Usually my “Frideas” involve simple, straightforward methods you can use in college ministry. Sometimes they twist an old idea; often they’re a little “out of the box.” But today’s idea – though it is straightforward – is a lot “messier” and less simple than most.

But when it comes to our recent series – about getting your students more involved than they already are – this Fridea fits perfectly.

When all is said and done, helping our most plugged-in students fully use their gifts and talents in our ministries will require more “touch” than any previous mobilization. It’s simple enough to recruit students from scratch, making the all-call to a waiting campus using various advertising charms. Likewise, pointing new students to small groups isn’t so messy either – “Here are the groups. Get in one.” Ministry-wide events are easy to promote, too.

But what about beyond that? What about the students who are fully plugged in but might be asking “What’s next?” It’s a little harder to provide the all-call to them.

Not every student is going to have a passion for your homeless-feeding ministry, so beyond giving them that “taste,” how will they find their fit? The same is true for leadership positions – some are called to Tech Team, some to Events Team; “Not many of you should presume to be small group leaders,” James 3:1 says (I think), but some should.

And if your ministry isn’t “high touch” for these already-involved students, they’re unlikely to be mobilized as far as they could be.

So that’s today’s Fridea for the first day of August, as the start of the semester starts breathing down your neck: Devise your strategy for helping involved students figure out how they should plug in even more.

This doesn’t mean you have to be the one shepherding them in this. Training your small group leaders or other leaders – whomever is most likely to know students best – is probably the best option anyway.

But at some level, you or other “top leaders” may have to be available for those who get stuck, who want to be guided into their next great opportunity… who may even need to create their new opportunity, since none of the present options fit them very well. Yes, this means a lunch, or an hour in the Student Center, or devising (or finding) some simple tools to help these already-committed “find their mission.” Maybe even spending some weeks mentoring a student.

It will be messy and time-consuming because people are different, and the ones running in ministry the hardest are the most different from each other – because they’re learning who they are and how they can serve best.

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of urging our students to go deeper in involvement through longer-term commitment.

However, we know our students, right? They’re pretty commitment-averse. So if we’re calling them to commit to a small group (for instance), we may have an uphill climb if they’ve never done that sort of thing before.

As a way to balance that out, I think it can be really helpful to provide on-ramps for just about every “level of involvement” we offer. What would this look like?

  • For small groups, it might mean offering a five-week group for anybody new. (This is also fantastic for conveying certain points that you want the entire ministry to know and that will pay off later – like the value of committing for the long-term, or the role of community in someone’s life.)
  • For service, this is where “one-off” opportunities might come in: They provide a great “taste” of service, in hopes that some students will return to that cause or group to serve more.
  • For ministry teams or even leadership, it could mean serving on a short-term leadership team, like a mission trip or big event planning team.

There are other options for each arena, too, but the goal is giving a “taste” that’s true-to-life but also a smaller commitment.

Mobilizing college students – helping them go deeper in their involvement – doesn’t always mean urging them to do new things. Sometimes the best mobilizing we can do is teaching our students to stick. A deeper commitment equals deeper involvement, right?

For college ministers, this is of course our common complaint – students jump from ministry to ministry, or they dip in and out of various elements of our ministries.

A couple of thoughts in this arena:

1. How clearly have we really taught our students about this? Have you clearly taught them that it’s better to “go a mile deep and an inch wide” – and taught them why that’s true? If we never teach them commitment but then expect it, we’re being obnoxious at best and legalistic at worst. Teach ‘em why they should persist with small groups, why they should serve others in an ongoing way, why it’s better to go all-in with ONE ministry (even if it’s not yours) than to hop from ministry to ministry.

2. In a subject that’s near and dear to my heart – serving others – we may even breed the abrupt-engagement model. How often do we promote one-time service projects, instead of long-term service relationships? There’s a lot to be said for big events and one-time projects – as on-ramps. But they shouldn’t be seen as the pinnacle for students who have been involved for awhile.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time talking about ways to better mobilize students, based largely on what I learn in my job (which involves mobilizing our church’s people). By “mobilizing” I mean helping those who are already attending get more involved – from the first-time guest who needs to hear about your small groups, to the long-time attendee who should be thinking about service, or leadership, or something.

Sadly, college ministers are regularly tempted to spend far more time on recruiting than on mobilizing – but while there are ways to make recruiting a form of discipleshipmobilization is directly connected to helping people grow. And it’s vital for a healthy ministry in all sorts of other ways, too. So hopefully here, while we’re still mid-summer (barely), you can take some time to think through your ministry’s mobilization plan: After you get all those new people in during August and September, what steps forward will they take between September and May?

