Next in my series, I Googled upon what – I think – is a Baptist campus-based ministry up north. Here’s what I noticed:

No cheese, please: This visit started a little rough. I was immediately greeted with some cheesy rotating front-page pics that didn’t just include a posed photo of the group, but also some very large, very Christian clip art. The site design wasn’t ugly, but those things detracted in a big way. Remember: a site that has one of those “sliders” with a rotation of multiple pictures doesn’t have to use it. Also, I’d personally prefer candid shots of your group. But maybe that’s just me.

Churches up front: I always appreciate it when campus-based ministries (or Christian colleges) share suggested churches (and are obvious about it on their page). It’s hard to claim a campus-based ministry is “pro-church” if there aren’t practical steps for helping students find one.

Road to nowhere: Sadly, though, about a third of the front-page buttons took me to “under construction” pages, including some buttons indicating very interesting ways to get involved. That’s really too bad.

Events right now!: Unlike plenty of sites, the events calendar here actually had upcoming events, even in the summer. That’s a big win. Your calendar doesn’t have to be perfect to feel current – they did have an event from a couple of weeks ago listed, but the other two events are truly upcoming.

An embarrassment of resource riches: The high point of this site was a bank of resources for all sorts of spiritual growth topics. These short, topical articles cover a range of pertinent issues. This is great for students who know about it, plus a bevy of great links for you to use with students who ask specific questions.

But who are you?: Finally, I would definitely want to beef up the “Who We Are” section of this campus ministry web site. The blurb about the ministry gave me nothing unique (except the campuses it serves). On another page, the bios of staff were pretty solid (but likewise short). I think students – at least the kinds of students that will click around on your page – want to know you, their college minister. I’d even consider a full bio about yourself – why not? Nobody has to read it, remember.

My first stop in randomly-selected college ministry web sites is in the north, at a Cru chapter that seems to be bustling.

Let me note that my intention with these “site visits” isn’t to pick on anyone. I get a little uncomfortable ever talking about “negatives,” because I’m such a fan of college ministers. I know the work is long and the field is rocky, to say the least. Time is short, and creating great social media isn’t easy.

So I simply make some observations in hopes of making us all better.

Here’s what I noticed about this one example:

Up front with the gospel: The rotating banner across the front page asks evangelistic questions, allowing anybody looking to encounter the gospel. Using some of Cru’s famous evangelistic techniques – like the question, “Do you want to know God personally?” – visitors have an immediate chance to get the gospel. Not all ministries would want to lead with this presentation, but for a ministry that does, it does it clearly.

Up front with options: Because this Cru chapter (like many around the country) actually serves multiple schools, it’s great to see very obvious “buttons” to choose. Navigation isn’t nearly this easy on a lot of web sites.

A downer: On the other hand, some of the front-page text describing one of their campuses simply informs the reader that nothing is happening regularly. Clicking deeper, I found out that plenty is taking place; they just don’t happen to have a Large Group Meeting right now. So even though that campus doesn’t have a Large Group “front door” to report, it doesn’t make sense to describe things negatively rather than positively.

Updates, please: On the front page of the site, Twitter, Facebook, and Flikr are linked. But…

  • The Twitter feed has three total entries,
  • and the last Flikr pics seem to be five years old.
  • The Twitter feed is actually incorporated into the front page, too, but simply announces there that no public messages have been made…)

Remember, there’s no mandate to have several social media sites. Sure, it makes sense for reaching today’s students. But if you can’t keep something up-to-date – and yes, it’s a tricky task sometimes – then it’s not worth it. In this case, it seems they realized the first part (that not all social media is necessary) but forgot to remove the links.

On the other hand, it seems that Facebook is the preferred online venue for this Cru movement, with individual sites for the campuses they reach. Honestly, I almost wish the web site domain could simply redirect to Facebook – or at least the buttons for the individual campuses could.

Static is super: The web site, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a lot of built-in need to be updated regularly. That can be a great thing. Web sites can be static representations and solid, permanent advertisements for your ministry, provided there are other venues in which students engage.

