Following on my two posts earlier this week, here’s an applicable idea from five years ago…

“Sell me on that.”

That was the encouraging reply from a college minister, during a “consultation” / evaluation I was conducting for his ministry. He wasn’t sure about a statement I had just made, but he was very willing to hear why I would suggest such a surprising notion.

The notion? A college ministry should have introverts on its Greeting Team.

(And while that’s pretty specific, just wait – the principle can apply throughout your student leadership.)

I understand why that idea may be surprising. Indeed, if the Greeting Team is only focused on the act of greeting, then extroverts and other “naturally good greeters” are a logical choice.

But what if a Ministry Team isn’t primarily about

doing a task

but instead is about

getting purposes accomplished?

A Greeting Team isn’t only about the act of greeting. It’s about helping people feel welcomed, along with perhaps other outcomes: helping visitors know “next steps,” getting contact info from visitors, helping connect visitors with others in the ministry, or whatever else you’ve determined.

And when a Team isn’t just for “doing” but is for accomplishing, then establishing teams with various sorts of people simply makes sense. Varied opinions, talents, and approaches are a major asset, as students work together in planning AND doing.

In the Greeting Team example, a diverse team helps

  • details and important actions not get overlooked
  • introverted visitors not be overlooked, and be greeted in ways that fit them
  • the team better evaluate its own effectiveness (from all angles)
  • balance and deepen the spiritual understanding of this specific ministry

Sure, the team may still assign the extroverts to do most of the actual greeting on Tuesday nights. But everyone has a hand in accomplishing the purposes …by praying through the needs, planning based on the purposes, and following through on the plan.

I’ve long called this sort of attention to the outcomes – and planning around those outcomes – as “Backwards College Ministry.”

If a Ministry Team isn’t primarily about doing a task but is instead about getting purposes accomplished, then who might you need on the Team? Imagine:

  • a Recruitment Team with students who do the recruiting AND those who help the recruiting be extra-effective
  • a Social Events Team with skilled partiers AND students who have trouble fitting in
  • a Men’s Ministry Team with solid guys… who regularly consult with the Ladies’ Team about how the ministry’s guys need to grow (and vice versa)
  • a Prayer Team with all kinds of individuals – not just those who have a natural inclination toward or love of prayer, but simply those who know it’s vital and want to do it well (as with any spiritual affinity, having diversity helps maintain health)

Yes, there’s wisdom needed as this all comes together. Not every possible personality, gifting, or skill-set will be a fit on every possible team. The point is to understand ministry teams as more about accomplishing outcomes than doing methods – or at least that’s the way Backwards College Ministry approaches this key area.

To catch up on the concept of Backwards College Ministry, see the series here.

Yesterday, I wrote about the need to make our entry points kind to people, not simply attractive or student-drawing or student-retaining.

Today, a few ways you can do that with your “front door gatherings” (like Large Group Meetings):

Train your greeters (including yourself) to acknowledge new visitors’ plights. For those new to your scene, nothing may be clear. Where do I go? What do I do? Who are you people exactly???

But more than that, it’s important to think about what those new guests are looking for or thinking about. A student who is unsure about “this whole Christianity thing” is far different from a student who’s “trying to find a great college ministry.” But both of those students need someone who’s empathetic, listening, and offering words that are helpful – not just “selling.”

So here’s a surprising exhortation: Choose kind greeters over friendly ones. (Of course, it’s nice to have people who are both.)

Make access easy. Your Large Group Meeting may simply require students people to walk into the front doors of the main building on campus, and all your students are at the same college. If that’s the case, then maybe you’re off the hook here.

But visiting many ministries requires driving someplace, or parking in a tricky parking lot, or walking down a few halls of a campus building not all of the students have had class within. If that’s the case, then you have to do whatever it takes to make getting there easy – not simply so they get there (because they’ll likely get there), but because it’s kind.

Connect with the non-newbies, too. It’s easy to make new visitors the VIPs and leave others in the dust. We have to be careful: The new student may be important to connect with, but so is the student who’s been there for awhile (especially if they haven’t found connections yet). In ministry world, sometimes we “value” the first-time-guest in a way that makes the whole thing seem rather inauthentic.

