It seems like the vast majority of campuses start classes today. If that’s not you, unless you are at a Quarter System school, you’ve probably started or will start within a week of today.

So in light of the rush, I don’t need to teach.

I hope that first day of school feels like a very very good day for you. It’s a magnificent day, a near-magical day, a day most missionaries don’t see –the annually-renewing energy of the mission field, a day when those you’re trying to reach are rushing around wide-eyed, their wonder and curiosity and anxiety and openness at their highest. Their lives are going to change in so many ways this year – even this semester. That’s wild to realize.

I have cared deeply about college ministry for 17 years now. But my ventures and adventures have been far from normal. I am thankful that so many get to serve normally, in a mission field that is awesome on a regular basis. It is a world-changing mission field. It is a life-changing mission field.

At the very least, some of these wide-eyed freshman scurrying to and fro in front of you today will have their lives and testimonies radically altered because you’ve chosen to give your life to this field. Isn’t that fantastic?

Thank you so much.

This may be a weird idea, even seeming like a dumb concession to the helicopter parenting and similar over-coddling that we hear so much about. But with contextual tweaking for your own situation, there might be a payoff here… and that’s the point of the Frideas anyway – to get you to ponder.

The mode in ministry to International Students seems to be connecting those incoming students with a mentor/”sponsor” student who can help them navigate their new school and new home. And in the Greek System, “big sisters” and “big brothers” accomplish the same thing, showing the ropes to new members.

But what if you offered something like that for any incoming freshmen?

I suppose I’m imagining Sophomores, Junior, and Seniors offering to help incoming freshmen find classes, navigate the random front-end “what-you-have-to-dos” for your school, helping them navigate their many involvement options, think with them about the study load ahead, etc. This can be in-person, via phone or email, or some of all of it.

I simply don’t know if the freshmen will take you up on it.

But you might be surprised – people experiencing a crazy new environment, who know they’re unfamiliar, are often willing to take good suggestions that longer-tenured members find hard or weird. (See also: new believers in your church.) It might also seem most natural if you pair freshmen (or transfers) with students in their majors, in their dorms, or with some other affinity.

And the upside could be enormous, obviously. You’re helping people in significant ways, plus it’s an awesome way to build relationship.

I’ve mentioned “Kingdom-minded competition” a few times over the last couple of years, including in the post below. But this is what you’re likely readying for right now.

Only we don’t like to call it “competition.” Yet I think we’re far better off recognizing that there is a very clear competitive element whenever more than one college ministry is on a campus.

So it’s better to recognize that element… so we can add and adjust in a way that makes it God-glorifying, student-serving, and kind to others.

Here’s that post:

Tonight I have the chance to talk to about 20 parachurch ministry organizations. They are preparing to participate in a ministry fair at our church. I’ll begin our conversation by noting my background in college ministry, where attention to “kingdom-minded competition” is needed at least once a year (and in reality takes place all year long).

My points are applicable to all of us, and here are some of the things I plan to say:

Bringing it: Nobody likes the word “competition” when we’re talking about ministries, and that’s fine. But whatever we call it, my point is that in our recruiting, we should BRING IT. Every time you have the opportunity to share your ministry with potential recruits, you should exert some major effort and present that with excellence. In other words, it should feel like you’re competing because of the level of attention you’re providing.

(Not to get too deep here, but in some sense you are fully competing against all the other stuff that can steal students’ attention. They should see the Christian ministries on campus as ALL great options, and hopefully better options than the variety of things of less import.)

In the middle of the metaphors: I’ve been struggling to come up for a good metaphor here… but I know what “Kingdom-minded Competition” isn’t.

It’s not like the car show at our local state fair, where everyone’s in the same building but wants you to look at and buy their car and only theirs. But – and this is what we sometimes think unity has to look like – it’s also not supposed to be like the local Chevy dealership… where every car is nice and shiny but nobody cares too much about which one you pick. Our goal for recruitment should be somewhere in the middle, a real mutual desire for students to end up where God wants them, alongside a belief that we’ve got a fantastic ministry to offer them.

Reflecting your ministry: Part of “bringing it” should be that you present your ministry with not only your “best foot forward” but also in a way that reflects what your ministry offers. Honesty is vital!

Your recruitment tools (a booth, fliers, ads around campus, even word of mouth) should reflect your ministry – are students getting what they’re expecting to get, based on your recruitment?

I first wrote this post around this time last year, but I thought it was appropriate once again.

I don’t know how you’re feeling about the new school year. I hope you’re excited.

I also don’t know how long you’ve been serving your particular campus. This might be Year One, or Two, or Ten, or Twenty.

But whatever you’re doing, I want to encourage you to take the long view. Be excited about the semesters already behind you, and look forward to many semesters ahead of you – at the same campus, if God sees fit to plant you there.

College ministry isn’t valued within Christendom like it should be. So that means that many college ministers don’t have the chance to build a “mission to a campus tribe” for the amount of time we’d hope.

But building the strongest college ministry possible often requires a long obedience in the same direction – by the college minister, as well as by his or her supporters and bosses. It’s best when a college minister achieves years of learning the culture, gaining trust, finding “people of peace” within the campus, learning the “language,” and developing the mission.

That’s why we might (and should) use the word “plant” to describe what we’re doing: We’re planting a campus ministry. Because it’s going to take root (over time), look dormant (for a time), show a little sprout (over time), and bear fruit (over time).

This doesn’t always mean one single college minister carries the mission the whole way. But for those in the trenches, be encouraged about what the future can hold with your long obedience.

The last couple of days (here and here), I’ve written about the importance of a clarified “route” for students to progress through your ministry, as they grow in commitment and maturity.

So to tie that to a Fridea, the takeaway is simply this:

Spend time figuring out how to share that “path” with students.

