I can’t believe it’s almost been two decades since my first Finals Week as a college student.

It’s probably because of that distance that I don’t really remember being challenged about “finishing strong” when it came to Finals Week. What happened with the school calendar seems like it was pretty distant from the college ministry, especially since college ministry functions often stopped before our “dead week” for studying up.

In any case, with 19 years of retrospect, I offer you some encouragement to play the “Finish Strong” encouragement role with your students in a couple of ways:

Finish strong in studies, because studies matter. Students who see their educational opportunities as a stewardship and an opportunity are doing better than those who simply see them as necessary evils. And Finals Week means a unique opportunity for you to preach that: Reminding them that “locking in what they’ve learned” is actually valuable beyond that little test they take, as well as reminding them that excellence matters spiritually.

Fulfill their ministry now, because everything changes. Many students may not remember – and freshmen don’t realize – that everything about the spring semester will look a little different. If they’ve begun relationships with classmates, professors, even people they tend to run into on campus, now is likely the time to “fulfill that ministry,” or at least doing whatever they need to when proximity isn’t guaranteed in 2018. This may mean (finally) taking someone to coffee with a spiritual conversation in mind – and Finals Week can be a great time for that – or at least getting contact info, seeking clarity on whether that person “has a faith,” and/or other strategic opportunities.

Have you considered issuing a Growth Challenge for your students across Christmas break?

You could, of course, share ONE challenge with everyone – there’s value in unified movement. But there can be value in options, too – and in the varied stories that come out.

So if you’re looking for a list to present to students, here’s a start. (Where possible, though, I’d include a heavy dose of items that either reinforce learnings from this semester or prepare for upcoming messages/efforts/growth.)

  • Meet with a mentor for four weeks
  • Read a Christian leadership book (or give them a specific book, or book list)
  • Read a book of the Bible each week
  • Read a book of the Bible each day
  • Have a spiritual conversation with an unsaved high school friend
  • Have a spiritual conversation with a parent (whether they’re a believer or not)
  • Visit three places in your hometown where “God did something” (even if you weren’t a believer at the time)
  • Memorize your testimony
  • Memorize a basic gospel presentation
  • Pray for a full 30-minute stretch, at least once a week
  • Fast for at least one day
  • Take a 24-hour “time alone with the Lord”
  • Have lunch with / have a phone conversation with at least 3 members of your small group
  • Revisit (through notes, audio, Bible passages, whatever) the Large Group Meeting messages from first semester
  • Pray for five roommates/dormmates/classmates/professors that seem far from the Lord each day (the same five people all break long)
  • Pray about any volunteer or leadership role you should take next semester

Want something new for the New Year? Here’s a post from way back about using adults…

I would argue that any college ministry should consider getting adults involved. This is a common effort by church-based ministries, but providing intergenerational connections and using adult volunteers is a fantastic option for many ministries besides those housed in churches. And it provides impact that you’re simply not going to get from mono-generational discipleship.

What are some ways you can get this done?

  1. Adopt-a-Student with local Christian adults
  2. Recruit adults/churches to serve meals (or snacks) to students on-campus, at a church, etc.
  3. Use families’ homes (for small groups, parties, etc.)
  4. Get adults to teach (including doing “panel discussions” with multiple adults and on-stage “interviews” of local adults)
  5. Help build “Campus Missions Teams” within each church that has shown an interest (call them “Tiger Mission Team,” “Longhorn Mission Team,” etc., based on the name of your own campus tribe).
  6. Encourage churches to welcome students into adult small groups/classes, if there’s no (well done) collegiate option – and show them how
  7. Bring adults into student gatherings as “hosts”
  8. Highlight the other opportunities at your church or at various churches (women’s Bible study, special speakers, service projects, Christmas events, etc.)
  9. Initiate disciplemaking relationships between adults and students
  10. Initiate mentoring (i.e., between students in certain majors with adults in those fields)
  11. Life “mentoring groups” (i.e., learning to cook)
  12. Getting local adults to eat on campus, spend time on campus, and otherwise begin having a “ministry of presence”
  13. Find opportunities to serve local adults (in ways that build relationships with them)

Last night, our church held an “international potluck,” bringing together many of the international-born members of our congregation (and another couple of hundred American-born folks). It was a great chance to celebrate our church’s growing international population and growing diversity, as well as to encourage those born outside the U.S. (who may not always feel “seen” in our largely white church).