Ever since I took the opportunity to visit 165 weekend worship services across my yearlong road trip (a trip that was far more about collegiate ministry exploration than about visiting churches), I’ve been a bit of a hospitality addict. This hope for a useful “product” – anytime Christians are doing ministry – bleeds over into much of what I do. And since I get to focus on mobilizing church people to serve on a daily basis, it comes up a lot.

There’s a huge subset of hospitality that one might call “usability.” Just as a functional office chair is more “hospitable” than a tricky one, a college ministry’s Large Group Meeting that makes pathways and resources clear may be far more hospitable than one that simply welcomes people happily but doesn’t really provide clarity.

So this addiction is also what has led me to read things like “web usability” books, specifically Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web and Mobile Usability by Steve Krug. And this quote toward the end grabbed me, especially because it seems to apply perfectly to how we think – or fail to think – about usability in our ministries.

Most of this book has been about building clarity into Web sites: making sure that users can understand what it is they’re looking at – and how to use it – without undue effort. Is it clear to people? Do they “get it”?

But there’s another important component to usability: doing the right thing – being considerate of the user. Besides “Is my site clear?” you also need to be asking, “Does my site behave like a mensch?”

(As Krug explains earlier in the chapter, “mensch” is a “German-derived Yiddish word originally meaning ‘human being.’ A person of integrity and honor; ‘a stand-up guy'; someone who does the right thing.”)

Both of those elements – one in each paragraph from the quote – are things we Christian ministers (of all stripes) don’t seem to think about enough in the activities we offer. It’s tempting to think about the crowd rather than the individuals, to think about the entire process rather than each element in it, and to think about outcomes (like “Will they come back?”) to the exclusion of kindness via usability (“Are we being hospitable, even if it doesn’t affect their likelihood of returning?”).

Just a quick exhortation today, inspired by Seth Godin’s most recent post.

No matter how long you’ve been at this college ministry thing, now’s the time to remind yourself – once again – to be humble before this incoming class.

You don’t deserve to get their attention.

Your campus ministry’s activities aren’t necessarily better than the zillion other clubs on campus.

Students could find Jesus in another Christian organization. They could find Jesus in one of the secular organizations!

Freshmen also shouldn’t listen to you, not right off the bat. They might – because they do that sort of thing – but you should still act as though you need to earn their credibility. That’s not just smart recruitment, it’s hospitality.

We’ve got to humble ourselves before the Lord (and before the incoming freshmen). If he (and they) want to exalt us, they will. At the proper time.

Today, two posts from last year that are likely good food for thought now – because the results could be powerful, but planning (and advertising) will be required.

Behold the Summer Debrief!

Pretty soon your students will flock back to campus, ready to hit the ground running with a new season of college ministry.

Not. So. Fast.

Just as it’s important to follow a Big Event or a Spring Break Mission Trip with a debrief, you should consider holding a debrief for your returning students. Just because their activities weren’t part of your college ministry doesn’t mean they shouldn’t process together what the Lord has done. (In fact, some students’ activities might not have been ministry-related at all, but why not consider what God taught them through a summer internship or vacation with the family?)

I’ve written before about debriefing mission trips:

A purposeful Debrief is one of the best opportunities to help students “lock in” what they’ve learned over the course of a trip – as well as allowing the fruit to “ferment” and grow, as students and leaders share with each other what they noticed, realized, and gained from the trip.

A Debrief serves an evaluative purpose, too, as we ask, “What could we do better next time?,” “What was the most effective thing we did?,” and related questions.

…as well as our college ministry activities:

We can ask students the growth-related questions, too: “What did you get out of this week’s teaching?” “How did that ‘Night of Worship’ impact you?” “What did you realize while you were serving yesterday morning?” “What steps will you take to apply the series we just finished in small groups?”

Couldn’t each of these points apply to debriefing how students spent their summers, too?

