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Religion | December 17, 2012

Pledging to evangelize

Ministry

Campus ministries use targeted outreach efforts to share the gospel with fraternities and sororities

©iStockPhoto/BanksPhotos

Will Peasley had no intentions of joining a fraternity when he began his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Changing his mind and pledging Alpha Gamma Rho "threw a wrench" in his plans. As a Christian going Greek, it was crucial that he find a ministry that guided him spiritually while accepting his membership in the fraternity.

Millions of college students belong to Greek organizations. To accommodate and reach Greek students like Peasley, national campus ministries, including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Cru, have added chapters that engage members of fraternities and sororities. Leaders of these movements recognize that focusing on the Greek community can bring passionate followers to God.

Now a sophomore, Peasley serves on his college's leadership team for Greek InterVarsity. The group seeks to engage Greek students by organizing Bible studies and meetings within the houses, rather than requiring them to attend another ministry.

Last year alone, nearly 3,000 students participated in Greek IV events nationally. Joining the ministry was an ideal way for Peasley to reconcile his Christian faith with membership in a fraternity.

But for many Christian students, or those even interested in Christianity, involvement in Greek life causes discord, rather than harmony.

"They feel like they can't be both fully a Christian but also fully a Greek," Peasley said. "That's where Greek IV comes into play."

Annie Wiechel joined Greek InterVarsity staff at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind., after she graduated in May 2011. She loves the Greek culture and recognizes that Greek principles, such as friendship and service, come from Christian values. Because modern Greek life focuses heavily on social aspects, she hopes that her ministry will help bring fraternities and sororities back to the more traditional ideals.

Wiechel supports InterVarsity's strategy of equipping Greek students to remain strong Christians and minister to other students in the houses. Other approaches aren't quite as effective.

"The strategy is often to remove students from the Greek system because it's a 'dark' place," Wiechel said. "That results in the Christians no longer being involved in the Greek system, and their brothers or sisters are now left unreached."

Many barriers surround the Greek system, making it seem impenetrable to outsiders. Greek students tend to have more trust and respect for their brothers and sisters, making it difficult for non Greeks to effectively minister to Greek students, Wiechel said.

Non Greek students also feel intimidated approaching fraternities and sororities for ministry purposes. Eric Holmer, the associate director of communications for Greek InterVarsity, acknowledged most perceptions of Greek life include images from movies like "Animal House" and "Legally Blonde." These stereotypes and media portrayals discourage students from being proactive in reaching out to Greeks, Holmer said.

Other challenges present themselves when Greek students do get involved with a ministry or Bible study. They're often perceived differently by their brothers or sisters and become more vulnerable to scrutiny or being labeled as the reverend or missionary, Holmer said.

Reaching out to Greeks is crucial because of their influential positions on campus, Wiechel said. Many serve as leaders in student organizations, so the Greek system is a great place to begin affecting the campus as a whole. Christian ministries must recognize this untapped potential and look for people in unreached places, she said.

Peasley understands ministries that bypass the Greek community leave a lot of students untouched by the gospel: "Even though there are negative perceptions out there about the Greek system in general, we have to reach Greeks on campus in order to grow the kingdom."