Chi Alpha Chaplain Leads Dozens of Frat Members to Christ

When John Konkel became a Chi Alpha campus pastor at the University of Minnesota in 2005, he did what a lot of people do to reach the college campus crowd — coffeehouse ministry. But one day, as he walked by frat row, God placed a burden on his heart . . . was anyone reaching out to these guys?

The question was a light bulb moment for Konkel. But how does a chaplain get invited into frat houses, which have a stereotypical reputation for not being havens of morality? God’s answer to Konkel’s answer? Grab a toilet bowl brush, some other cleaning supplies, and start making phone calls and knocking on doors.

“Initially I started by just cleaning toilets,” Konkel says. “Then I grabbed a Chi Alpha student and we spent the summer cleaning frat houses free of charge; we’d vacuum, wash dishes, clean toilets, and while we were at it, we’d build relationships with those guys.”

DOORS ONCE AGAIN OPENED

When universities were built in the early years of America, having a chaplain on campus was very common as many universities were founded by Christians and were strong proponents of the Christian faith. The spiritual heritage and formational beliefs of many of these institutions have long since been abandoned.

Yet, what if that spiritual component was no longer dependent upon the “top-down” model where a board of directors and school president may have no consideration of Christianity? What if the message started with the students?

“I wanted to pitch the idea of having a chaplain to a lot of the fraternities on our campus, but I needed an invitation to attend the yearly frat council meeting,” Konkel said. “So, I started by calling frat presidents, and one of them responded. He wasn’t walking with the Lord, but something had been stirring in his heart to read the Bible . . . he thought having a chaplain for his frat would be a good idea.”

Konkel says that the president took the idea to his chapter and they voted on it — they thought it was a great idea! That was 2007.

“For the next 15 years, every year, I’m permitted to attend the frat council meeting and pitch to all the frats the idea of having a chaplain,” Konkel says. “What I’ve found is that after I make that pitch, especially the last three years, students have started to contact me as they’re dealing with things like anxiety, depression, addictions, suicidal thoughts, alcohol — underneath it all is a hunger for Jesus!”

MOVE OF GOD

Konkel shares that two years ago he led 16 frat members to the Lord. Last year, in a very unique COVID year, he led 20 to the Lord. This year, he’s already seen 38 frat guys make commitments to the Lord as their Savior in just the first semester!

“I was able to speak at a chapter last week, my last chapter for the semester,” Konkel says. “This particular frat has a yearly initiation process and now that includes a spiritual direction night that I’ve been able to lead the last two years!”

Konkel, who is a district-appointed missionary, works together with Ryan Koster at the university along with Chi Alpha missionary associates and interns.

“John and I are both Chi Alpha directors,” Koster explains. “I lead more the typical Chi Alpha model with undergrads and small groups while John focuses on Greek life and athletes — meeting with each chapter, sharing the gospel, discipling guys . . . he mostly works by himself, but he is still part of our team as we work alongside each other in partnership.”

Koster, who says the entire team is excited and encouraged by the dozens of recent conversions, believes that Konkel’s success is due to his faithfulness in continuing to reach out to houses with the gospel. He also points to the pandemic as it has heightened people’s awareness of the importance of relationship.

“There are a lot of students in Greek life dealing with loneliness and wondering how do they have real, committed relationships — it’s what the heart is longing for,” Koster says. “And then you have John, pointing people to the ultimate relationship with Jesus, and the time is right and people are ready to respond.”

Koster, who notes that there has also been a growing response within the traditional small groups of Chi Alpha, adds that what has always impressed him about Konkel is his integrity, simplistic approach of just loving the person in front of him, and his hunger to share the gospel.

“Whenever God opens a door, he boldly walks through it,” Koster says, “and it’s resulted in a lot of fruit (decisions to follow Christ) because of his obedience.”

Konkel believes that the potential for what God is doing reaches far beyond the frat houses.

“There are few, if any, subcultures on the college campus larger or more impactful than fraternities and athletes,” Konkel says. “On the weekends, a huge chunk of what student life looks like is tied up in sporting events or Greek parties. What if God comes and breathes life into these subcultures? That can transform a university!”

THE INDIGENOUS FRAT CHURCH?


Since beginning to reach out to fraternities by cleaning toilets, Konkel says he has now become the chaplain for many of the fraternities on campus. He can freely walk into a meeting, where he is known and recognized. And as a fraternity chaplain, he is permitted to engage other fraternities that don’t have a chaplain.

Over the years, Konkel says he has accumulated numerous stories of the Holy Spirit at work in the frat houses, where students and even frat presidents have felt convicted of their sins — for no “apparent” reason — and have needed to talk to him. Many times that conversation leading to conversion.

“What’s really great is that recently I had a frat president contact me after a meeting,” Konkel says. “He wanted to start a Bible study, just him and me. After a while, I encouraged him to invite other frat brothers, and now we have eight guys coming. And when that president transitioned out of leadership, the new president joined our group.”

Konkel says that his vision is to see more presidents within frat chapters become part of or directly leading Bible studies.

“Imagine,” Konkel muses, “frats taking leadership in leading campuses to Christ — it’s almost like planting an indigenous church.”

And as Koster observes, “The harvest is ready!”

 

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