What Do You Do When It’s Not Working

The Dartmouth baseball coach once said to me, “Craig, in the Ivy League, it’s not about wins and losses . . . unless you lose.” The Navigators corollary to this is, “In ministry, it’s not about numbers . . . unless nobody shows up.” Last year was a discouraging ministry year. Only two freshman women really got involved. No freshmen men. Only three students continued from the year before. Our staff and I really wrestled over why things were not working at Boston University, the largest campus in Boston with 15,977 undergraduates.

Many friends prayed­—

We thought about quitting, but this year things are different. Although He didn’t need to, God has graciously brought in some great people. Here’s a bit of what’s been happening at Boston University since September.

During freshman orientation, we had a drawing for gift cards. We had tables at various locations including SPLASH (the student activities fair). We were one of hundreds of student organizations vying for the chance to connect with the 3,900 new freshmen on campus.

After spending a week encouraging students to fill out cards indicating if they had interest in talking about spiritual things, we had the names of 477 freshmen and upperclassmen who showed interest in learning more about what we’re doing. But would it work? Would anybody show up?

Then we prayed and reached out—and students responded. Here are some of those numbers that “don’t matter” until you think about the people behind the numbers, and how their lives can be changed:

  • 60 people showed up at our first Navigator dinner.
  • 15 people started coming to Bible study consistently, including five to seven guys each week to our freshmen men’s study.
  • 30–35 students are showing up at our “Nav Night” each Thursday
  • 30 students attended our fall retreat in New Hampshire.
  • Students from Berklee College of Music, Bunker Hill Community College, MIT, Harvard Medical, and Emmanuel College have also gotten involved.
  • We’re engaged with 15–20 students in sporting events each week.
  • 21 students signed up for community service with us in East Boston recently.

All of this activity is great. But what really encourages us is when we see God at work in the hearts and lives of these students. One highlight was when one of the students who joined us at our Nav Night shared a bit about her faith journey.

I was confirmed as a Catholic in Brazil, but then I gave up on God through high school and college. It is only since being involved with The Navigators this summer that I have decided I really want to believe and be a Christian. Thank you for everything you do.


  1. Thank you, Gilbert! One of the leaders I admire, Donald McGilchrist, who is now with the Lord, once said, “The Navigators is an organization that dares to gauge its success in ones and twos.” The post you read is from a few years ago. Our ministry at BU has continued slowly and surely since then. About 1/2 of our ministry has an international background – our recent October retreat with 43 students featured 18 nations of origin, including Ghana. Thank you for your encouragement!

  2. Wow!

    Very encouraging. I live in Accra, Ghana and planning to start bible studies with some young folks in my community. Been praying and wondering whether it will work or not. This encourages me to continue praying into it and start and rest in God to do His work.

    Thanks for sharing

Leave a Reply

By commenting, you agree to our Code of Conduct.