I’ve mentioned this sort of thing before, but now is a great time in the semester to lean into this… especially through your small groups, if that’s a structure you use.

It’s easy for any college student to isolate their spiritual growth and spiritual learnings simply to what takes place in their current city. Certainly, the campus and town are chock-full of spiritual application moments: the classroom, the dorm room, the parties, the ministry experiences, the new friendships, the dates, students’ local job, and students’ chosen church.

But all this means students might consciously or unconsciously leave their families behind. Some are unwilling to “go there” because home wasn’t great. Others simply don’t think about it, with the hubbub of this exciting collegiate context.

So while students may learn to communicate better with their suitemates, they might still go home this winter and undertake screaming matches with their parents. Students may learn to witness to classmates they’ve never met… but stay mum with a nonbelieving sibling back home. Students may make great strides in learning to stand up for orthodoxy in the face of culture wars – but feel quite lost in dealing with sinful lifestyles or opinions back home.Or this may simply show up in students’ willingness to grow by “moving forward” (whatever that means), but not

Or this may simply show up in students’ preference to grow by “moving forward” (whatever that means), without dealing with the pain/hurt/anxieties/sin they faced (or sometimes caused) in their families. (Do your small groups and other disciplemaking structures dive in to students’ home lives and pasts?)

God may use students’ time away at college to help in regards to home. But small group leaders, college ministers, and others will need to lean into this question to make that happen. Right?

Through 2 or 3 different media recently, I’ve heard once again that leaders have to be willing to irk people.

Of course that’s true.

The leader will simply make decisions that bother somebody.

There’s a danger for college ministers to put a finger to the wind a bit too much, or to let individual voices serve as rudders way too often.

And if it’s hard for college ministers to rightly balance collaboration and making difficult choices, how hard is it for college studentsIf you’ve got student leaders, this whole issue can’t be easy for them, and in both directions! For some, they couldn’t care less about others’ feelings. For others, they care far too much.

So how are you teaching about this balance? Are you evaluating your leaders in both directions? Are you evaluating your staff, and yourself?

This week, I’ll be posting (and occasionally updating) some solid ideas that you could pretty easily work on – or get students to work on – at this point in the semester. And if you’ve already done these things, I’d love to hear about it.

In my visit awhile back to Texas A&M Corpus Christi, I got the chance to chat with Clint Hill, the local Church of Christ college minister. One of the things he pointed out about their ministry is their effort to participate in a bunch of the activities organized by the Student Organizations and administration of the school.

Is the campus holding a dodge ball tournament? Then Christians in Action will field a team for that. Have they organized freshman move-in? Then CIA will be out there, serving. All. Day. Long.

And so on.

I’ve certainly heard other college ministers espouse this same “doctrine”: that there is great value in plugging in to what the campus as a whole is doing. Some of the whys:

  • Connections with the lost and other non-involved students
  • Participation as valuable members of the campus community
  • Endearing ourselves to the administration
  • Serving the campus by helping it thrive
  • Serving students tangibly in ways we might not imagine on our own
  • Recruitment to the ministry

So the Fridea, in a nutshell: Find out what the campus is already doing… and show up!

For some of you, this might be as easy as taking the Campus Events calendar and making its entries a major part of your calendar, too. For others, it might involve choosing 4-5 important events this semester and attending them as a group – and purposefully. Sometimes it might simply involve encouraging, pushing, and helping students to be present and active within their campus, and to know how to do that with Jesus-purposes in mind.

In any case, I’m not sure it’s best practice for our ministries to be “islands” within (but not really with) the larger collegiate community. And I’m happy to have been reminded of that fact by a guy who just happens to serve among the Islanders tribe at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

This week, I’ll be posting (and occasionally updating) some solid ideas that you could pretty easily work on – or get students to work on – at this point in the semester. And if you’ve already done these things, I’d love to hear about it.

Is your college ministry already so planned for this semester that it will be nearly impossible to react to new opportunities in the new school year?

I was at a college ministry conference where I heard these two stories:

  • The first came from a college minister who responded to the opportunity of numerous Nepalese students coming to campus. She commented that that opportunity might not persist, but for the moment, they’ve chosen to pursue this niche-based effort.
  • The same college minister (I think) noted that she and her husband had also noticed that a local Christian camp drew lots of collegians to counsel youth during the summers. But very little disciplemaking seemed to be taking place. So their ministry has taken on these college students each summer.