Template language: Finally, I noticed a lot of language (by far the majority on the web page) that seemed to be “template” or “boilerplate” language describing Campus Crusade’s work nationally and around the world. Very little seemed to describe this specific Cru chapter, or even to be written for a collegiate readership. (It felt more like it was written for parents or supporters.)

But this is the site they’ll find: Yet this is the site – not Facebook or their other social media – that comes up first on Google (with a variety of web searches for Cru (or “Campus Crusade”) + the city or the campus).

Steps to Better:

  • Get a student on it! As is often the case, a student or two could easily – and radically – update this page. Even if you still wanted to leave it static.
  • Remove any mentions of social media that isn’t updated.
  • Highlight the Facebook pages as the main venue for getting connected. Put multiple references throughout the site.
  • Make sure the language is student-friendly, but create a parent/supporters section with the more “adult” information about your chapter AND Cru itself.

For a fun summertime series, I’m going to randomly select individual college ministry web sites (and other “online presence,” like social media). I’m not planning to pick on anyone here – no need to reveal which sites I’m looking at.

In evaluating each site, I won’t only look at some “pros” and “cons” of the site, but I’ll note some other things along the way. So you’re bound to find some ideas for your own ministry, along with areas you might want to “audit” or update on your own web site.

But first, a few notes that come to mind already:

  • Online presence matters in the summer. It’s easy to let this slide over the summer, but you’ve got potential students checking you out. And hopefully you’re actively engaging incoming freshmen in every way possible – which includes both via your own social media and getting your present students to do the same.
  • Online presence is easier in the summer (if the ministry is fairly dormant). If you serve with a campus-based ministry or Christian College, chances are you can put some pretty static things up on your web site and other tools. Even social media might not need to be updated as often, depending on your summer approach there. Just create some forward-looking awesomeness, and update it when you have something new to share.
  • If it terrifies you that I might pick your site to look at… As you consider your web site (and every other “web presence”), is it “summer ready”? Or does it still list events as “upcoming” that are two months old? Would it be attractive and exciting to the guy who just graduated from high school and wants to land someplace at his new university?
  • Students can (and should) help: Even while they’re away.

For years, I’ve been recommending the “crowdsourced collaboration” method for college ministry conferences. These “whiteboard sessions” have been some of the most profitable opportunities for me as a college ministry learner, as well as being really fun to emcee on occasion. (You can read all about the method here, and read why it’s so helpful here.)

But there’s another method I haven’t promoted quite as much but love equally (or more). I think it’s something worth trying – and you don’t need a conference – or me – to do it. You will, however, need a college ministry expert (and that doesn’t just mean someone who’s experienced, but someone who has seen multiple contexts and ministries in action).

The goal of this type of “consultation” is for the “expert” simply to serve as a sort of staff-member-on-loan. You (or you and your team) sit down with him or her, ready to discussion whatever topic is most pressing: recruitment, small groups, planning for the long haul, connecting with other college ministries – anything, really. You share what you need to about your ministry (to give the expert some context).

And then you simply discuss.

The job of your expert isn’t to tell you what to do (if he’s really an expert, he won’t assume he knows exactly what you should do). Instead, he offers specific ideas of what he’s seen, or what he’s tried. He throws out what he might do or try in your situation. Much of the time, he’s just asking thought-provoking questions or noticing “holes” in your approach or potential tweaks… the kinds of things an outsider is able to ask or notice or suggest.

And in 30 minutes or an hour, you receive a wealth of “aha!” moments and “huh!” moments and notes on what to try next.

The whiteboard sessions work well because lots of college ministers – from various contexts – get the chance to share their collective wisdom. The “brainstorming sessions” work because one college minister serves as a “funnel” for the experiences of many to offer focused feedback, ideas, or questions on a topic of the college minister’s choosing.

Last week at the conference I attended, I ran into a handful of college ministers from different contexts – a Bible church guy, an RUF guy, an Independent Christian Churches guy, and a CCO guy. And it was great to be able to talk to them about their ministries, and know something about their organizations’ approaches and distinctives.

You should be able to do that, too.

Maybe not all of those efforts, but the ones that are represented on your campus. (In fact, I’d be surprised if too many campuses have that exact mix. Although now I’m intrigued by the personal scavenger hunt this beckons me to.)

