We all know that word-of-mouth is generally the best way to advertise your college ministry.

So one of the best investments you can make is catalyzing word-of-mouth for your students. You can help them do this. And providing them something to hand out is one of the easiest ways.

What if from the first classes of the first week of school, or the first organizational or dorm meetings they attend, your ministry’s “members” were equipped with something – like a small card – that makes it easy to spread the word. Whether it’s about your regular Large Group Meeting or (even better) your early-on parties, service projects, or other events, a little info card could go a long way.

There may be other great ways to do this – so be creative! But with cards in their pocket, students will be more likely to strike up conversations to that end… and then they’ll have something easy to offer at conversation’s end.

But remember: They need ’em early. Conversations come most naturally in the first class or first gathering. So be sure to figure that out.

This was first posted on the yearlong road trip, but it still holds true. I’ve updated it, too.

What do you get when ministry to college students is organized within the “Halls of Academia”? What does that particular branch of collegiate ministry – “institutional college ministry,” or the University Ministry offices within Christian colleges – offer to the rest of us?

I’ve had the chance to explore quite a few major Christian colleges throughout the country, including meeting with staff members and directors in the spiritual life departments at many – whether those directors are known as “Campus Pastor,” “Chaplain,” “University Minister,” or otherwise.

Those have been some great meetings.

Probably the biggest thing that has jumped out to me from this branch of Collegiate Ministry is this: Many in these positions have thinking and learning as part of their ministry DNA.

These Campus Pastors are the college ministers most likely to talk to me about some new journal article that has helped them do ministry better. These people point me to books – and not necessarily college ministry books (which are in short supply), but to books on Spiritual Development or Organizational Management or Higher Education or some other field where principles can still inform what they do. They tell me about conferences they attend, questions they ask of others in their field, and papers they read (or write) that discuss even small details of their jobs.

Plenty, for instance, have mentioned the works of Fowler and Erickson from the world of psychology. Some have read Good to Great to streamline their operations or a book like Generation Me to better understand their audience. They might be keenly interested in the best ways to package (and encourage) Chapel services – often a key part of their school – and dutifully learn from others about good options.

No, not every secular or Christian resource that informs Collegiate Ministry work gets everything right – but these Campus Pastors know that. They eat the fish, throw away the bones, and build impactful ministries in the process.

For us outside this branch of Collegiate Ministry, let me tell you: There really is a whole world of contribution and collaboration there for helping us impact students. If you’re within sight of a Christian college, you might just wanna sit down with some of those ministers, because they may have really brilliant thoughts, resources, and ideas to offer.

I think being enveloped in an academic setting very naturally provides this focus. Of all the ministers I’ve encountered, these guys and gals treat this as normal, as expected, as simply part of what they do. That’s something the rest of us need to see.

There are probably multiple ways to use the Republican National Convention, the upcoming DNC, and other widely publicized “events” to impact college students. But when things like this come along, do you ever consider just talking with students about them?

Specifically, events like the political party conventions naturally bring to the forefront topics that are already on the minds of Americans, including your students. Even a casual observer of last night’s convention speeches (or the Today Show this morning!) knows that safety, war, immigration, and even plagiarism were brought up simply in the first day. Do you think you could have a good convo with students about even a few of those?

I simply believe college ministers need to be on the lookout, like any “shepherds,” for teachable moments. But in the collegiate realm, it’s even more vital that we stay on top of things – because of the nature of the mission field, a field itself which “stays current,” yet with participants who often simply go with the current and don a lot more zeal than knowledge.

So missionaries to the campus tribe have the chance to inject wisdom quickly and deftly, sometimes through preaching but often through dialogue.

Have you ever thought about the value of having Christian students scattered throughout the various campus jobs and student leadership positions at your school?

I’m guessing you might have considered the latter, maybe less so for the former. But I also bet few college ministers spend time facilitating or coaching students to consider either of those opportunities. But you can!

What if someone was charged with keeping an eye on the various posts that come available – from snack shop employee to Student Body President – and then sharing that information with your students? Not only would this serve students who want employment or leadership opportunities, but it would also provide some awesome chances to impact your campus through Christ-following students.

