No. U of C IVCF is what's called a "para-church" ministry (or if you want to be fancy, a "sodality"). We're a group of Christians called into a particular mission field: the University of Chicago. But our ministry is in addition to, not in place of, the local church. We value our relationships with churches in Hyde Park/Kenwood/Woodlawn, and encourage all IVCF members to find and attend a church.
UChicago IVCF is an RSO (an recognized student organization), advised by the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities. Our staff are religious advisors recognized by the University.
At the University of Chicago, "Intervarsity" refers to 3-6 different student groups, depending on how you count. If we are to make "every effort to keep the unity" (Ephesians 4:3), then why divide ourselves into so many groups?
Undergraduate MEIV and AAIV
The question comes up most frequently as people compare the two undergraduate chapters: Multi-Ethnic InterVarsity (MEIV) and Asian-American InterVarsity (AAIV). Our answer arises out of how we see God working at the U of C. We believe He is shaping each chapter into a unique witness on our campus. As Paul writes, "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone." (1 Cor 12:4-6). Both groups, then, are surely united under the same Spirit, but minister in specific ways using the unique gifts God has provided.
When considering which fellowship to join, we encourage you to ask: "What is God calling me to right now? What challenges should I be seeking in worship, and what type of witness is he shaping me to be?"
An Asian-American student might ask: is God calling me specifically to be a witness to my Asian-American friends, and should I learn more about how the tradition of the Christian faith meets and intertwines with Asian-American culture? Or is God asking me to challenge myself by stepping away from my cultural ties to understand how He works in many traditions?
Each person may answer that question differently. Clarence, a Chinese-American, answered the questions one way--and served four years in MEIV, including two years on our core leadership team. His younger brother Philip answered the questions differently--and had a fruitful ministry as a musical worship leader in AAIV. Both of them made the right choice.
Both groups work with the same vision in mind: to be a witnessing community for Jesus Christ on the U of C campus. But we know that God calls us to be specific witnesses at specific moments. We encourage you to challenge yourself by seeking how the Lord might teachyou and use you during your time here.
Graduate GCF, CBSA, and other groups
In U of C IVCF's early days, there was one chapter containing both undergraduates and graduate students. But in the late 1980s and early 1990s, graduates and undergraduates began meeting separately. On the graduate side, these meetings evolved into Graduate Christian Fellowship (GCF).
Why did we separate? We found that, while all members were united in the Holy Spirit and Christian love, the concerns and challenges facing graduates and undergraduates were (and are) different. For instance, all students face the question of "vocation"--but for an undergraduate this may mean, "where is God leading me after college?" On the other hand, a graduate student may ask: "Now that God has led me into academia, what does it mean to be a Christian mathematician or a Christian chemist?"
Another example: for undergraduates, "witnessing" usually means sharing Christ with friends, classmates, and roommates. Graduate students do this too, but also wrestle with other questions--for instance, if and when a Christian TA or instructor can be open about his/her faith in the classroom.
Our fellow Christians in the professional schools face their own set of challenges. Booth students, for instance, feel keenly the issues of financial stewardship and employee relations. Law School students serve the Prince of Peace in a largely adversarial system of justice. Students in the Pritzker School of Medicine grapple with questions of bioethics, patient dignity, and intellectual pride. To meet these needs, Christian students formed the Christian Business Students Association (CBSA), the Christian Legal Society (CLS), Pritzker Christian Fellowship (PCF), and SSA Christian Fellowship. InterVarsity staff support and advise GCF and CBSA, and we maintain friendly relations with the other Christian groups.
The future: more or less?
Will there ever be a merger of all groups into one single group? Probably not, though all groups remain open to God's will on this matter. The history of IVCF, both in general and at the U of C, seem to indicate that bigger is not always better. At present, our divisions strengthen our ministry, as we proclaim God's love for every person in the University, from President Zimmer to the newest first-year.
Whatever your academic status or University affiliation, Intervarsity welcomes you.