Both of these are examples of taking advantage of surprising opportunities that arise. And here’s the scary truth: Your campus will very likely present new opportunities in the first months of the school year.

So we have to ask ourselves some scary questions. And we have to examine this week’s Fridea seriously: Leave room (mentally, verbally, even structurally) for addressing new opportunities that arise after the year starts.

Opportunity may come very subtly: An article in the school newspaper. A campus rule change that seems small but creates an opportunity. An incoming freshman class that is particularly… smart or rowdy or secular or interested in spiritual things. A “theme” God seems to be stirring on campus that would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. And hard to respond to, if you didn’t have any wiggle room.

Or the opportunity may come very un-subtly: A tragedy. Surprising changes within another college ministry. New campus leaders that dramatically affect things. A scandal.

The opportunity may even happen within your ministry: A student who returns having had an absolutely life-changing summer. Students with ideas you hadn’t considered (and that they hadn’t thought to message you back in July). Multiple guys and gals whom God has been speaking to separately, but in eerily similar ways. Far more students showing interest in your college ministry than you expected.

Is your campus ministry already SO defined, SO planned, and – especially – SO certain that you won’t see the opportunities that arise in the First Weeks?

This week, I’ll be posting (and occasionally updating) some solid ideas that you could pretty easily work on – or get students to work on – at this point in the semester. And if you’ve already done these things, I’d love to hear about it.

Today, a few ideas for questions to ask students as you get to know them – via survey, new student info card, or face-to-face:

1. Ask their passions.

My guess is you get some pretty good info on your students: Class Year, Major, Phone Number, maybe a Birthday or their Hometown.

Have you asked them their passions? (Surprisingly, these may not be the same as their majors…) Have you asked them the ways they really like to serve others, or what they’d do if they had unlimited time and opportunity and resources?

How do they hope to change the world? How do they hope to change their world, and soon?

Might God want to speak to you about the future of your ministry through the passions, strengths, talents, and other characteristics of the students He’s brought you? Or is the format and programming of your ministry far more about your passions, personality, etc., than it is about theirs?

2. Ask how they found you.

I think there are lots of ministries out there – even big ones – that never get a good sense of why people first come.

So what can we do?

Regarding how we draw students: If “exit interviews” for ministry-goers are uncommon, I’m sure “entrance interviews” are uncommon, too. But simply asking visitors “How’d you hear about us?” can go a long way toward developing strategies that double down on those forms of recruitment that are already working.

3. Ask why they’re coming.

“What do you hope to get out of this college ministry?”

Clearly, students will have a variety of reasons for attending – some more noble than others, some more practical than others, and some more actionable than others. But don’t you think knowing this information – for as many students as possible – would help your staff and leaders think better about providing a great experience? Even when a student “just wants to find a girlfriend” or otherwise hasn’t set their hopes high enough, it’s very useful information for discipling him (or her). And plenty of students might surprise you, even leading you to consider new activities or new emphases.

Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t about “meeting customer preferences” to keep people or get new members. I’m talking about discipleship, which should always concern itself with how well forms fit the audience.

This week, I’ll be posting (and occasionally updating) some solid ideas that you could pretty easily work on – or get students to work on – at this point in the semester. And if you’ve already done these things, I’d love to hear about it.

I’ve visited Willow Creek Community Church a few times, and I found a little “study nook” tucked away in their large public space. It was stocked with some Bible commentaries and “Christian classics” for public use.

Have you ever considered curating a Christian “study library” for your students’ use?

On the one hand, offering some great Bible commentaries not only edifies students (including your small group leaders), but it would offer a great help for teachers’ teaching prep, too. Having a couple of great, accessible commentaries on each book of the Bible might be a great place to start. This wouldn’t be a scholar’s library, but you might want to go beyond simply having devotional commentaries, too. The new editions of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, the Tyndale Old and New Testament Commentary, and the NIV Application Commentary would probably be where I’d start, since cost isn’t terribly prohibitive and the scholarship is good… without students needing to know biblical languages.