But I know that in the midst of college ministry, there are numerous occasions you should know something about the other “mission outposts” on your campus. And I mean knowing something beyond what you know about the college ministers themselves, or how big the ministry is, or what kinds of students attend it.

When do you need to be familiar with another ministry (and the organization behind it)?

  • When a student is weighing which ministry they should join (so every August, basically)
  • When students go from your ministry to another (or from another into yours)
  • When you’re connecting with those ministers relationally
  • When you’re weighing new opportunities on your campus, or various ways to reach your campus, or any sort of effort that might lead to cooperation

More than anything, though, I find myself simply wanting to write that “we should know because we should know.” It seems fairly self-evident that anytime we’re engaged in ministry – but especially in something as radical and “lonely” and comprehensive as collegiate ministry – we should have a working understanding of the other missionary endeavors working within our selected tribe.

Right?

Shouldn’t we be fairly familiar with the denominations, campus ministry organizations, and individual churches that are represented on our campus? After all, our recruitment efforts should include conversations that end with, “You should also make sure to check out ______________ ministry, too.” And that moment is coming just two months from now (or even this summer).

So summer is a great time to research those ministries a little, of course. (And one great place to start is my “Profiles of Groups and People” category.) Have fun. I bet you learn some stuff you didn’t know.

How likely is it that your college ministry will make some minor “shifts” between August and December?

Or the better question is, How much room will there be for making some adjustments between August and December?

There’s much to commend the practice of planning your semester ahead of time. Heck, plenty of college ministers plan their whole school year. From the teaching plans to the events, from each student leader who will serve to all the ministry teams they’ll lead, putting those things on paper lightens our thinking-load to do the work of the semester.

The problem is, it also makes it easier not to follow. It makes it harder to ask God about responding to the mission field before you. It means it’s tricky to notice trends in your ministry – who’s coming, what God’s up to, what’s happening on campus, etc. – and then respond to those – even if they comprise God’s invitation.

Of course, you can plan a lot of things and write down a lot of plans and still be flexible. Planning isn’t the problem. The problem is not creating space to re-plan, to re-think, to ask students and staff and campus members the kind of questions that will invite small (or big) adjustments.

We don’t always give ourselves space to “roll with it” – to respond semi-fluidly to the God Who Does Big Things in our midst.

For some ideas on what you might need to adjust for, click here.

If you have a student leadership team – formal or informal, written-down or assumed – then this quick thought is for you. (And it applies to other volunteers, or even staff.)

You’ve heard the Good to Great principle of getting the right people on the bus, then into the right seats. The latter describes making sure everyone on the team is in the best possible position (for them and for the organization).

Are your leaders – from the ones leading ministry teams, to small group leaders, to musicians during your large group meeting – maximizing their potential in the role they’ve got? For each person, is this role their “best and highest use”? Or is there a different role they’d really be better in – either because they’re “underperforming” where they are, or because they’d be excellent in that new role?

You don’t have to wait for the usual “leader selections period” to make the change.

Maybe your annual “leadership term” is August to May. If so, then switching things up right now will be easy (or unnecessary, if you’ve chosen perfectly). Or maybe you recently put new leaders in place before the summer, or you have a staggered term, or your leadership is perpetual (including with adult volunteers or staff). Then this might be a little tougher.

But switching people’s “seats” worth considering, and it’s often worth doing. Sure, a small group will be sad if their leader needs to change. And yes, there will be a learning curve for the new guy on the sound board or leading your evangelism team. But you have to be open to this, and brave enough to do it when the opportunity arises.

And whether there’s an opportunity to do it now or not, you should probably set a reminder to check it again in December!

As you know, I spent this past week with 1,000+ people at the Acton University gathering in Grand Rapids. A conference about the intersection of faith, work, and economics, it was refreshing to hear a whole bunch of Christians talking about how our daily lives get lived “Christianly” – even (and especially) for those of us who don’t get paid to do “ministry work.”

The field of collegiate ministry doesn’t have a great history here, sometimes preferring to treat future ministers as “rock stars.” For the biggest ministry, shifting from this overemphasis meant developing their “100% Sent” plank. A history of overemphasis on vocational ministry also meant that a college ministry like CCO could carve out a very effective niche. (It was fun running into a CCO staffer at the conference, and I was surprised I didn’t find more.)

