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I first posted this thought after my sister got married two years ago, but it’s a great Valentine’s reminder, too. After posting the Campus Change Assessment yesterday, I figured I’d follow with the Great Couples Assessment for V-Day.

One interesting way to assess your ministry may be along this unique line: the kinds of romantic couples it’s producing. Here are a few questions that are worth asking – even if ministries’ diversities will lead to different “right” answers.

1. When couples emerge within your college ministry, are they awesome? A healthy college ministry will likely produce not only healthy couples, but couples that exemplify the very things the ministry celebrates.

2. Is your campus ministry really good about celebrating romance, relationships, marriage, etc.?

3. Do solid Christians within your college ministry regularly enter into relationships? This isn’t a question that produces a clear indication of a college ministry’s strength by a simple Yes or No. But if you’re not seeing couples emerge from within your ministry (and especially if you are seeing students enter into relationships regularly with those outside your ministry), it’s worth asking Why, right?

Are you providing opportunities for awesome men of God to meet awesome women of God? Is your ministry the kind of ministry that even attracts those awesome men and women? Is there room – even alongside the accompanying awkwardness – for students to enter into relationships with others in your ministry?

[More on the single gender / co-ed ministry axis here - with some great comments from you guys!]

4. Do people get married? Some might presume that a strong college ministry will indeed produce lots and lots of marriages, while others would recognize that the marriage-immediately-after-graduating norm… is the norm no more!

But I think we have to imagine that within a college ministry with more than a dozen or two dozen students, we would likely be seeing the occasional marriage produced (at least). If not, it’s probably worth asking Why – even if in the end, we decide we’re right where we need to be.

So there you have it. Four questions. As you answer them, simply consider what the answers in your ministry should be… and then what they actually are. Ministries will be different, but I think these things are worth examining!

But what do you think?

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ChurchLeaders.com posted an article the other day by Catalyst’s head, Brad Lomenick, entitled “20 Points on Leading Millennials.” Obviously, this is our audience – and will continue to be for awhile – so being good college ministers requires learning the Millennials.

What I particularly like about this article, though, is that it’s pretty informal – clearly just Lomenick’s quick-take on what he’s learned in his various ministry roles – as well as from picking the brains of some of his staff members. (Below is the start of the article and some of the most interesting ones, but click here to read the whole thing – as well as people’s comments.)

A good friend asked me the other day my thoughts on how to lead the millennial generation, basically those born after 1980. We gather thousands of leaders who fit this category on an annual basis, and most of our Catalyst staff are under the age of 30.

I have to admit- I don’t always get this right. As a 100% Gen X’er, my tendency is to lean away from several of these points, and lead how I’ve been led over the years by Boomer and Busters. But I’m working on it….

So with that said, here you go, thoughts on leading millenials:

1. Give them freedom with their schedule. I’ll admit, this one is tough for me.

7. Lead each person uniquely. Don’t create standards or rules that apply to everyone. Customize your approach. (I’ll admit, this one is difficult too!)

8. Make authenticity and honesty the standard for your corporate culture. Millenials are cynical at their core, and don’t trust someone just because they are in charge.

13. Not about working for a personality. Not interested in laboring long hours to build a temporal kingdom for one person. But will work their guts out for a cause and vision bigger than themselves.

14. Deeply desire mentoring, learning and discipleship. Many older leaders think millenials aren’t interested in generational wisdom transfer. Not true at all. Younger leaders are hungry for mentoring and discipleship, so build it into your organizational environment.

18. They’ve been exposed to just about everything, so the sky is the limit in their minds. Older leaders have to understand younger leaders have a much broader and global perspective, which makes wowing Millenials much more difficult.

And again, I’d encourage you to click here to read the whole thing – along with people’s comments!

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I ran across a couple of articles this week discussing an apparent change in collegians’ sky-high view of President Obama (or pre-President Obama back then) in 2008. I don’t present this for any sort of partisan purpose, but a sociological one; it will be interesting to watch our students (both those inside and outside our ministries) in the upcoming political season.

Here’s the New York Times article (“A Love Affair with Obama that Cooled”) which first caught my eye, about changes seen among students at one of the country’s most notably liberal colleges.

