What if you established a goal for 10% (or so) of your activities to be somehow integrated with the campus?

So maybe that means every couple of months for you, or maybe it means once a semester. (It kinda depends on how you define “event,” too.) But whatever the case, you purposely get the members of your ministry into the campus – maybe you’re tailgating before a game, attending a campus-run event, joining in another club’s activity, etc.

In any case, being a valuable member of the campus tribe shouldn’t really be optional, should it? Daniel gives us a guide, I suppose, and our witness demands it. But it’s also a college minister’s chance to teach his students these skills, which are pretty easy to undertake now, on a fun-and-bubble-like campus, but will have a greater level of difficulty when they hit the young adult world.

Now’s a good point in the semester to find your missing children.

It’s likely that, for a variety of reasons, students who were formerly “all in” have stepped back their involvement in your college ministry. If you’re a small ministry, this is easily noticeable. (Although the danger, even then, is that we assume we’ll notice and then… don’t.) In any ministry that draws more people than you (the college minister) can talk to in a given week, you’re not likely to notice someone who’s around a lot less than they used to be.

But someone should have noticed, right? Small group leaders, friends, etc. And so now would be a good time to reach out to those students – whether that’s staff or student leaders doing the reaching. Not all their reasons for missing will be concerning; in fact, some might be exciting. But whatever the case, we’re charged to know the condition of our flocks. And seek the single sheep.

And if we don’t have a reliable way to figure out who’s slipped back, then that’s probably something to work on for the future.

College ministers are often slow to talk about “vocational theology” – theological processing of what “calling” means, and how to be a good employee. One reason for this is because their students aren’t clamoring for it. Unlike talks about dating (for instance), most students haven’t been out in the “working world” in the way they plan to after college. So they don’t even know to ask.

Many students don’t think about “working” as the primary Thing They’ll Be Doing for the next forty years (at least). For one thing, it’s just not something they’ve experienced, and who has big plans to prepare for something they can’t even picture? Meanwhile, many Christian women may be assuming their “work life” will transition neatly into staying home with children within the next few(ish) years, making it easy to skip preparation for what they believe will be a short-term “necessary evil.” And lots of students – guys and gals – see work as just that: a “necessary evil.” Others may have the dreamy view that their particular calling will be always enjoyable (which decreases the felt need to discuss these things, too).

So why not talk about timeless topics or issues they face today?

But your students – all of them, really – will go to work. They’ll have a vocation that follows college, a calling to some sort of labor that – biblically – isn’t a necessary evil but a beautiful piece of their calling in the world. And whether they love it, hate it, or somewhere in between, they need to see it through the lens(es) of scripture and discipleship.

And chances are, nobody’s prepared them for that… yet. They didn’t grow up hearing many sermons (if any) directed at their parents about vocation and workplace worship. Nobody gave them a crash-course in discerning vocation when they arrived at college (or in their youth group). Even those students who are working a job now are unlikely to consider it spiritually, because they’ve never been trained to.

Of course there are exceptions, and this theme is (happily) growing in Christian circles. But college ministers will still be the main opportunity to equip people here while the calling itself is being understood and its practicalities are being formed.

Annually, I note the particular Super Bowl highlight college ministers (or at least nerds) should be intrigued by: the schools represented by this year’s starring squads.

Why care? Because it reminds us that college ministry can make a difference on lots of kinds of people, including some who may use their talents – whatever they are – on a national or world stage. Of course, we don’t aim only to impact the people who will play games between expensive commercials. But it’s still kinda reflective of the opportunity we have on campus, no?

This year, SB Nation helped me out and has a full list of the schools represented by the Super Bowl rosters. (The video at the top has no connection to the article.) They also write,

At the school level, Ohio State’s alone at the top with six [players in the Super Bowl]. Auburn (all on Carolina), Georgia Tech, and Tennessee tie for second with four each. Six schools have three players on one roster and none on the other; Florida’s three Broncos and Georgia’s three Panthers put some minor bragging rights on the line. (Keep reading here.)

Of course the SEC was well represented overall, including by the quarterbacks: Cam Newton attended Auburn, and Peyton Manning was a Tennessee man. Von Miller, Super Bowl MVP, is a Texas A&M Aggie (Whoop!). All in all, there were about 90 schools represented on those two rosters, including football powerhouses you’d expect (Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Alabama, etc.) but also a long tail of schools that wouldn’t be expected to produce NFL players with regularity.

