we don't yet reach."