Christian Union

  • Religion
  • 2002

The successful Campus Crusade model for religious work on college campuses (see 1951 entry) asks missionaries to raise their own funds and moves them from institution to institution. The Christian Union is distinctive in raising funds tied to particular schools. When donors contribute to Christian outreach at a specific college, the funding stays there. Christian Union is also unusual in its focus on bringing the evangelical message to a particular type of setting—the predominantly secular world of the Ivy League. Founder Matt Bennett, a Cornell alumnus, recognized that graduates from these selective schools will end up as “leaders in so many places in society,” and “we need people who have the values of Jesus Christ” in those slots. So the Christian Union now operates on the campuses of Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania.

While the group seeks to find, create, and encourage believers, its primary focus is on Christian leadership development. Instructors take eight to ten students through a book of the Bible each semester, seeking lessons for living. They also provide two specialty courses: one for freshmen on sex and spirituality, another for seniors on vocations. The group offers one-on-one mentoring, a weekly lecture series, book giveaways, and conferences as well.

At Princeton, the Christian Union now attracts 500 students per year to at least one of its programs. That’s about 10 percent of undergraduates, making it one of the more successful student groups on campus. The Harvard chapter attracts 200 participants.

Though most of the students already are believers when they become involved with the Christian Union, students experience religious conversion through the group every year. Student demand on its campuses is outstripping fundraising, despite an annual budget of about $6 million. Many of the union’s hundreds of donors are Ivy League alums who wish they had had access to such a program when they were in school. Others simply agree with Bennett that “if we want to see the nation change for the better, people who are in leadership in culturally influential institutions have to have the right values. That’s why we do what we do.”