Sharing An Exponential Gospel
Posted in: Stories
Word came out of Naval Station Great Lakes (NSGL) that the Cru Military® Bible study had gone from a dozen sailors to nearly 1,000 in just weeks. It sounded impossible.
“That’s quite literally how it went,” said Gabe Garriga, the local director.
At NSGL, the Cru Military team has 10 weeks with the new recruits in the Recruit Training Command (RTC) boot camp. Chaplains invited the local team to hold a Bible study based on the Spiritually Fit – Ready to Serve (SFRS) booklet. Covid halted the meetings for a while, but nine months ago, they returned and wondered how hard it would be to restart.
“Everything was rebooting,” Gabe said. “Even the sailors had to get used to going back to chapel services again. It started off pretty good.”
Cru Military was given a large room on Sunday mornings in the base chapel. They divided the sailors into four groups and held two different classes—Alpha, a class in the basics of faith for new sailors, and Bravo, a continuing class for sailors who returned for more Bible lessons.
“There were few enough sailors that we could have the two different classes in two corners of the room with no problem,” Gabe said. “A few months into that, the Bravo class started growing. Sailors started hanging around longer and coming back more consistently.”
Friday Night Revival
The base leadership asked the Cru Military team to move to Friday nights so sailors did not have to choose between the chapel service or the Bible study on Sunday morning.
“We wondered what the drill instructors (RDCs) would think about allowing recruits two opportunities to get out of other things for the Bible study and chapel,” Gabe said. “We wondered if that was really going to fly. We had a lot of concerns if this would work.”
This time, they were given two different classrooms for the Alpha and Bravo classes. They increased to 20 to 30 in each class.
“We had good interactions and good questions in those groups,” Gabe said. “I was seeing a lot of familiar faces. The sailors were coming quite consistently. So, I started asking them how many times they had been there. Some had been five or six times. We only have one class for Alpha every week and three alternating classes of Bravo, then it starts over again. So some of them came back and heard things twice.”
This consistent attendance was new to the team. In the past, some recruits had come once or twice and then dropped out. But these recruits were hungry for more. The team added an additional lesson to the Bravo class. Attendance began to increase even more. The rooms that held 50 people overflowed. The next week, they got an even bigger surprise.
“We walked in that Friday expecting to do a normal two-classroom setup,” Gabe said. “As soon as I walked in the door, the chaplain and the Religious Program Specialist (RP) met me and said, ‘We are going to move you to the main chapel,’ which is the big room. It can hold 1,000.”
Leadership made the move based on registration. The recruits sign up on Wednesday for what they will attend on Friday. The chaplain saw that there were too many for the two rooms and made the scheduling switch. But he also added the rule that there would only be one class in the big room.
“So we pivoted,” Gabe said. “I think we had 150 recruits that day, so we doubled. We went from 80 in the two classrooms to 150 in the big classroom.”
The leaps in attendance continued to surprise the team—from 150 to 180, then to 214. The next Friday it hit 290.
“It was jumping by whole class sizes,” Gabe said. “Then it leapt to 507. We were so amazed, but we just kept going. There was a learning curve as we learned how to get all of the recruits into the building and seated on time.”
After they had 507, attendance increased again the next week to 701!
“It was growing exponentially faster,” Gabe said. “The first Friday in August it went to 825, then 915. We have been hovering about there ever since. It’s been harder to gauge numbers. The room seats about 1,100, so we just count the empty seats now. It was such a sight to behold. We started looking for reasons. Of course, first, it was an answer to prayer.”
Another reason for the increased numbers may have come from a simple name change. One sailor told Gabe that they used to sign up for the “Sailors for Christ” meeting, but the name had been changed to just “Bible Study” a while ago. Gabe wondered why the change had occurred, but didn’t really give it much thought. Later a Catholic Chaplain pulled him aside and said that he had changed the name of the class in the schedule, hoping it would attract all Christians from all denominations looking for a Bible study on Fridays.
“He was afraid ‘Sailors for Christ’ was confusing—like what does that even mean?” Gabe said. “But ‘Bible Study,’ that is pretty self-explanatory. I believe God gave that piece of wisdom to that chaplain to make that call so more Christians would come. I thank God for that.”
During this incredible time of increase, God also increased the number of volunteers assisting Gabe and the team with the Bible studies.
“To even get on base, you have to take a volunteer class with the Navy,” Gabe said. “They are only once a year, and we never know when it is. But now, we really need more volunteers to help with the larger classes. Lo and behold—I get an email that they were going to hold a volunteer training right away. We were able to get a lot of new volunteers from the surrounding churches and get them through the navy training.”
Hundreds Of SFRS Booklets
Volunteers help with set up, computers and sound set up, coordinating sailor volunteers, teaching and handing out the SFRS books.
“We give each recruit an SFRS book and tell them to bring it back since we will be going through it for the lessons,” Gabe said. “As they are coming through the door, volunteers help distribute the books to new people, people who forgot theirs, and people who just want another one for any reason. We go through about two cases each Friday—about 500 books.”
Gabe and the team know these sailors will be moving on soon. So, they try to encourage them to make spiritual connections at their next duty station.
“We have cards that list different schools around the country that sailors generally get sent to,” Gabe said. “They have the chapel service locations and times at those schools on them.”
The team at Naval Station Great Lakes hands out about 150 Spiritually Fit – Ready to Serve (SFRS) booklets to new sailors they come in contact with at their Bible study each week. But there are thousands of booklets already in use as each Bible study has nearly 1,000 sailors attending. Many bring their SFRS booklet back to use for the study. Caring partners make this type of ministry possible by donating funds to print the books for free distribution.
We thank God for the incredible way He has moved in the hearts of the recruits at NSGL. As this group of recruits moves on, Gabe and the team will wait in faith and hope to see what God will do with the next batch of recruits.