And… I’m back. Our son’s birth went well, and we’re sleepy as we learn about life with two under two.

I’ve come to realize through the years that I’m drawn to all sorts of (what I would call) “ministry gaps” – areas the big-C Church seems to have under-served, under-appreciated, under-funded, etc.

That’s a big part of why I gravitated to college ministry nearly two decades ago.

And even as I do explore other ministry gaps, what’s great is that I can usually connect my pondering on those gaps to the world of collegiate ministry.

One thing I’ve had on my mind a lot lately is what you might call “user experience” within ministries. Since “UX” in the corporate world most often applies to digital settings (like how easily customers can navigate a company’s web page), the closest comparison here might actually be to CX – customer experience. But of course ministry people like us sometimes get a little queasy talking about attendees as “customers” – understandably.

So maybe it’s just “experience” for now. In the case of our field of ministry, CMX perhaps.

Whatever we call it, our “users’ experience” should be a major concern to anyone who leads a ministry. And significantly, for college ministers this MUST apply to “users” beyond freshmen.

Yet college ministries may function often like churches that put heavy investment into “first impressions” (for new guests) and “assimilation” for new regulars and/or new members… but then leave longer-term members largely to their own devices when it comes to going further up and further in.

So that’s what I’d like to blog about this week. It’s not a new discussion around here, but maybe some new thoughts in new ways will pop out.

In the meantime, I’d encourage you to ask how your investments line up: What percentage of emphasis, activity, and resources is dedicated to students “pre-assimilation”? (In your ministry, a student may be “assimilated” when they’ve joined a small group… attended three times… attended something more than the Large Group Meeting… or whatever. It doesn’t have to be an official designation to be useful here.)

I’ll be taking the week off for family time after the birth of our new son. See you later this month!

The rhythm of collegiate ministry is an interesting thing – hardly comparable to any other form of ministry. Even youth ministry, which does have to account for the school year, tends to have a continuing flock during the summer – as well as a steadier roster (because of the influence of parents).

College ministry’s unique rhythm, among other things, carries with it natural deadlines – particularly that yearly one called The Start of School in August or September. Perhaps the second most dramatic deadline is in May. And don’t forget the “shepherding deadline” for each student before he or she graduates.

These deadlines (hopefully) work for you, not against you. You’re forced to prioritize and push when asking things like,

  • What improvements will we make for the upcoming school year?
  • Are our recruiting materials ready?
  • What are the most important themes to teach before summer?
  • How will I prepare them for summer?
  • How will I prepare them for life beyond college?
  • What leaders will serve with us in the new school year?

And on and on.

I know these deadlines can feel like a scourge sometimes. But their presence forces, as I said, prioritization. And prayer. And practicality. And all those things are fantastic for moving along, improving year after year, “making the most of every opportunity,” “numbering our days.”

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 Jn. 4 ESV)

As I write this blog, I’m listening to our 19-month-old play in the other room. It’s a joy to hear her busily poking and spinning the toys that are far higher-tech than mine were 35ish years ago.

I look forward to taking joy in her all her life. As I think is the case for many Christian parents, it gives me glimpses of how the Lord views us (and me!), how He takes joy in His children. But there’s another opportunity to reflect some part of that: in the joy we who shepherd get to take in our “children,” the various flocks/congregations/ministries/mentees God has given us some leadership in.

Until we forget to delight in them.

This post is an encouragement to make sure you’re spending enough time and/or emotional energy purely delighting in these college students God has allowed you to minister to. Go to recitals and games, talk with them about hobbies and dreams, watch them worship or teach. Enjoy them, smile to yourself about them, take the relational joys as part of the grand portion God has provided you in making you a college minister.

This coming school year, could you make more space – both in new calendar events and within the calendar events already in place – to delight in your college students?

An oldie but goodie – and there’s good room to do this in the summer if students are around.

When’s the last time you took a young collegiate couple on a double date with you and your wife?

That might seem like an awkward idea – and no doubt there would be some awkwardness – but I can’t think of a better way to call college students to date well… and marry well, too. (If you’ve got adult volunteers or want to recruit some – even just for this – that could be really great too.)

Whether you’re married or not, I hope college students get to hang out at your house on occasion. I hope they see you in your “work life,” too, even if that’s simply more college ministry work. I hope they rub shoulders with you in your other ministry habitats, too – like your church, your neighborhood, and your city.

Letting students into our lives is a chance to show them what they should aspire to – as adults (whatever our age happens to be), as spouses, as family men and family women, as employees, as church members. And even, right now, as really great dates.

I’ve posted this before but probably can’t say it enough.

Summer slows down for me a bit, so, for example, I might get the chance to press forward on the theory and strategy side of my ministry by reading a variety of books. I’ve attended heavy-duty conferences in summers past, or started working on something spring simply didn’t provide time for.

Crash-coursing can be a joy.

