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

This week, I’m looking at things I’ve learned about the art of mobilization – getting people who are already present to take a next step of involvement.

And one of the most important aspect of mobilization is simply making sure students know those next steps. You already do this in some way, through announcements, emails, etc..

But how often do you repeat those calls to action? Remember, you and your student leaders are the people most committed to your college ministry. You’re also the ones who show up the most! What’s more, you spend hours behind the scenes working on the ministry, working on that very road map of involvement you hope students will follow.

So it goes without saying that you (the college minister) and those main student leaders are more familiar with involvement opportunities than anybody else. By far.

And that gets us in trouble. Because it’s so easy to feel that they’ve heard that opportunity already or that we’re beating a dead horse here. But often, some students haven’t heard. And the ones who have heard aren’t nearly as worried about repetition as you are. All of them need to hear. Again and again and again. (This same issue comes up with casting a vision for our ministry, teaching through the basics, etc.. We have to be willing to repeat, even if we can use different words or illustrations or testimonies or even speakers to do so.)

So repeat yourself! Over and over again throughout the semester, remind your students of the involvement opportunities in front of them. If you don’t feel self-conscious about it, if you’re not feeling like it’s “needless repetition” yet, then you’re probably not saying it enough.

One thing I’ve learned about getting people involved is that targeted mobilization can be really valuable – both for a ministry and the people who receive our communications. How much of your communication – from advertisements around campus to the messages sent to those inside your ministry – is shared narrowly instead of broadcast?

For instance, when’s the last time you sent a message specifically to those students who had been part of your ministry for a year or more, but still hadn’t gotten into a small group? Or do you ever tailor your on-campus ads to the dorm they’re posted in, or to specific groups that you’re trying to reach? And this August, why would longtime students read “Welcome to our ministry” when they could get a “Welcome back – here’s how you can go deeper” message?

It’s hard to come up with examples, because I don’t know your specific ministry. But there are two fantastic aspects to targeting our mobilization “pushes”:

  • We can tailor our communication to the audience
  • Our students don’t get as many messages that don’t apply to them

You’re always going to have all-ministry messages out there. But if you can think through ways to target some of your communication, that communication is likely to have a better impact.

This week, I’ll be looking at something I get to think about every day: how ministries mobilize their members. While I specifically focus on getting church members involved in serving in the community (and the world), the approaches and theories are easily applied to college ministry. So this week, I apply them!

First, let’s define what I mean by mobilization: Increased involvement. That’s it. I mean getting students who darken your door more involved, or even simply involved in something. It’s “recruitment” for those who are already showing up – recruitment to something else, whether that’s a small group or a service project or student leadership or even simply showing up again.

Second, there’s one principle that’s vital if you’re going to care about what I write this week. It’s more-than-hinted-at in the title of this post, in fact:

Our mobilization of students can only be called “strategic” if we purposefully use an explicit strategy.

In the ministry world, I think we’re bigger fans of calling our work “strategic” than actually employing strategy.

Strategy implies that we are sitting down, far outside the hustle and bustle of activities, to develop plans. We pray through these plans, we share them with others, we tweak them, and we tweak them again. It’s a process. Often a lengthy process. But in the end, we come up with plans for getting students from Point A to Point B. Or Point B to Point C, as the case may be.

These plans are specific, based on specific purposes. We actually write down a list of what we want people to do as a result of our actions. We have this list of purposes in front of us as we’re developing the plans (not the other way around). The plans must work toward the purposes, or they’re not strategic.

Then we march, via those specific plans, toward those specific purposes. That’s the idea of strategy.

And I have to preach these reminders to myself all the time. It’s easy to do plans before purposes, and it’s easy just to “run plays” and call them strategic. They’re not… unless they involve actual strategy.

We’ll be talking about mobilization strategies this week.

Yesterday I noted that we have an excellent disciplemaking platform anytime we’re preparing a message; bringing students alongside us in the process allows a college minister all sorts of explicit and implicit shepherding during that time. The same is true for letting younger students “apprentice” under student leaders or other volunteers, as they too prepare to teach in our Large Group Meeting, in small groups, or at other times.