Meanwhile, college ministers might also have had the chance to impact the national anthem’s singer, Lady Gaga, at NYU. Coldplay’s members (the halftime headliners) met at University College London. And Morehead State, the University of Houston, and the University of Michigan were likewise well-represented by announcers Phil Simms, Jim Nantz, and Tracy Wolfson, respectively.

What if for every message you offered a few resources (articles, books, Bible passages) for students to read after-the-fact?

What if for every message you offered – the week before, maybe, or in a preview email – a few resources to ready themselves for what’s being taught?

The biggest argument against this? Few students might take you up on it.

But my counterargument? You always want to be resourcing the kinds of students who would.

Plus, it wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) take too much time. You’re already preparing for the talk (or someone is), so the peripheral prep becomes a students’ own deeper dive. Or you can always sic a sharp student (or team) on this if needed.

(Here’s a related Fridea – about pointing students to books.)

In most churches, the “connection card” is a staple, letting new visitors (and sometimes longtime attenders) communicate with the staff about their presence, their prayer requests, and potentially their questions.

Many college ministries have their own form; when they do, it’s usually available as new students walk in the door or up to a welcome table. But I think we can learn from our “big church” counterparts on this, or at least from some of the better examples. One key for hospitality here is to treat the “form” not simply as something for you, the college ministry leadership. The form can itself be a sort of forum, a chance for the students to gain something and to interact with you.

How? Here are a few ideas:

  • Let them ask questions on the form
  • Let them indicate (by checkbox) what they’re interested in (either “next steps” like “Tell me about joining a small group” or areas of emphasis like “service projects”)
  • Ask them their First Impressions of your ministry – while this info is ostensibly for the leaders, it’s a really encouraging thing to be asked, too
  • Use the form to reveal some aspects of your ministry (as in the checkboxes bullet above)
  • And then, of course, follow up – and follow up with someone who’s ready to answer questions and connect, not just provide a copy-and-paste email

Yesterday, I wrote about making sure students know that we believe ALL of their collegiate experience (and life) connect to the Lord. So here’s an idea from the past that helps make that clear – and helps students make those spiritual connections.

A while back, a brand new college minister I knew had an idea: As Fraternity Rush season descended on SMU’s campus, why not hold a forum to help students work through that decision? Kaity’s testimony involves the sorority world (before and after she came to Christ), and the Greek system is certainly a big deal at that campus tribe.

Her original idea eventually turned into a student-led panel discussion, and I believe they did it multiple times through recent years.

This is the kind of event you could hold for all sorts of choices, from selecting classes to choosing a major to finding friends or “special someones.”

I love this idea for a few reasons:

  • It can highlight the fact that choices are very important. Most students have no idea how much entering a fraternity, joining the ROTC, switching majors, or studying abroad will actually affect their lives. And sadly, they’re probably hearing a lot more “Rah rah you should do this” from present participants (or even their own parents) than they’re hearing “Let’s talk about pros, cons, realistic expectations, past experiences of others, and biblical wisdom.”
  • A “decision forum” doesn’t just give the students the straight dope about how these decisions will affect them, it allows for them to see the theological nature of these decisions. All decisions are spiritual, but sadly our students don’t realize that. This gives us the chance to let them see it – with a topic they’re probably highly interested in already.
  • Obviously, picking something that’s a “campus hot topic” (like Sorority Rush) may draw an audience that doesn’t normally connect with your college ministry.
  • …and it could also be a chance to bring multiple campus ministries together.
  • Panel discussions are disciplemaking with a BONUS of wisdom-from-many-counselors. Could we be more biblical?!

Again, this method can apply to all sorts of decisions: A panel of juniors and seniors discussing how our class choices affect learning and ministry opportunities. Alumni sharing how to choose (and when not to choose) a summer internship. Alumni discussing a successful transition out to the Real World. Sophomores sharing how they chose a major – and why it matters. Students helping fellow-students process the uber-important how-to-spend-my-summer decision. Even Christian students helping pre-freshmen process decisions about what to be involved in before classes start.