Are there any populations within your college ministry that would be impacted by their own “banquet” or other celebration?

Clearly, care must be shown so other populations don’t feel relegated to “non-favorite” status. Much care. But at the same time, sometimes it’s really valuable to gather students around commonalities – not simply to celebrate them, but also to equip them, encourage them, and even help add other students from their niche to your ministry.

You’re not FCA (unless you are FCA), so what if you held an athletes’ gathering? What about a Liberal Arts majors lunch? A Seniors’ banquet? A Christmas gift exchange for all those who live on the south side of campus? An international student potluck? An artists’ breakfast?

There are three points here that keep this wise, even if it doesn’t always seem fair:

  • Communicate. Share why you’re doing this. As long as you communicate well the reasons a certain group is being celebrated (or being gathered for other reasons), students should be open to that.
  • Be strategic. Don’t hold a special gathering just because certain students might like it – or worse, because it makes you feel like your college ministry is extra-cool. Hold the gathering because you have strong reasons to do so.
  • Involve students in planning. You may end up having lots of special gatherings, led by students in those niches. If Ag majors or musicians or those involved in student government want to rise up and plan something, then so be it! That way you’re certainly not playing favorites. And when a student asks where their niche’s gathering is… you can ask them if they’re prepared to lead it!

I’ve used this Fridea before, but it’s a favorite. It’s a good one for the first day of December, though less applicable around here in Texas than where some of you serve.

Has your campus ministry developed a “Snow Day Capitalization Plan”? (I wanted something fancier than “Snow Day Plan” and something less awkward than “Snow Day Exploitation Plan,” but you can call it whatever you want.)

If your school ever experiences inclement weather days (or other unplanned class cancellations), I bet there are indeed plenty of ways to capitalize on the opportunity that arises. Think about the semi-chaotic canvas that presents itself:

  • There are students in your ministry who by definition don’t have other plans
  • You’ve got students all across campus who might be a little bored
  • Quasi-confinement to the campus grounds and buildings
  • A general feeling of campus “community”
  • A generally excited attitude
  • Real needs by the school itself (everything from increasing safety to reporting on schedule changes to keeping students happy)
  • Real needs from students
  • Killer opportunities simply to have a blast
  • Perhaps the best of all possible days for ministry via conversations and “presence” on campus

So what do you do? It will take the locality of your unique situation to really get the brainstorming going. What if you put a team of students on this task, praying and thinking through some awesome, purposeful ways to use the next surprise “open” day? (I’d talk to the administration, too – you never know what real needs they might have on days like this.)

*Bonus: Think about off-campus, too, especially if you’re thinking about service opportunities. Weather days on campus mean difficulties elsewhere, too.

Whether via service, community, or some of both, I bet your school’s Snow Days could turn out to be some of the best memories of your campus ministry.

The picture: I’ve never seen larger snowflakes than I did at Gonzaga University… one April…

[Everybody has a second snow day today, which is even rarer.]

An oldie but goodie, and a good season for it…

What if your college ministry developed a “care team” to encourage, minister to, and practically help students who are sidelined?

While my original thought here was loving on sick students, this could also work (and might be even more important for) those sidelined with other situations – family stuff, funerals, a service project or mission trip that cuts into school days, etc.

This is a relatively easy chance to help students serve each other significantly. It may mean having a stash of Get Well Soon cards (or care packages) ready to send. Or a team might prepare something more extravagant – like sending in the troops to hand-deliver flowers, notes from their friends, or a blanket and candy… or whatever a student’s mom says they might enjoy. (Yes, you can call their parents to get ideas, and their parents will likely really appreciate your gesture).

For those missing school: Unlike high school, missing a college class often matters, especially when a student hasn’t planned ahead for the missed day. Does a student need to borrow somebody’s notes from class? Do they need info on assignments they can be working on? Talking to their profs about why a student is out might help, too. So could “filling in” if they have some sort of class or other commitment that really needs a fill-in.

I’m thrilled about this idea, especially because it’s a very practical and very useful way for students to serve their peers.

How would you know?