This is yet another one of the methods that jumps out at us… once we remember that college ministry is functionally missions. What missionaries wouldn’t be excited to see God call believers into various leadership or service areas of their tribe, town, or territory?

Maybe you need to ask this question in a month, but maybe it works now, too:

What should your student leaders or other student volunteers have been working on this summer?

There’s three months of opportunity each summer to move your college ministry forward – more time, more focus, just less proximity. Are there things that you, your staff, or summer students have been doing that could have been developed by students who are home?

Giving students projects over the summer – with some check-ins – keeps them engaged, frees you up, and gives you an easy excuse to connect with them.

So what opportunities did you miss this summer, and what will you change next year?

As you know, Dallas faced a tragedy last week when five police officers were killed in Downtown Thursday night. Since that time, I’ve seen our church and other churches step up to respond in some really great ways. In some cases, the opportunity presented itself because of an event that had been planned long ago, and we thank God for His providence. But sometimes quick planning had to be done, too.

If something happened on your campus that Christian ministries could/should respond to, what would your ministry’s “rapid response team” look like? Are there students, volunteers, staff, local pastors, staff of other ministries, etc., whom you would immediately pull in to get working?

Hopefully this wouldn’t all fall on the shoulders of one person in your ministry (like the lead college minister). Even if that person does have several of the skills or attributes needed – event planning, (quick) project management, pastoral skill, connections with campus leaders – it may be that he or she needs to continue leading the ministry as a whole, not running as primary lead on a public response like an event.

If you don’t already have students or others serving in these ways on a weekly or monthly basis – planning events, I mean, or connecting with campus leaders or serving other students pastorally – then this is yet another reason that’s valuable: Because when the moment comes and the campus is looking to you, you’ll be ready to lift up the Lord and help people.

recruitingisdisc

Back in March, I penned a few posts on a theme I believe can revolutionize recruiting, an activity that makes up a lot of ministry (and a larger share of college ministry activity than in many other ministries).

That theme, or thesis, is that recruiting IS discipleship. The very basic argument goes something like this:

When I encourage a student to consider our college ministry [or an activity within our college ministry], I’m simply

  • presenting a spiritual endeavor for them to pursue
  • relating why it’s important and beneficial
  • and urging them to try something that I know (better than they know) could greatly benefit them.

Sounds a lot like what happens when I sit across from a guy at Taco Bell and encourage him to grow in his use of spiritual disciplines, or talk about better wisdom for dating.

That’s one simple argument, but I highly encourage you to check out the first post I wrote back then.

So if Recruiting IS Discipleship…

When we realize this is true, we start conducting our recruitment a bit differently – because now it should be judged as discipleship, not just as recruitment. So as we advertise our college ministry in general OR invite students to participate in something specific, we begin to ponder things like the following…

Can you stand behind the ask?

Are you proud to recruit to this? Do you truly believe it would be highly valuable for those you’re recruiting? And do you truly believe it’s a “fit” for this individual (or for some individuals in the group you’re recruiting)?

Are you casting the vision for why?

It’s bad discipleship to say, “Let’s memorize Scripture ’cause that’s good to do.” We must share more. We should cast the vision for the wonders, power, and importance of God’s word.

Likewise, when we’re recruiting, we should regularly share the vision for WHY, for what’s accomplished, for what’s at stake. (It’s okay to throw in the value for that person, too.)

If we don’t cast the vision, we might just be saying “It’s good to do.” And that’s lousy discipleship.

Are you willing to say No?

If you recruit a crowd but someone who isn’t a fit shows up, are you willing to tell them No? That’s discipleship, too. So we’re likely missing a ministry if we avoid the issue, say No without discussion, or let them participate anyway.

It comes to mind on a really dark day here in Dallas that campus “tribes” have their own protective forces, policemen and women or security guards.

These are members of the campus community, too. Fortunately, they aren’t called upon often to stop large-scale violence. But they do help with a variety of other crimes and concerns.