And of course, panels don’t just have to be about choices, either. They can be discussions about any facet of the up-and-down collegiate existence.

Because it’s all about God, ultimately.

In case you’re wondering, my pic is of the Chi Alpha house at Arkansas.

College ministries have a variety of approaches to ministry – from giant rally to small huddle, from theology-forward seriousness to outreach-focused excitement. And many ministries have all those elements at different times.

But one thing I’ve noticed is that – in bigger college ministries especially – it’s easy for some of the more “obviously spiritual”* activities and emphases to drown out the explicit connection of God to “everyday details.”*

*Two caveats: By “obviously spiritual,” I mean everything your students are most likely to categorize as “religious” or “spiritual,” from evangelism to theology discussions to Bible study to service projects. As you’ll see, I reject that these are the only spiritual activities, but hopefully my point is clear. Secondly, by “everyday details,” I don’t mean to imply that theology isn’t absolutely crucial or even somehow “less applicable” in the daily activities of life. Again, hopefully I’ll be clearly indicating that it is – that all of life is a spiritual (and therefore theological) pursuit.

Caveats over.

I wonder if your students really see you, your staff, and other leaders as truly concerned with the very things they’re texting with their friends about right now: the awful test they just took, the internships they’re considering this summer, getting along with a boyfriend, trying to work their way through school, and so on. Are they approaching the people leading them for wisdom on these things? Or even just a listening ear?

Connected to that – and likely influenced by that – is their understanding of God’s involvement with those things. Do they see their spiritual lives as inseparable from the tasks and to-do lists of life, from their vital and casual relationships, from their present in a classroom and their future in a workplace? Or are those only things to be generically prayed about on occasion – possibly only in “Prayer Request time” – and then handled like anyone else would handle them? And is the only wisdom they’re seeking from friends, because they see you guys (and God) as involved only in that “obviously spiritual” stuff I was talking about?

Toward the end of seminary, I realized that even graduate school allows for some level of “transfer credits.” So while I quite enjoyed my school, I took the opportunity to attend courses – in my case, two specialized Greek classes and a “Faith in Film” course – that weren’t offered at my institution.

I was only highly disappointed that I didn’t figure out the opportunity earlier. Not only was this a fantastic chance to get access to something new, but I also got to learn alongside different types of people. So I didn’t just get to take a class on the Book of Acts in Greek, for instance, but I got to take it alongside Christians who view the early church differently than I do.

Anyway – I really just wrote all that as a metaphor for this week’s Fridea: Look for additions to your college ministry activities outside the fold of your own organization or church.

This week I had two conversations about this very thing: One college minister at a Christian school was considering helping his students connect with Cru mission trips, alongside his normal denominational offerings. And another, a church-based college minister, was looking at attending a conference produced by (and almost entirely made up of) members of a parachurch college ministry.

In your own town, churches likely offer everything from women’s Bible studies to weekend conferences to service projects to mission trips. And your college minister compatriots are readily connected to collegiate-specific opportunities, like the two mentioned above and far more. (Many of the denominations and national parachurch orgs have some fantastic curriculum and tools, too.)

So how ’bout it? As you’re looking under rocks for new opportunities for your own students, could you consider moving beyond your own homegrown stuff? To quote myself, “Not only is this a fantastic chance to get access to something new, but your students also got to learn alongside different types of people.”

I think it’s easy in ministry to slip into “productivity for going-home’s sake”: The faster or more efficiently we can “do work,” the more time we’ll have for non-ministry.

(I know this doesn’t apply to all – plenty of college ministers are better understood as 24-7 campus missionaries. Still, this is something I’m learning.)

It’s good for me to realize that productivity is about being faithful, not just keeping my work-family-God worlds balanced. If I’m more productive, then I’m more effectively stewarding God’s call on my life and people’s trust in (and financial provision for) me. Listening to a productivity podcast, reading an efficiency book, or just spending time pondering some personal-system adjustments all take on a sort of spiritual discipline aspect, then, as we look to the Lord to shape our productivity through these and other means.

We shouldn’t just be looking for wisdom from many counselors for our ministry events, but for our ministry to-do lists, too. And we shouldn’t just seek to reflect God’s glory and impact best through excellence in the former, either.

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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