You’ll have time to flesh it out. But how will you – in ten seconds – get your expectations and hopes into students’ heads?

It might be “Worship with Us, Meet with Us, Lead with Us.” It might be “Taste, Study, Serve, Own.” It might be “Belong, Believe, Be the Church.”

But of course, you figure out the path. You make sure it’s really clear. Then you make it pithy.

This is worth spending time on before the year starts – even though August is the most valuable time of all. It could truly help students progress through your ministry, and in their own discipleship.

After posting yesterday on the importance of confirming you have a very clear “route” for students to progress in the campus ministry, I wanted to revisit an old post that explains the origins of my methodology.

(And just in case it isn’t clear, I do recognize that any student might find their way INTO your ministry in an other-than-expected way, and any student might travel THROUGH your ministry in various ways too. But it’s important to make the opportunities clear (to staff and students), as well as clarifying and advertising the most likely and expected route(s) to grow in involvement and commitment.)

Here’s that post from 2011, edited a bit:

Simple Movement

As you may have noticed, this week I’ve been highlighting passages that I’ve found enormously impactful for my own understanding of college ministry – both as I’ve practiced it and as I’ve coached others in strengthening their own efforts.
Today I turn to the book Simple Church, a book I found phenomenally useful – even though (like Under the Unpredictable Plant that I discussed earlier this week) this one’s not actually written for college ministries and those who lead them. But it’s easily translatable for our field, as you’ll see with the passage below.

This part is near the front of a chapter on Movement – one of the aspects of college ministry I think receives far too little attention (although certainly some college ministries have grabbed hold of this really well!).

Simple church leaders have designed their simple process with movement in mind. The ministry process moves people to greater levels of commitment – with ever-increasing levels of discipleship. The simple process moves people through the process of spiritual transformation.

Congestion is gone.

Movement occurs naturally. People are not stuck in the same place. There is a plan for transformation. People are challenged to progress through the simple process. Change in the lives of people is expected.

According to our research, there is a significant relationship between the vitality of a local church and the movement of the church’s ministry process. Movement is the sequential steps in the process that causes people to move to greater areas of commitment.

Do you have a simple process that moves people?

…If you want your process to move people, your programming must be strategic and sequential. You must also intentionally move people, offer a clear next step, and provide a class for new members.

If your brain just hit the brakes at the thought of that last suggestion, that’s understandable; remember, this is a book written for churches, not college ministers. But the other mandates – strategy, sequence, intentional movement, and clear next steps – certainly apply.

(And you know what? I’m not so sure some sort of “Introduction” to our college ministries wouldn’t add to the levels of community and identity in our ministries, but that’s a post for another day.)

A simple – but vital – check-up before you welcome new students (and welcome old students back).

You need to clarify the expected student “movement” through your campus ministry.

Once a student comes through the front door (for most college ministries, that’s a Large Group Meeting), what should they do next? It may be as simple as Large Group, then small groups, then volunteering, then leadership (although that by no means is the only smart setup or even the “right” order). But the question is: Are you, your staff, your volunteers, and your students crystal-clear on those hoped-for steps?

Are they acknowledged – and pushed – often?

In my discussions with college ministers, I’m surprised how few can answer the question about their expected route students will take through their programs and opportunities as they mature and connect. It’s got to be clear for everybody. And it’s got to be on the tip of our tongues.

My wife and I are in the middle of moving, which has reminded me just how much I hate upheaval. But it’s a common part of life – just one that’s uncommon for the person experiencing it.

Your students face upheaval, too, but the nature of college ministry may mean you’re not in touch with what they’re facing. This is all the more true in the summer break. And the functions that do connect with them on a more intimate level – like small groups – may peter out in May and not rev up until September… leaving a good four months for students to face things rather alone (potentially).

Of course, there are lots of ways to address this – including making small groups work a little more perpetually. But since the dawn of a new school year is upon us, my push today is simply to find out how your students are doing as they enter the new school year. Get people on your staff or within your student leadership to make sure every student is “accounted for,” and that anyone coming back to a hard new situation OR having faced toughness over the summer is known, encouraged, and loved.

Many of your students won’t be facing trials right now. But for those in the midst of upheaval, the early touchpoint will be enormous.

What if your college ministry took on one particular ministry task, for a local church?

Whether your ministry is campus-based, church-based, or otherwise, your students could easily take ownership of something for a local church. Wouldn’t tasks like these be fertile ground for student involvement (with the right students)?:

  • Visitation (to hospitals, shut-ins, etc.)
  • Delivering collected goods (food, clothing, etc., that the church collects)
  • Getting in touch with new church visitors
  • Praying for prayer requests that roll in
  • Serving in admin/office tasks
  • Organizing and running special events
  • “Work days” at the church
  • Taking one “shift” the church has with a local non-profit

I’m just spitballin’ these ideas – you know the local churches better. If you are a church-based ministry, this probably looks like adopting a task within your own church… although reaching out to a smaller church in town could be really incredible.

Now is the time of year when you’re likely to be in Go Go Go mode. The start is just around the corner.

But now is actually a great time not only to focus on What to Keep Doing and What to Start, but also on those questions’ evil triplet, What to Stop.

One of the best potential moves for college ministers in August is to decide to put a traditional activity on “hiatus” (if the opportunity presents itself). You don’t want to rush into this, of course, but sometimes the crunch of the oncoming semester creates a wonderful sort of clarity. And so often, the campus ministry calendar gets filled with one-time events or ongoing activities that simply shouldn’t continue… or at least should go on hiatus to see how it affects the ministry, or to renew excitement if/when those activities return to the lineup.

Take a couple of hours in the next week to examine your activities: Anything that can go? You’ll be real glad you cut back, and it’s pretty likely an exciting opportunity will arise in its stead.

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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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