It’s tricky to look beyond students, because college ministry is busy. But administration, faculty, and staff are members of the campus community. Are there ways you can reach them better in the year to come? Can you raise up some students to lift up their eyes to these people?

This post, first written quite a while back (and edited here), seems timely for the summer. Hope it encourages.

In Chapter 3 of Reaching the Campus Tribes, I discuss the major difficulties facing American campus ministry. After pointing out the lack of attention college ministry receives from broader Christendom (pages 18 – 27), I turn my attention to another major issue:

The Collegiate Attention Gap is certainly not the only difficulty facing American college ministry. Another concern is the lack of long-term, established college ministries that are making a permanent impact on their mission fields. …

Many college ministries lack longevity. Even though longevity seems to be a major factor in strengthening college ministry impact, many ministries aren’t established long enough for students to see those benefits. Many of the college ministries I encountered during my trip had only been recently planted, had recent leader turnover, or had otherwise been “restarted” in the past few years. A one- to three-year lifespan seems to be the reality for most new college ministry endeavors.

There will certainly be times when leaders are replaced or a college ministry’s vision needs to be recast. But changes – even major changes – don’t have to break a college ministry’s momentum, if the ministry has been “built to last” in the first place. Yet this sort of strategic development appears to be pretty rare.

There’s more to this story, too.

Two items I encountered within the same week or so highlighted something for me.

First, I heard the story of a business that, like dozens of others, is thriving now but had nearly disbanded at one point in its history. Meanwhile, I was talking to a former college minister who made an interesting comment: Christians in his circle, he said, found it strange if someone was still serving college students after a decade.

These two observations highlighted a bigger issue about longevity. In the latter case, I was sad that anyone would see college ministry as a usually-temporary endeavor, a calling that only belongs to the young. Instead, as I told my friend, our field needs far MORE “lifers,” men and women who spend decades in the trenches of campus missions. The former example – of businesses working through difficult years to, over time, emerge as powerfully impactful leaders in their field – is part of the reason we need more lifers.

Yes, I realize that ministry isn’t a “business.” And more importantly, I don’t think that college minister longevity is the same thing as college ministry longevity. Ministries may change leaders occasionally – but successfully keep their vision and progress over time.

But there’s something amazing that can happen when one person pursues the mission at his or her campus over years and years. Like that business I heard about, they have the chance others don’t have to build inroads, develop subtle understandings of their context, and pursue long-range plans (something sadly in short supply within campus ministry).

All that to say… We need you to keep going. Our field will be better for it. Your campus will be better for it. Lots and lots of students will be helped by your years of service. I know it might be tough this year, or next year. It might seem like a good time to stop this ministry, or stop this version of this ministry, or move on to something else. (And yes, there are lots of times God calls us to change a ministry or move on to another; I’m not discounting that. But if you’re not called to leave…)

The point: We need you to keep going. Your longevity matters.

One really productive – but slightly tricky – assessment for your ministry is asking how your students spent their time when they weren’t surrounded by the accountability and encouragements of your college ministry.

In other words, did they follow Jesus this summer?

If you can figure out a good way to ask this, it will show you a lot about your effectiveness as a college ministry: how well you’re building students’ personal walk, how well you’re preparing them for their post-college spirituality, etc.

But two concerns:

Not shaming. A question like, “How often did you spend time reading the Bible?” (for example) gets to the point effectively. But it might make you uncomfortable because it feels a little heavy-handed (it does to me). Maybe I’d feel differently tomorrow. But it might be more effective to ask open-ended questions (“What did you your spiritual walk look like this summer?”) or self-assessment questions (“On a scale of 1-10, how effectively do you feel like you kept your spiritual walk going this summer?”) – some combination of those might be the best route here.

Get going. Generally, you want to avoid the Observer Effect when you’re surveying. But in this case – if you ask these questions now – it might work in everybody’s favor. What if you polled students mid-summer? Might it help them reflect and adjust this very vital segment of their lives?

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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 others who want to reach college students better. To learn more, explore the header links or the tools below.

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