By Carolina Lumetta
Although the number of Wheaton students volunteering through the Christian Service Council (CSC) has increased slightly in the last 10 years, there is still much less participation than in the organization’s recent history. Assistant Director of School Year Programs Jared Falkanger, who oversees the CSC, thinks the decrease in numbers is due to increased busyness and changing attitudes toward off-campus ministry among Wheaton students.
The CSC, which operates out of the Office of Christian Outreach (OCO), offers students weekly and one-time volunteer opportunities, such as tutoring and evangelism, in Wheaton and the Chicago area.
Although exact numbers have not been monitored since there were 239 students in 2014, Falkanger reports that in recent years there have been around 400 students involved. In 1984, there were 803 students, the highest since numbers were first recorded three years prior. Other programs in the OCO like the Youth Hostel Ministry (YHM) haven’t experienced a similar decline.
According to Falkanger, there is now more “competition for the ability and time to go away from campus” than when the CSC was more popular. The program was one of the few organizations that brought students off-campus, until President Ryken’s initiatives to “globalize the Wheaton education” created opportunities like Global Programs and Studies (GPS). This allowed students to serve in places other than the area directly surrounding the college.
A greater emphasis on globalized learning is not the only possible explanation for the decline. As an alumnus, Falkanger has also noticed a rise in campus busyness over the years, especially when it comes to academic events. “When I was here as a student, I thought I was busy,” he said. “But now, as measured by room reservations on campus, [busyness] has increased by 25%. Every week there’s a different type of lecture or programming.” Director of Scheduling Services Karen Kim confirmed there has been a 25% increase in event space usage on campus since 2014.
Senior and Student Director of the CSC Julian Petoske said that the OCO is designed to help students get out of the classroom and engage with issues that they may have only ever discussed, but it can be difficult for some to find ways to participate.
“There’s not a lot of understanding that we exist,” he said. “We also have eight different organizations, so it can be hard to see how to get involved. It can be confusing. There are also a lot more steps in the OCO than maybe there needs to be. And that’s just because of how it’s set up.”
Falkanger also cited ideas such as those presented in Steve Corbett’s book, “When Helping Hurts” as fueling “paralysis” in Wheaton’s student ministry programs. Corbett’s book suggests that some smaller-scale efforts to alleviate poverty are actually harmful to helping the poor. Falkanger thinks that these ideas only prompt students to be hesitant to serve. “We can spend so much time evaluating methods and critiquing how things are done that we never actually go and try something,” he said. “We don’t want to do something incorrectly or we don’t want to be labelled incorrectly. People just decide to not go and serve. There’s more retreating and less engagement.”
Chantelle Stewart is a sophomore and the chaplain of Global Urban Perspectives (GUP) this year. GUP offers students service opportunities in cities around the world, from church-planting in Manila to running day camps in Woodlawn. Stewart thinks some students may find it difficult to serve off-campus because many of the opportunities are not in the immediate area, but asserts that volunteering is a necessary part of Christian life.
“I think it would be helpful to have more [service opportunities] in the surrounding areas because it makes it more accessible,” Stewart said. “However, people should be willing to serve, even if they’re not familiar with the location. Service should not always be dependent on distance.”
Falkanger encourages students to “go off campus, partner with organizations and communities who are working on these issues and learn from workers face to face.” He also thinks volunteering off-campus is more reflective of life after college than going to lectures or watching documentaries. “Those are important parts of the conversation, but there’s also lived experience,” he said. “Because when you leave Wheaton, this is what you’re entering into.”