Of course, since they’ve all done different things, debriefing may look different. I see a few options; maybe you see more:

  • Hold a large group debrief for all (or some) returning students. They can learn from each other’s various experiences.
  • Debrief students in groups – those who worked, those who did camp, those who did missions, etc.
  • Have students debrief with last semester’s small group leaders, or otherwise debrief in groups of 5 or 10.
  • Debrief students (as much as possible) one-on-one; enlist student leaders or volunteers as needed… even adult volunteers who aren’t normally involved in your ministry (what a cool connection to make at the beginning of a school year).

the post-summer (but pre-fall) reunion

I heard a college minister once encourage other college ministers to organize a “reunion” for all returning students. Right before classes start, or in the first week of school before the first “normal” Large Group Meeting, invite everybody who’d been around last year to come hang out… Don’t advertise this gathering when you’re recruiting new students; it’s just for returning students.

That way, this college minister said, returning students can reconnect with each other, swap stories about the summer, etc. – getting all of that (important reconnection stuff) out of the way. Then they’re ready to be great Hosts for the incoming freshmen and other new students. You need your returning students on point when the new students come, but it’s understandable they’d want to reconnect with old buddies.

This might just help your ministry’s retention rate, too! It’s something for returning students to do right away that’s comfortable and fun and that reminds them of all the reasons they stuck around last year.

Of course, this is also a great time to hold the debrief I discussed above…

Presumably, you’ll be recruiting campus-wide in about a month. And over the summer, you might already have had opportunities to take a broad approach to drawing students, through social media or at new student orientations.

But right now, there are likely students who aren’t simply part of the broad mass of the incoming class. These students know somebody – they’re only “two degrees of separation” from you, “friends of friends,” etc. And right here, in July, is a good time to introduce them to your ministry.

Here are some examples of these incoming students just a couple of degrees from yourself:

  • Friends of your current students. Have you commissioned your present students to recruit their younger friends from back home?
  • Students from your current students’ home churches, etc. Even if they’re not friends, this is a connection worth exploring.
  • Students from youth groups whose leaders you know. Are your acquaintances in Youth Ministry – including any youth ministers in your region and denomination – getting the word out about your campus ministry?
  • Incoming freshmen who grew up in town. You shouldn’t be waiting until August to welcome these students.
  • Students on campus early. How are you getting to know those who have already moved in, begun taking classes, etc.?
  • New freshmen whom your supporters know. If you’ve raised up Ministry Partners in a variety of places, are they helping you recruit?
  • New freshmen your overseers know. Are the staff members of your church or your regional directors sharing about your ministry? Have you helped give them tools/words to do that?

My wife and I spent a quick babymoon in New York City this weekend, and we got to chatting about the wide variety of churches even in that city. There’s quite the spectrum there, a bit of which we saw by attending Nelson Searcy’s Journey Church and comparing it to Tim Keller’s Redeemer Pres, which we had both visited in the past.

The common mantra – about differences in churches and differences in college ministries – is that different kinds of ministries draw different kinds of people. That makes sense.

But the question for us is this: Who is your ministry drawing? Are you drawing a certain type of student, predominantly? Are you student leaders similar to each other, or are they very different from each other?

And following on that query, the more important question is this: However homogeneous or diverse your ministry, would you say you’re building that kind of ministry on purpose?

Yesterday, I highlighted two web site elements worth including on your page – elements that won’t take a lot of effort to install.

Today, I’m posting two more elements that I stumbled upon in the recent “Secret Shopping the Sites” series. But these, while very worth putting on your college ministry web site, could require some effort to build. Still, it’s worth learning about methods from other ministries, right?

1. A Series without Prep Time! Until I ran across it on one Chi Alpha chapter site, I had forgotten that their national office publishes a yearlong podcast series on the Holy Spirit. Obviously, Chi Alpha (as a product of the Assemblies of God) has distinctive views on this area of theology. So it makes sense that they’d want to share those distinctives and the practical ramifications with their students – many of whom don’t have Assemblies backgrounds.

Clearly, every college ministry has distinctives. Whether it’s talking about the church your ministry is connected to, your denomination’s distinctive doctrines, or just your organization’s BIG IDEAS, you have some “pillars” that you wish all your students could learn. A static – but always available – podcast or video series can accomplish that very thing, while helping students feel assimilated as they learn.