I don’t know what your summer looks like, but here’s one thing I can guess is true: There’s at least one portion of your college ministry which, if you improved during this summer, would truly (and forever) impact the ministry as a whole.

So the question is, can you take the time this summer to make that advance?

Could you take a few days, or an hour every day for a couple of weeks, or a weekend retreat, or some other “crash course” season to move the ball forward in that area? Sure, a crash course is not the only way to learn – maybe not even the best way. But it can work for certain topics – and even more importantly, it may actually be something you’ll actually do!

If you HAD to choose something to take a crash course on, what would it be?

Hopefully, during the school year, news of a major event in a student’s life would make its way to student leaders and/or staff in your college ministry. But what about this summer?

That’s a great assessment for just how well you’ve grown the “family” feel. Would a student whose dad was sick reach out? What about a student who lost their job – or who landed a fantastic job for post-graduation? Would you know if a student led someone to the Lord… or would anyone else in the college ministry know? What if a student got engaged? If they failed a summer school course – or aced it? If they got hurt or landed in the hospital? Or if a student realized they weren’t able to return to school in the fall?

Maybe a college minister shouldn’t settle for this threshold of “major events”; maybe a true family would know a lot more about each other – at least at the level of small groups or other “intimate community” structures. But this is a start at an evaluation.

If every student who returns in the fall needs to catch everyone up on their lives, then there might be room to improve the “community” aspect of your campus ministry. And even now, a little reach-out to students (or through student leaders) couldn’t hurt.

What if your student leaders and other “core” students took some time this summer to share about your ministry with incoming freshmen?

And what if they reached out because of a connection – same home city might or of course same high school when available. Maybe other characteristics can help, too – same denominational background, or same major, or same sport in high school.

How does one get this sort of info? And how can we keep from just sending a bunch of spam?

As for getting the info, every school is different on what it provides. But they might provide student organizations with some level of info on incomers. If you just have a mailing address, someone can still send a note. But you should be polling a lot of the youth pastors in your state, to help share about your ministry with their incoming students. It’s amazing what social media connections can do, too – and there might be a “Class of 2021” group out there for your campus already (offering you students to connect with).

As for the spam angle, different ministers will draw different lines here. It’s important to respect students and their info and their “space.” But it’s also okay to recognize that they’re used to getting contacted and may even like it. One (wise) reach-out, with something a student actually might care about, on social media or email may not seem invasive.

Your students, honestly, may be more clear on what will seem “awkward” than you will be. Social norms matter (as long as they don’t enslave us), so don’t run forward without thinking them through. But with all the fliers, reach-outs, mailings, booths, and other efforts to reach them they’ll face between now and October, it might be okay to offer a “chance to do something spiritual” in there, too – especially if they’re offering to connect with them (regardless of whether they come to the college ministry or not). Freshmen still know they’re freshmen, and some of them are pretty freaked out. However your students serve them in the midst of that, it’s likely a win.

This week’s Fridea is an idea from the past, but it’s a goodie – especially as I’ve mentioned ways to use Seniors this week, and as you’ve got room to add some student leaders to your roster for the coming fall.

One intriguing model for promoting service opportunities and “causes” is something we use at the church that employs me.

Our system relies heavily on having a “point person” for each of our 20 ministry partners. So for the homeless ministry we connect with, there’s a point person. For the refugees ministry, there’s a point person. For the mentoring program, there are a couple of point people.

Ideally, the Point Person:

  • Champions the cause to others in our church
  • Helps strategize our involvement
  • And helps shepherd volunteers

Couldn’t student leaders (or adult volunteers) function that way within a collegiate ministry? Instead of the college minister OR a dedicated “Service Team” handling all the outreach… what if each ministry outlet was “handled” by a champion? (Of course, you might choose those ministries in the ways I’ve outlined here and here.)

And that means you’d have the opportunity to “let loose” a few students who have proven themselves and invested in the ministry. It may be that you’d even select a few seniors and offer them this chance – to find an organization or a cause, vet it, explain to staff why it’s a “win” for the college ministry, and then spend a semester or school year promoting it within your ministry.

Would it mean students might appear to “compete” a little, as they recruit other students to their cause? Perhaps… but as long as they’re first and foremost Kingdom-minded and excited about their peers serving somehow, a group of students each rallying can be good for your climate of service overall.

Have you considered visiting any of your students who are away for the summer?

You might not be able to accomplish this for all your students, but a misplaced “fairness” shouldn’t keep you from visiting others. If there’s a city where several of them live (or are working this summer), all the better. Or maybe you’d try to visit as many of your student leaders as you could, or those about to be juniors, or some other segment.

Your staff could split this up, or even student leaders might get in on the act, visiting other students to grab lunch or whatever.

Yes, it takes time and a little budget. But it’s a powerful way to remind everyone that this college ministry is a family. And it will get you in touch with that “other world” of your students – you know, since y’all usually just hang out inside the campus bubble.

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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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