Expanding on this just a bit (and adding some practicality), I wanted to list some venues AND assignments where this might work well. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive but simply can jumpstart your own brainstorming.

Ways to Involve Students in Teaching Prep

  • A group of students meets weekly as a “teaching prep team” to talk through the teacher’s plans for the Large Group Meeting message
  • A student serves as a research assistant, searching out anything from illustrations to related Bible passages to historical facts for your message or a series
  • Students who have shown aptitude in biblical studies each take a Bible commentary for your upcoming walk through a book of the Bible; they bring to your attention any unique insights or textual difficulties along the way (and learn the text really well in the process)
  • You put students in charge of developing the related resources list, which you offer to students at the end of each message (these shouldn’t just be books, but can be articles, videos, online sermons, etc.)
  • You put students in charge of developing the mid-week discussion questions following the teaching time
  • Students develop and author your small group curriculum
  • If your ministry’s small groups all use the same material or plan, a group of proven students might share their insights with small group leaders before those leaders teach the students under them

If your ministry has a weekly teaching time, then that message needs to get prepared. If you (or student leaders) do some sort of teaching in small group settings, then those times involve preparation, too.

And these “prep times” might just be an overlooked opportunity for discipleship.

Many church pastors do “sermon prep” with teams of individuals under their leadership. While there may be a few different reasons for doing this, one of those reasons is that it provides an awesome opportunity for raising up and sharpening leaders.

A variety of reasons for not doing this are likely to pop into your head here. Put them to the side, just for a moment. What good might come from involving some student leaders in your prep? What good might come from student leaders involving other students in their prep?

Could you do this in a way that worked and didn’t zap your strength?

Right now, your students are in places where people are talking about the Border Crisis. At their internships, home churches, summer jobs, and other locales, it’s news. I realize we may hear about it more often here in Texas than in some states, but as best I can tell it’s making news in lots of places. Do you ever wonder how well they’re representing Christ in those discussions (regardless of where they fall politically)?

A broad, related question: Are you serving your students by providing them with tools for gaining a biblical perspective on issues like these? What about this fall: Will your students discuss politics with any notion of thinking them through Christianly?

There are resources for this, teaching opportunities, small group possibilities, books, email-able articles. College ministers can’t just shepherd in personal piety and growth without giving tools for living out that growth in every realm of life. On a college campus, every college ministry should be helping students think about this biblically… because they’re already thinking (and talking) about this anyway.

Politics, the elections, and certain issues (like immigration) are gonna be a big deal this fall, once again. Will your campus find a Christian witness in this discussion? Will that witness come from your students?

I don’t know what your summer ministry looks like; summer programming is one of the wider variances between college ministry types and organizations. But there’s still a good percentage of you involved in gathering, leading, and impacting students right now, in some fashion or another.

And interestingly enough, many of the students you impact now will NOT be around in the fall. Maybe they’re part of a summer project under your watch, maybe you’re holding a campus-based ministry gathering of those attending classes this summer who – for whatever reason – won’t all be attending in September. Or maybe you’ve got a church-based ministry made up of students who grew up in your church… but who mostly attend school elsewhere.

Here’s the thing: We know that passing the baton with excellence is the job of the college minister. We’re meant to do that on a regular basis with our students as they graduate; a successful hand-off to a great church for their young adult years proves (or disproves) a lot about our college ministry’s effectiveness.

But this is key: We (for the most part) “pass the baton” not by explicitly helping graduates assimilate into a great ministry. We’re probably not making a lot of phone calls, Googling great churches in the new cities they move to, or contacting their new pastor to help them plug in. Instead, we successfully pass the baton by discipling students for the transition, paving the way for their speedy procurement of continued discipleship and ministry opportunities.

So that brings us back to our present summer.

Many of the students you’re seeing in July won’t be graduating right away… but they will be elsewhere this fall. Yet I’d argue we have the same role: discipling ANY students for the transition ahead. It’s not just our job to provide them with worship and great teaching, with fellowship events or ministry opportunities this summer. It’s also our job to prepare them to be radically and healthily impacted in September, wherever they may be.

How are you preparing your summer flock to be amazing sheep in others’ autumn flocks?

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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