And the Atlantic Wire’s “On College Campuses, Obama’s Not Cool Anymore” springboards from that article but also points to a few other sources.

Meanwhile, while we’re on the subject of collegians and politics, Goshen College is again deciding against using “The Star Spangled Banner” before games, due to its Mennonite / pacifist leanings. You can read their explanation here.

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A couple of weeks ago, I posted a video of students’ celebration following the death of Osama bin Laden, and I pointed out five things it reminds us about collegians.

I read a good article this week that took a slightly different spin on what we could learn from the celebrations that popped up around the country. Craig Fehrman, Ph.D. candidate at Yale, discusses what collegians’ response shows about Millennials. While it’s a fairly pessimistic take, it’s certainly worth reading.

He also makes some great points about how the media might not always portray Millennials accurately.

In any case, I encourage you to take a look:

Osama bin Laden’s Death: The Millennials Have a Moment (LA Times)

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I’m on my 15th multistate, college ministry-exploring road trip! (Details here.) So whenever I can write, I’m posting anything that comes up, for fun or for learnin’. Enjoy!

It’s fun – and not so unusual – when chances to speak or consult about college ministry force me to “streamline” my ideas. My mind generally houses a messy desk of stacks and semi-categories – a system that works fine in everyday life, because I can find what I need and everything stays “visible” and accessible. But when it’s time to present – whether in speaking or writing – mental filing and ordering have to take place, even if I hate making final decisions about “what fits where.”

One part of my seminars yesterday answered the question, “Who are today’s college students?” Starting from square one – and speaking to a group of mostly non-college ministers – forced me to answer the question more fully than I generally do. And as I did, I realized where some of my frustration about some college ministry training come from.

I finally settled on a two-angle approach for yesterday’s talk:

  1. Lifestage: Collegiate
  2. Generation: Millennial

I discuss the Millennial generation a lot here on the blog. Those issues are relatively new (since the first Millennials entered college only in the middle of last decade). But this discussion really only gets us so far; a full understanding of today’s college students takes into account their lifestage, too.

We’re dealing very specifically with collegiate Millennials. Of course, as college ministers, we tend to be familiar with those issues – a state of transition, the openness and searching of the college years, newfound independence, and so on. These issues don’t change as often as generational ones do. But they’re still very important – and newer college ministers and outsiders (like the senior pastors in yesterday’s audience) might need a refresher course.

Disappointingly, some of the recent books and other discussions related to our field approach students from only one of these two angles. Either they only focus on the collegiate issues and don’t recognize how vital it is to understand their sociological generation, or they treat college students like they’re no different than Young Adults, Youth, or others in the Millennial Gen.

To best understand today’s college students, we (and those who support us, oversee us, or want to work alongside us) have to look at their lifestage AND their generation.

Posted while I’m somewhere between Las Vegas and Flagstaff

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“Topics Worth the Tussle” is a series of themes that might be useful to wrestle with. Whether it’s to teach these topics or just to consider how well your students are living them out, these often undervalued themes might be worth another look!

I appeal to you therefore… (Romans 12:1a ESV)

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. (Romans 12:17 NIV2011)

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1 ESV)

Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. (Romans 13:13 NASB)

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Romans 14:13 ESV)

My community group at church has been marching through the Book of Romans, and this week we turned the corner from chapter 11 to chapter 12.

If you’ve forgotten the structure of Romans, chapters 1-11 mostly present very complex theological issues. While it’s not fair (or accurate) to describe those chapters as strictly “Theology” and the last five chapters of Romans as strictly “Application,” the book’s structure does lean that direction.

Theology is, of course, extremely important. The problem is, these days plenty of our students think they’re solid Christians because they’re “Romans 1-11 Christians.” They know what to believe, they know theological terms, they know “deep thoughts” from the likes of John Piper or C.S. Lewis or Matt Chandler or A.W. Tozer or Don Miller or Relevant Magazine or the more “complex” parts of Scripture. Wherever they are on the theological spectrum, these students place a lot of stock in what they know.