From what I saw at Acton, though, and with recent resources like Keller’s Every Good Endeavor and RightNow’s newly annual “Work as Worship” conference, I think this is a “next great focus” within Evangelicalism. I’m hopeful that’s true.

So how ready will you be? College ministers – of all people – should be leading the charge on this. I’m not sure, as a field, this is where we’ve excelled. But I do think there are dozens or hundreds of examples where college ministries have helped students learn that “vocation” really does mean “calling.” (Don’t you remember your junior high Latin?!)

Inspiration and connections with college ministry came from some unexpected sources yesterday, as I’m at the unique Acton University gathering in Grand Rapids. So here are a couple of notes, a little heady – but that’s this week’s environment.

1. There’s something – maybe plenty – for the field of college ministry to glean from the growing understanding of how we best serve the poor. Hearing speakers expound some basic helping-without-hurting principles today didn’t sound so different from the comparisons I’ve made between good campus ministry and good international missions: Contextualize based on the neighborhood; don’t just focus on the “darkness of the city” or how you’re “bringing Jesus to it”; proclaim good news but do a lot of “good works” alongside as you integrate with the neighborhood.

But that makes me wonder what other connections might be made:

  • How can we serve campuses and students by starting with their “assets” instead of their “needs”? (If you need notes on this, just Google “Asset Based Community Development.”)
  • Are there ways in which some college ministries focus too much on “relief,” rather than “development”? How does this apply to spiritual impact? Does it apply?
  • How can we help other Christians (our overseers and our supporters, especially) understand the long-term nature of our work? One speaker (Justin Beene) emphasized the need for community development workers to plan on working for fifteen years when they enter a neighborhood. That’s how long it could very possibly take for their community development efforts to be “worth it” – to their ministry but also to the neighborhood. Are college ministers willing to take a similar “long view,” and are those who are sending them to the campus willing, too?

2. The extremely academic tilt of this conference has been exciting. It’s not what I’d want every conference to be, but it’s reminded me that this sort of scholastic approach should have a place in college ministry, too… and yet in an under-served field, this aspect is quite neglected, too.

Two things this week reminded me of the excitement of college ministers just getting together.

The first was a conversation with Cary McCall, who’s planning this August’s Campus for Christ Conference in Austin. I’m participating in a couple of ways: First, I’ll get the awesome chance to meet one-on-one (or “one-on-team”) with college ministers to brainstorm with them and answer questions about what I’ve learned from campus ministries around the country. Second, I’ll get to “emcee” some whiteboard sessions, helping the gathered college ministers to learn from each other.

I can’t wait. It was even fun brainstorming with Cary, and the thought of hanging out with a couple of hundred college ministers in a couple of months fired me up!

The second reminder this week came here at the Acton University gathering. (I’m only a few hours in, but it’s fairly fascinating.) I’ve run into a couple of college ministers here – as well as, surprisingly enough, a couple of guys I interviewed way back on the yearlong road trip. Meanwhile, those college minister conversations have involved some great moments of “talking shop” with guys in the field of collegiate ministry.

So. Much. Fun.

When’s the last time you got together with fellow college ministers outside your own ministry, with the chance to “talk shop”? This is far from the first time I’ve encouraged this. But summer seems to be the time it’s most possible – and honestly, when it might feel most profitable and most exciting, as a new year approaches and there’s still time to dream big… and tweak everything.

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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  • Not sure how many college ministry types #ActonU draws, but I'll be surprised if I don't at least run into some @CCOMinistry folks? 2 weeks ago
  • Maybe I'll tweet this week? Got to take a fun work trip to Grand Rapids for #ActonU. Not too familiar, but about to be immersed... 2 weeks ago
  • RT @BCMMarkRobinson: Baptist Collegiate Ministry evangelism initiative adopted by a state convention texasbaptists.org/2014/02/execut… 1 year ago
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  • Final day of #catalyst dallas - still dreaming God might use these confs to train college ministers (& students) in a field-shifting way! 2 years ago

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