The truth is, even your college students probably haven’t had enough exposure to “bosses” – and certainly not ministry leaders – to know whether you’re a good one or a lousy one. It’s scary: You could honestly be pretty bad and still gain quite a following (and see lots of fruit in your campus ministry), especially because of the age group you’re serving. They’ll follow lots of different kinds of people, including bad ministry leaders. (Like I said – scary!)

But you can change your ignorance of your current excellence fairly easily. Not by asking, “Am I a good boss,” but by breaking down “good boss-ness” into components and asking for student leaders to talk about those elements. Do you listen well when students express issues in their ministry arena? Do you treat various leaders without partiality? Are you open to new ideas? Are you open to critiques, confrontations, pushback?

Even questions that don’t seem personal can shed light here: “What do you believe our mission is?” “How overwhelmed do you feel by your role?” “Are your strengths being used regularly?” These indicate something about your leadership, but students may be more likely to answer really honestly here.

And a few objective questions can help, too: How often do students share new ideas – or even critiques? (If it’s rare, something might be wrong.) How often do students share about their personal lives? (If they don’t, why not?)

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list. There are leadership tools and Google searches for “good boss” and other ideas that can move you down the path here. But now would be a great time to find out, because it’s always a great time to get better.

Have you ever considered what a radical shift might look like?

I’m all for longevity – of individual ministries AND their missions and basic methodologies. Once a college ministry has become as missiological as possible, then consistent improvement through tweaking – not reinventing – should be the norm.

But great missionaries also recognize that reinvention sometimes IS the need.

The church college ministry here recently made that kind of shift, going from a one-campus setup that looked (externally) like Cru or another parachurch approach… to folding into the church’s huge Young Adult ministry for Large Group Meeting but fostering small groups on multiple campuses.

If your ministry had to radically reinvent itself, what would it look like? What COULD it look like?

Want to see just how serious your students are about winning, winsome evangelism? Ask them about the tailored testimony they’re prepared to share with family over Thanksgiving and Christmas.

While “getting your testimony down pat” – as well as near-memorizing a simple gospel explanation – is very useful, the ultimate goal isn’t to rattle anything off. But do your students fully realize that the goal IS to be able to tailor their “presentation” to the unique individual or audience?

I’m so thankful for my long-ago Evangelism Explosion training, because I can still remind myself that Grace-Man-God-Christ-Faith is a helpful outline that hits the high points. But woe to me if my only means of sharing the gospel is to start where that outline starts, end where it ends, and hit every single point in order, with no diversion and no breath.

“To those needing the Bridge Illustration, I gave the Bridge Illustration; to those needing Soularium cards, I presented Soularium; to those needing the Romans Road, I walked the Romans Road; to those needing Inductive Study through Mark, I…” and so on.

But I digress.

Do your students get this idea? With all the rote memorization they already do for school, you might find some students have put faith-sharing and testimony-sharing into the same category. But loving friends and family (and strangers) requires “knowing our lines well” just so we can deviate, hitting all the vital points but “with gentleness and respect” – both qualities that certainly require audience consideration in our method.

As I’ve often talked about (and I’m sure you already know), you cultivate what you honor.

So if your college ministry prioritizes disciplemaking/mentoring (whether one-on-one or small group), then here’s a particular and peculiar way to honor that – and to cast a vision for value in the process.

What if you recognized those whose impact has traveled generation-to-generation through your college ministry? Surely (if you’ve been prioritizing these forms of discipleship) you can trace “lineages” of disciplemakers-and-disciplees: That senior whose small group from two years ago spawned a few small group leaders. That one-on-one gal who (just as you encouraged) raised up ladies who discipled other ladies… who in turn discipled other ladies (a la II Tim. 2).

Maybe you’d even recognize (in-person or in-picture) alumni whose legacy is one of impact. Depending on the history of your ministry, it’s very possible that some of your current leaders can (with your assistance and some major research) trace their “disciplemaking genealogy” back to some who’s in their 40s now (or older). How awesome would it be to come up with ways to recognize that heritage?

On the far end of this idea there are likely concerns to watch out for: competition, hero-worship, shame for those whose lineages are “broken,” etc. But we shouldn’t avoid possibilities because of potential, avoidable problems. And again, we’ll all cultivate what we honor, so if this isn’t how your campus ministry energizes and rewards multi-generational discipleship, what is?

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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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