Meanwhile, collecting and curating a “spiritual classics” library offers visual recommendations of what students should read next. You’d probably need to loan some of these out – although if you’ve got a good space, maybe students would read the books on site.

So how do you build this thing?

If you’re a support-raising college minister, this seems like a no-brainer for a specific “special ask” – either a one-time request, or an ongoing line item allowing you to continue to build out the library for years and years. Even reaching out to current students or alumni – even if you don’t usually ask for gifts – might bring in some donations (or books).

(A well-constructed Amazon Wish List can be a beautiful thing.)

Another option is to “go in” with other college ministers, building something that can be used by students from any college ministry on campus. On a few campuses out there, this idea is wrapped up in a Christian Study Center of some sort (which is a fantastic approach). But all you need is space (and see below on that).

Of course, plenty of college ministers don’t have buildings available, or even if they do, they’re not readily accessible to most students on a regular basis. Never fear – there are a couple of options even if this is the case:

  • Work to ensure your school’s library has available, Evangelical commentaries. If they don’t, ask about getting some donated. Not only would that impact your students, it would be a cool way to be a great member of the campus community.
  • This may be one of the better ways Unity gets practical. If you don’t have a building but one college ministry does, is this something you could build together?

A pretty simple idea this week, that could pay great dividends (and at least would keep you on your toes)…

What if you commissioned a diverse group of students simply to watch for campus trends, and then imagine ways those things could be addressed/implemented in the campus ministry?

For instance, a few might notice that Trump’s immigration efforts seems to be “trending” in campus conversations; that might translate into a special series on Christians + immigration.

Other students may call your attention to the newest social media app, leading the college ministry to get a channel on that new medium.

Or there may be a big cheating scandal on campus; this group would likely let you know about it before you’d know about it otherwise, allowing your ministry to think about winsome and timely responses.

Students probably already “tell you things,” but precision AND creativity AND urgency come from tasking someone with a job description. Plus, getting students occasionally in the same room to talk about this stuff could generate even more ideas.

You’re likely in the middle of – or just past – some critical junctures in your college ministry. Freshman recruiting. Welcome party. Small groups launch. First Large Group Meeting. Fall retreat might have happened, or might be coming up. And so on.

If you’re anything like me, “evaluation” gets often nudged out in favor of the next thing that needs attention. But what if you made yourself – or maybe better yet, appointed a student to – organize a debriefing time for each of these. Even “debriefing time” can be relative – maybe it’s an email chain discussing “stop/start/continue” or “good/bad/ugly.” Or better, a quick lunch with key students and staff (everybody’s got time to eat!).

Simple moves like this help a college ministry actually improve in these critical junctures. For all the planning that went into that big event, isn’t it worth a debrief? And you don’t want to trust your recollections the next time you’ll be planning it… that’s how status quo largely gets maintained, even when we think we’re improving year after year.

Surely there’s an introductory class you could slip into.

(I guess it depends on your campus.)

But what if you audited (officially or unofficially) a class this semester? What would it teach you (or remind you) about your mission field? How would it help you remember – and encourage – your students’ call to student-ness? And hey, if you picked well, what cool stuff might you learn?

I recognize that college ministers are awfully busy. And maybe it’s too late (this semester) to jump into a class anyway. But popping into class once in awhile – or all semester – really would make you a stronger missionary to the campus tribes.

(You could even solicit ideas from students about which class they’d love to see you take… or take with you.)

Just an idea. I hope you’re entering a semester of thinking outside the box – and deeply inside the campus.

What students would lead the way, if a disaster struck close to home?

You serve in the midst of lots and lots of zeal. College students can be mobilized to do something in an instant! But the something they do when tragedy strikes may not correspond with what’s actually needed.

Have you ever thought about developing a disaster response leadership team? Composed of students who actually read books like When Helping Hurts and learn from groups like Samaritan’s Purse and are ready to teach others – and to lead when needed?

This doesn’t have to be a “standing team,” in the sense that it meets weekly. It could even run across multiple college ministries (what an awesome way to unify). But as gunmen and terrorists and hurricanes make headlines, a college ministry can respond… but they’ll only respond well if they’re ready to do so.

Enter your email address to get new posts by email.

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.

Categories

Twitter

Posts from the Past