Campus ministries a nurturing force for students

Story by Janie Magruder
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU Today Magazine

The trinity of sacredly held campus ministries at Grand Canyon University — small group Bible studies, chapel services and local/global outreach activities — not only are surviving unprecedented student population growth, they are thriving amidst it.

Call it a God thing.

“The more people who come, the more opportunities we have to impact the kingdom, and it’s up to us to figure out how to reach them,” said Dean of Students Pastor Tim Griffin. “God is allowing thousands and thousands and thousands to come to this campus, and it’s a great opportunity that we don’t want to miss.”

Upon Griffin’s arrival at GCU a little more than four years ago, he spelled out spiritual life at GCU and drew a line in the sand with Christian organizations clamoring to provide those services on campus. In those early days, Griffin might have felt like Daniel in the lion’s den.

“We told them they were welcome on campus but that they would have to do something different from small groups, worship and outreach,” he said. “We defined our field of play, what the rules would be and how we would engage these three basic areas of spiritual involvement. We said, ‘Let’s do what we do best.’”

Now, the numbers of students attending weekly Life Group meetings in the dorms, worshipping together on Monday morning in GCU Arena and Tuesday evening in Antelope Gym and helping the less fortunate in their communities and around the world are off the charts.

The key to success has been student leadership, Griffin said. Scholarships were developed to help students willing to step up to the plate, and staff members were trained to coach the student teams.

“In the midst of an exploding campus, we had to figure out how to keep our arms around it, and we became very proficient at mobilizing, training and developing student leaders,” he said.

Students shepherding students

Of the three ministries, Griffin said, Life Groups are the anchor. Buoyed by head life leaders and life leaders, the groups help students from all walks of life feel connected the minute they step onto campus.

Courtney Roth, an elementary education senior, is a second-year head life leader. She meets weekly with 10 to 12 female students in the North Rim Apartments to study the Bible, do crafts, pray and talk. Every other week, Roth, 22, meets with four life leaders to mentor their spiritual growth.

“We’ve created a really good small community where we respect and listen to each other,” she said. “For any growing university, it’s important to have that small community.”

Chris Jennings’ view of GCU’s student body is on a larger scale. A worship leader in the Chapel bands, the 21-year-old lead vocalist performs on the Arena stage every other week. Thousands in the audience sway, lift their hands and sing along in praise as spotlights illuminate Jennings and the other musicians. Jennings’ aim is to reflect all glory back to the Lord.

“We want to create a place where all people can encounter God and see whatever God wants them to see,” said the Christian studies junior.

Jennings is blown away by the increase in attendance at Chapel, which is voluntary.

“The more GCU grows, the more opportunities there are to share the Gospel,” he said. “It’s easy for students to be bitter because of the long lines for food and the crowds, but in all reality, the more people here, the more people can hear the message.”

Through its guest pastors who speak at Chapel, the University is encouraging students to seek and join a local church. Pastor Dustin Tappan, of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix, was emphatic about the importance of the church connection during his October Chapel talk. You can’t follow Jesus on your own, Tappan said.

Griffin has received solicitations from churches wanting to host Sunday services on GCU’s campus, but he turns them all down.

“It would be too easy for students to roll out of bed, walk across campus and call it church,” he said. “Our hope is that, by bringing in compelling pastors from churches down the street to speak at Chapel, students will be persuaded to go out and join their churches.”

Creating those bonds now is important for students because, all too soon, they will be graduating and leaving GCU.

“If our students go into the other real world and have opportunities to interact with Christians, our kids can serve and be connected with these people,” he said. “That broadens the scope of what life can be about outside a college campus.”

Jennings, a leader at his church, is partial to theGathering, a more intimate worship experience where students sit on the floor and the band is on their level, not on a big stage. It’s what sold Marra Pearson on GCU.

Prayer ministry expanding

During her first visit to campus in November 2011, Pearson initially felt no special connection. Then she attended theGathering and saw dozens of students who couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving worshipping with their GCU family.

“God rocked my world then and told me, ‘This is where you are going, and you are going to be a light in the darkness. This is where I want you to be,’” said the sociology and communications senior.

She became involved in Spiritual Life’s prayer ministry, and this fall, with fellow students Stephanie Hall and Jess Dotson, she helped launch a prayer warriors program to cover the influx of students and their prayer needs. Each Monday, Pearson solicits prayer requests and divvies them up among the 50 warriors who then pray with and for individual students.

“It’s just easy to get lost in the shuffle with the growth, so it’s been cool to reach out this way —  hearing their hearts, praying for them, connecting them with other people,” said Pearson, 21.

Other new programs included prayer partners, which matches students one-on-one, and “Surrender,” in which groups of students pray for direction in helping others on campus, in large and small ways. “It’s cool for people who might not be Christian to see others going out of their way to bless them somehow,” Pearson said. “It’s living out what we are taught to do.”

Prayers also are being said for huge world problems — disease, war and poverty.

Outreach on the rise

Jesus’ ministry wasn’t contained to the place where He lived, and neither is that of GCU students. Cassie Septin and other students spend Saturday mornings in Little Canyon Park, just off campus, teaching and playing with neighborhood children as part of the Canyon Kids program.

“Canyon Kids is something you’re excited about. You pray for the family all week, you are invested in these kids’ lives, they talk to you and you become a mentor for them,” said Septin, 23, a Christian studies senior.

In September, Septin, with GCU students Amy Applegate and Kathleen Bollnow, started Canyon Moms, a coffee-hour type event with the children’s mothers.

“We don’t want them to feel like a project, and we’re not trying to change them,” Septin said. “We just want them to know they’re cared about and loved. What’s really neat is we can see they’re starting to build community with each other. It’s really amazing beyond anything I would have expected.”

It’s what GCU does best.

Contact Janie Magruder at 602-639-8018 or [email protected].


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

(Moses addressed Israel, reminding them of God's deliverance of them from Egypt, and His commands given to them:) "You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out (from bondage and delivered you.). The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear." (Deuteronomy 7:19)

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