But we and/or our students need to wrestle with the Therefore of Romans 12:1. Urging us to become living sacrifices, Paul appeals to us to “by the mercies of God” – the same mercies he’s just spent 11 chapters describing. If these eleven chapters are true, then this is how you’ll actually live, he says. So if we’re not up to the task of Romans 12-16, then we apparently don’t grasp “theology” at all. Or, as Peter puts it, “whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (II Peter 1:9).

Romans 12-16 isn’t really the “shallow” part of Romans, though our students sometimes think that way about “little things” like hospitality and harmony and humility and honoring others… just four of the twenty-seven-or-so commands in the second half of Romans alone.

The “topic worth the tussle” here isn’t just Romans 12-16 (though that could be a phenomenal text for a message series!). What’s worth tussling over is whether our college students realize that “deep Christians” are the Christians who live out our theology, not the ones who can only debate it skillfully.

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While I’m being all vintagey (see yesterday’s post about Lent), I figured I’d pass on a timely reminder I received yesterday from Orthodox Christian Fellowship, the national college ministry for the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity. (Yes, there is one!)

This year, they’re pointing their member ministries toward celebrating the “Real St. Patrick,” and clearly we Evangelicals can celebrate this hero of the faith, too. While not all their suggestions might work for your ministry or in your context, they might be something to springboard from. Be sure to see their downloads, too.

st. patrick as a hero

Examining Christian heroes from throughout the centuries holds amazing potential for impacting our students – while also tying in to Millennials’ love of “roots” and the presumed authenticity that goes with it. I would highly encourage you to consider working “heroes of the faith” (both ancient and modern) into your college ministry in some way – and St. Patrick’s not a bad person to start that list.

He was a missionary to the people who originally enslaved him, don’t you know.

st. patrick’s day as opportunity?

Meanwhile, St. Patrick’s Day at some campus tribes is one of those moments for “unified debauchery.” (See also my post on 4/20 at Colorado from last year.)

Penn State is one of those campuses that goes a little nuts around this holiday; their annual “State Patty’s Day” took place on February 26th this year. (Read a newspaper article here.) But I also heard from one college minister that

On a day entirely dedicated to binge drinking and green paraphernalia, over 500 people decided to be “in it, but not of it.” Rolling up their sleeves, stepping out of their comfort zones, and risking for the purpose of being a peaceful presence, these hundreds were part of a different kind of green that day: the green of life, goodness, and shalom.

How we handle those moments will differ… but in any case, it takes a lot of wisdom and grace. Plus, I imagine, a healthy dose of watching for natural opportunities to arise after a whole lot of prayer and personal preparation. (Don Miller covered one approach in that great “Christian confessional” chapter in Blue Like Jazz, and I know campus ministries take the annual opportunity to share in the midst of Spring Break craziness – just to name a couple more examples.)

st. patrick’s day as unity opportunity

Lastly, this would be one opportunity to venture over to the OCF chapter or Catholic Center on your campus, right? Because your groups might just be able to celebrate the life of St. Patrick together, learn about St. Patrick together, or otherwise come together around this Church History celeb.

Ooh – are there any other Irish-related organizations at your campus? Ethnic, language, or other things? I don’t know – but maybe there’s unity potential there, too.

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On a day entirely dedicated to binge drinking and green paraphernalia, over 500 people decided to be “in it, but not of it.” Rolling up their sleeves, stepping out of their comfort zones, and risking for the purpose of being a peaceful presence, these hundreds were part of a different kind of green that day: the green of life, goodness, and shalom.

My longtime friend is a partner in a new restaurant here in Dallas, and he and I ate breakfast-for-lunch over there on Friday. At some point, he asked for my honest opinion on anything I noticed… and if you know me, you know that analyzing any experience is like Christmas for me.

I hemmed-and-hawed, not because I don’t thoroughly enjoy that process, but because I’m always worried I’m going to insult, bore, or otherwise turn off with my tedium. But he assured me he wanted my thoughts – even the ticky-tack stuff – and kept encouraging me to write those thoughts down on a Comment Card.

Your college ministry has likely wrapped up the bulk of its operations for the semester / quarter, but there may still be students hanging around taking Finals or waiting for graduation. And even if everybody’s gone home, fortunately for today’s idea they don’t have an awful lot to do as they sit at home.