Enough of the re-introduction to this series; time for today’s quick thought:

One of the most important parts of mobilization is providing clear, published opportunities for involvement.

We can spend a lot of time constructing an “events calendar” for our ministry but never make it obvious for new people what their next steps are. Do we want people in small groups? Serving their community on a regular basis? Volunteering within our ministry? Perhaps aspiring to lead within our ministry someday?

Then we need to tell them. Maybe it’s a web page – something straightforward like, “yourcollegeministry.com/steps,” that lists ways to get involved. Maybe it’s actually on paper (on the back of that Events Calendar you’re handing out anyway?). Maybe you actually (quickly) recite the steps every time your ministry has a Large Group Meeting.

I’d vote for doing all three. If it’s not achingly redundant to you (the college minister), then it’s probably not clear enough for your students.

And if it’s not clear to your students, then you shouldn’t assume they know it’s expected.

I’ve been catching up on America’s Got Talent (it may or may not be on as I write this), and it reminds me of a few important realities for college ministry.

There’s a tricky balance – wherever ministry takes place – in handling the “talents” of those in our ministry. On the one hand, some ministries seem to err on the side of letting just anyone “take the stage” – leading others, running a small group, using skills those people believe they have – without much (or any) vetting, “proving,” or patience. On the other hand, many other ministries seem to require all attendees to spend months or years “just attending” or working their way through the same cookie-cutter funnel, despite the fact that these individuals may have many years of growth and ministry experience behind them (yes, even with some of our college students).

So what’s a ministry to do?

The “ideal process” likely looks a little different for every college ministry. And no, it doesn’t look like a “talent contest.” But using America’s Got Talent as the metaphor (and only a metaphor!), here are some thoughts:

  • Standing in a (long) line: It’s great to have a bit of a proving process, even when we only have students for a short time. A semester of servanthood and committed attendance isn’t asking too much from anybody.
  • Getting in front of the judges: It’s good to require something of students before they lead – an application process, a proving time, maybe even occasionally “references” from past experiences. And it’s good for a certain level – of skill and especially spiritual maturity – to be required, too.
  • An open casting call: But it’s also great to have some forum where “just anybody” can – at the very least – reveal how they would like to lead or serve. Even if someone’s a freshman, a recent transfer, or a senior about to graduate, how can students “become known” quickly enough to get them involved (if they are indeed ready and able)?
  • An inexact science makes for a better spectacle: America’s Got Talent isn’t American Idol; the former is a haven not simply for singers but for dancers, strongmen, magicians, musicians, comedians, and more. In the end, you might have to create “slots” because a leader steps forward – not simply force every leader to fit a preordained position.

I last posted this idea in my “Going for Broke” series, which offered some rather big ideas – perfect for considering before the year starts!

What if, mid-semester, you took a week off to let student leaders truly “run things” – whatever “things” compose your ministry on a weekly basis?

The idea is straightforward enough, but here are some thoughts if you need ‘em:

  • Leader qualifications still apply: Students who wouldn’t shepherd other students when you’re present certainly shouldn’t while you’re absent.
  • Your “absence” is a relative idea. Some college ministers might give students the reins but keep a present, watchful eye. Others may choose to step out completely – to “go for broke” – and simply be “on call” all week. (Or if you really want to emphasize the delegation, go on vacation!)
  • Of course, it doesn’t have to be a full week OR you don’t have to be absent from everything. It’s your call.
  • Be sure to prepare your students well. And remember that the preparation may mean MORE work in the weeks leading up to this, so plan accordingly!
  • Be sure to debrief your students when it’s all done.
  • Prepare yourself: for a weird ministry week, for God to teach and stretch and come through in unexpected ways… and for students to come up with some great new methods that you’d never thought of.

Oh, and one more:

  • Don’t smile too much at your students’ challenges, and repeat after me: this isn’t revenge, it’s discipleship!

As always, we start with purposes, not with a “cool idea.” If this method doesn’t match what God desires to accomplish now in your students and in your ministry, shelve it; it might come in handy later on. If you do give this sort of thing a try, don’t forget that it won’t only disciple your students, but it will give you the chance to assess how well you’re raising them up. (Scary, huh?)

This idea has a “Fridea” sort of ring to it, but I couldn’t wait: What if your college ministry spent one day serving the campus next semester?