2. Don’t Hide It Under a Bushel. On the Cru site at UCLA, service opportunities – one opportunity in town and one for the campus – are listed as part of their main activities, right on their front page. But sadly, that’s definitely more common to see on church web pages than on the sites of collegiate ministries.

In what ways are you calling students to serve their town or their campus? If this is something you’re doing, you should definitely include it upfront on the web and in your ads – students will be drawn to serving, and boldly advertising service highlights it as a value.

And if this isn’t something you’ve put into your ministry yet… maybe you’ve got some time to work on deciding which students you’ll ask to start it this fall?

In the process of developing my recent “Secret Shopping the Sites” series, I ran across a few elements worth highlighting. (These aren’t sites I ended up examining in that series, but I took note of these great elements.) Today’s elements tie in directly to how you develop your social media; tomorrow’s continuation will offer two more that are a little more involved but could be very profitable.

1. Pointers for Parents. One element that does simply mean putting something on your site(s) is the introduction for parents. There’s a pretty great one at Texas Tech’s RUF page, complete with a few really exemplary inclusions:

  • It seems to capture the character of their ministry, instead of just “advertising”
  • It addresses significant questions that are likely to arise (like what they mean by “Reformed,” and – indirectly – helping parents understand this is an orthodox, mainstream ministry)
  • It answers the infamous “Will you contact my kid?” question
  • It highlights the presence of other Evangelical ministries on campus
  • It addresses the opportunity to help fund the ministry, but in a winsome way

This is certainly something that any kind of collegiate ministry can develop – not just campus-based ministries.

2. The Church Page. The InterVarsity chapter at University of Chicago offers a church listings page, wisely introduced as including the places you might find other IV students on weekends. Three points here:

  • It’s hard for a campus-based ministry to claim it’s “pro-church” without actually including church as part of it’s discipleship (and church lists are one very easy way to do that)
  • Even if regular students don’t always pay attention to a college ministry’s web site, incoming students – the ones who need to start looking for churches even before they show up in town – are likely to
  • Of course, there are a couple of branches for whom this might not apply: church-based college ministry, and collegiate churches. But in those cases, hopefully there’s some thought about the inverse: Helping your students locate valuable on-campus ministries, especially if your ministry isn’t able to provide the entire “scope” of missional discipleship for your students.

Look for more tomorrow!

This is one of those instances where something I’m learning fits the blog… but it might be something many of you are well ahead of me on.

I’m learning golf.

I’ve never been a golfer. I had played one – maybe two – “best ball”-style tournaments for my Christian fraternity. But you can be terrible for those.

But with a father-in-law and brother-in-law who play, with guys in my church small group who play, with another brother-in-law who plays, with coworkers who play… I’ve realized the merits of getting “just good enough to hang out occasionally.” It’s hard work, and it’s not always something I feel like doing. (And plenty of times, it’s pretty fun, too.)

What have you learned – or “learned” well enough to hang out with your students – since becoming a college minister? This may have meant reading books your students were reading (even if you couldn’t care less). It might have been video games, or sports, or fandom at your campus. Being “on mission” among your particular campus tribe might have meant learning enough to have a conversation about engineering, or architecture, or politics, or finance.

Obviously, it’s all a balance. You have to discern where to spend your time and your money. But sometimes, we let ministry become more about a narrowly defined view of what’s either “spiritual” or “organizational,” and it gets harder to spend our time – in ways that seem less efficient or less productive – gaining what’s pastoral.

But this summer, while you’re doing everything else to prepare for next semester, you might just need to pick up a book.

Or some clubs.

Welcome to Exploring College Ministry

After ministering to college students for 8 years, I've spent the last 6 years trying to help push our whole field forward. This meant, among other things, a yearlong road trip, an e-book (Reaching the Campus Tribes), exploring 250+ campuses, consulting, writing, speaking, and more. I love any opportunity to serve college ministers or to consult with churches and others about reaching students better. To learn more, explore the header links or the tools below.

...and if I can help your ministry directly (or you want to support my mission), contact me!


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