It might be high time to get feedback from your students, just like Shane asked for my ideas about his eatery. Maybe it’s through constructing a survey, a direct email to a bunch of students, or several in-person interviews. Maybe you can encourage students to ponder and then follow up – specifically – in January. Whatever. However you do it (and that’s worth praying and thinking through, of course), there’s double delight in student feedback:

1. For your college ministry.

Feedback will make your campus ministry better. No doubt about it. It’s a chance to get the wisdom of many, many counselors. And even when some students aren’t all that “wise” about your ministry (’cause they’re new or ’cause they’re not so wise!), it’s a chance to learn what they think about your ministry… and knowing people’s perception is just as important a piece of information as their ideas for betterment might be.

2. For the students.

Everybody likes knowing they’ve got a hand in something. Everybody likes believing their opinion matters. And especially students in the Millennial Generation like knowing they can enact change, they have a voice, there’s authenticity in their leaders, they’re a part of the team, and so on. Soliciting feedback (and treating it with respect) conveys all that. (And I’d point out – specifically – some of the changes you make as a result of feedback. Maybe even name names…)

BONUS

One last idea: Don’t just ask students. Ask volunteers (if you have some). Those guys and gals have some of the most important feedback you need to hear.

And while you’re at it, consider who else’s opinion matters: maybe parents of students, faculty, administration, past people in your position, townspeople, donors, alumni. In various ministries, any or all of these people might have really important things to share.

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As Exploring College Ministry’s 9-day Movie Week concludes, Part 2 of the Millennial aspects of The Social Network. Hopefully it’s good exercise for all of us who work with Gen Y! (Part 1 can be found here.)

Hiding behind technology (in plain view)

Not only is technology an innate part of the Millennials’ world (as discussed yesterday), it’s clear it serves to reduice inhibitions for many members of this generation. The lives they live out online are surprisingly brazen, as they simultaneously hide behind and expose boldly via technology – be it blogging, texting, Facebook, YouTube, or other stages.

The Social Network highlights this theme throughout, and the whole course of the movie (and ultimately Facebook’s, too) is set following Mark Zuckerburg’s night of being “drunk and angry and stupid… and blogging.” Later, he’s scorned for acting “as if every thought that tumbles through your head would be a crime not to publish,” but that’s just the way many of our Millennial friends live their lives online, no? And yet those thoughts aren’t always true, either, and the movie certainly suggests that Zuckerberg found texts and emails to be his preferred form of deception.

The team’s the thing

The Social Network also highlights the important role of the team in the Gen Y world, and one of the greatest “sins” of the movie is isolationism. A “success film” for other generations might focus on the one individual who invented or conquered or innovated and celebrate his or her solitary accomplishment largely because it was unique. Here, the whole movie hinges on just which teammates would be / should be / truly were involved in the creation of Facebook – from its humble beginnings in the ultimate “team environment,” a college dorm room. And loneliness isn’t just sad in this film – it’s something to be pitied.

Many Millennials have grown up on soccer teams and are a-okay with going forward in a project or in life… together. They value a team approach to life… and that leads to the next observation.

Inclusion, invitation, and friends

If functioning as a team is a high priority, then inclusion is a highest one, and The Social Network may be more about this theme than any other. The first scene is about inclusion, as is the very last. And in the middle, Mark Zuckerberg and friends create a website that would redefine “friendship” and “inclusion” and “invitations” on a worldwide scale.

What’s funny is that for Millennials there’s a kind of inclusion that doesn’t necessarily imply exclusion. Sure, there will always be “exclusive clubs” and such, but this movie very explicitly circumvents even those venues; when everyone’s able to Facebook me and find out if my relationship’s “complicated,” then everybody’s rather included in my life (and I with theirs), right?

In this movie the computer nerds aren’t in a lower social strata than the partiers… and ultimately become the partiers themselves. Millennials want to fit in like anyone does, but the iPod-shuffle of their interests means they’re already included – probably many times over, in various interest groups and activity groups and social segments. Of course, this all means the despair of exclusion may sting still more, and many Millennials – like Zuckerberg in this movie – may seek the inclusions they most desire by any means they can.