It might mean everyone doing something together; in large ministries it might mean hundreds of man hours, all across campus. No, students don’t skip classes or other commitments – they just rotate in whenever possible. But whatever your situation and the logistics involved, this event – and the process leading to it – would be a chance to see an abundance of gains:

  • In your students’ love for the school
  • In your ministry’s understanding of the school’s needs
  • In your students’ growth in servanthood
  • In your ministry’s reputation on campus
  • In your ministry’s role as part of the “campus tribe”

Summer slows down for me a bit, so I’ve had the chance to press forward on the theory and strategy side of my ministry by reading a variety of books. I don’t mind – in fact, I kind of prefer – having multiple books working at once. So it’s been a joy crash-coursing on an important topic for my present work: methods for and philosophy of mobilizing people to serve in the community.

I don’t know what your summer looks like, but here’s one thing I can guess is true: There’s at least one portion of your college ministry which, if you improved during this summer, would truly impact the ministry as a whole.

So the question is, can take the time this summer to make that advance?

Could you take a couple of days, or an hour every day for a couple of weeks, or a retreat, or some other “crash course” to move the ball forward in that area? Sure, a crash course is not the only way to learn – maybe not even the best way. But it can work for certain topics, and college ministers are once again just a month or so from the crazy start of school. So maybe it’s best for college ministers sometimes.

If you HAD to choose something to take a crash course on, what would it be?

This may be a plenty boring Fridea, but it’s important – and hearkens back to what I wrote on Monday: That only strategy is truly strategic, that unless there’s an element of planning and plotting and tweaking and wisdom-seeking, we can’t really call it strategy.

And so today’s Fridea is part of “doing strategy”: Make a calendar of your “mobilization moves” for the fall.

Because unless our mobilization efforts get scheduled, they’re likely to slip far enough down the priority list that they never happen. (Mobilizing students to greater involvement will probably always feel less exciting than recruiting new students, for instance.)

What are the sorts of things to calendar? The things I’ve mentioned this week, and more:

  • Messages you’ll send to specific groups of students (starting this summer, perhaps!)
  • Times you’ll repeat opportunities to get better involved in the ministry (in announcements, messages, through small group leaders, etc.)
  • Moments when you’ll make involvement opportunities (like small groups or leadership positions) available – and moments you’ll make them available again
  • A selection of “on-ramp” opportunities for different involvement levels – like large group service projects, short-term small groups, or leadership training studies – that you strategically stagger throughout the semester
  • Casting the vision for the ministry as a whole, several times through the year (to create further buy-in)
  • Strategically staggering student testimonies (on-stage, on video, or in print) that share about finding different levels of engagement (from the guy who came to Christ all the way to the girl who’s been leading a small group for two years)

This week, we’re looking at ways to get students more involved in a college ministry, and yesterday I noted the importance of regularly repeating the next steps available to them.

Today, a “repeat” of a different kind: Making sure that students’ next steps are open (or re-opened) several times through the year.

A college ministry is too fluid a thing to only offer entry into a small group once a year (or even once a semester). Unless you’re getting NO new students, those students who come shouldn’t have to wait ten weeks (or ten months) to jump in to community.

(This focus on keeping opportunities open – or re-opening them occasionally – can affect your recruitment, too. Notes on that below.)

The same should hold true for other “levels of involvement,” at least as much as possible. I’ve written before about staggering yearlong leadership posts so that some begin in January, for instance, and others in August. (See the bottom of this 2010 post for more on that.) Plus in some ministries – especially if they’re just starting with leadership teams – it’s probably better to have semester-long commitments anyway.

Where else can we provide multiple entry points throughout a semester?

  • Getting on a ministry team (like greeters, or the social media team, or any other team you have)
  • Leading a small group (because you’re trying to open new ones through the year, right?!)
  • “Recruiting” itself, both on-campus and within the ministry: If the only time we focus on greeting visitors well or casting the vision for the ministry is at the beginning of a year or a semester, we’re missing a big chance
  • On-ramp opportunities: Your new-student-focused parties, information gatherings, or service projects don’t have to take place only at the beginning of the year.
  • Mission trips, retreats, conferences, and other big events: Obviously, you have to have a cut-off for signups. But are you delaying those signups so that the maximum number of new people can jump in? If students have to sign up in the first few weeks, you’re unlikely to get a lot of people who are aren’t extremely familiar with your ministry yet.
  • Becoming known: Sadly, if a student doesn’t arrive within a certain “window” in some ministries, he or she doesn’t really get known for that entire school year. Some of the above options would help that change, but this is really something to look at for your campus ministry.

I noted above that this impacts recruiting, and I truly believe it does: in TWO ways!

  • People who come are more likely to come back when a next step is obvious and imminent
  • Present students have a lot more inroads for inviting friends; they can choose the best “entry point” instead of having to offer (only) your Large Group Meeting

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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