Changing the world (overnight)

Inside these varied interests, Millennials have a desire to change the world – and a belief they can do it. But they also believe it can be done very, very soon. What Zuckerberg creates overnight in his dorm room (a predecessor to Facebook) riles up a whole campus; what he creates in a semester changed the whole world. And only seven years later, it has its very own movie!

For Millennials, this isn’t a shocking development. “This is how it happens,” they may very well believe. And they work like it, too… with Mountain Dew, alcohol, or other drugs (all amply portrayed in this film) enabling the work-hard-play-hard lifestyle they feel they can / should / must live.

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Movie Week at Exploring College Ministry continues…

Most everything about The Social Network is successful, but its real achievement stretches beyond the Facebook story. Decades from now, when we’ve all forgotten what Facebook even was, The Social Network will still tell us what it was to be part of the generation sociologists are calling the Millenials.

-from Alissa Wilkinson’s Christianity Today review of The Social Network

I wholeheartedly agree with Wilkinson (although Facebook could have more staying power than she imagines). And not only does The Social Network masterfully reflect the Millennials / “Gen Y” in the story it recounts, but it also does so in the way that story is presented.

As I argued last week, pondering these things is great exercise for any of us with Millennials in our audience. For us who are college ministers and youth ministers, they are our audience – and the young adult ministers are gaining more and more each year, too. [To see my specific thoughts on The Social Network and college ministry, click here.]

Currency is currency

One of the first things I realized while watching Social Network was how recently these events took place. It seems almost uncomfortable to watch a recounting of world-changing events (they were, after all) that began only seven years ago. Sure, movies and TV shows and newsy retellings of recent events aren’t uncommon. But Facebook is so enormous and yet still feels so young, with an evolution that still feels so as-we-speak, that having its “creation myth” on the big screen already was striking.

But for Millennials, I imagine it’s less so. They appreciate currency, up-to-the-minuteness. The online world in which Generation Y lives is a current world, fast-moving to the point of nausea. They can catch the newest news online, then return in a few hours for all the still-newer news. Facebook itself provides one of the most obvious currents of currency through its status updates – which cleverly are mirrored onscreen in the film itself. Millennials live updated… and they like it that way.

It makes all the sense in the world for Aaron Sorkin to pen the dialogue in a movie about Facebook; only his brand of quick, snappy back-and-forth would rightly mimic what happens on the newsfeed of your average Millennial Facebook user.

Connection is the crux

Interestingly enough, when there isn’t this sort of rapid-fire “connecting” taking place (either virtually or in-person), the remaining “real life” is slower. The scenes we’d expect to be the most active – wild college parties, sports, running across a college campus – actually provide comparatively serene interludes between this movie’s busier talkative moments. (Making the point all the more explicit, the parties and athletics are actually shown at points in slow motion, juxtaposed with the rapid technological advances happening elsewhere.)

So whether in-person or technology-aided, interpersonal connections are the crux of this movie; chatting with a girl, plotting with classmates, gaining an audience with the head of Harvard, even legal depositions – these are the exciting parts of this movie.

Millennials thrive on this sort of connectivity, having access to what everyone in their own world is doing or blogging or thinking… and allowing hundreds and thousands to have access to their own lives, too. “Private behavior is a relic of a time gone by,” the movie remarks, and it’s right – at least for the bulk of the Millennial generation.

Technology isn’t an “extra”

While the face-to-face moments are this film’s meat, it’s ultimately a movie about a technology that changed the world by broadening those interpersonal connections and making them easier at the same time. And this innate technological bent, of course, is Millennial, too; the movie makes it clear that there was pervasive technology – the movie notes MySpace, Friendster, Live Journal, and texting – long before Facebook came around.

Further, even the subject matter should cause us to take note, as Justin Pasternack writes:

On paper, this is a big Hollywood movie about a website. Acknowledge how strange that is, but then remember that it is increasingly on websites, and on Facebook, that we live. Once, we inhabited farms, then cities, Justin Timberlake’s character says at one point. “And someday,” he proclaims, “we’ll be living on the Internet!”

Facebook fit a generation already primed to live life online; as the first Millennial collegians made their way through college, this site gave them the chance to do that like never before.

to be continued… right here

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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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