It’s paradoxical to talk about developing organic community through structures, including accountability. But the truth is, that’s a paradox we have to live in. Your student leaders will build community if someone’s challenging them to do so… and checking up to see if they’re doing it.

How often do you ask your student leaders about the steps they’ve taken to build community?

Whether it’s a challenge like “Connect with a new visitor each week, and sit down (for lunch/coffee/etc.) with a newer visitor once a month” or simply asking good questions – “How did you connect with someone outside of your small group time?” – you have the chance to hold leaders accountable to the what without micromanaging the how.

What you measure is what you’ll get. We know that theoretically but can forget to put it into practice, and this is one area where a little accountability could go a long way.

Just a challenge: Have you properly debriefed your students after the craziness of this year’s presidential elections (and their aftermath)?

Whether you campus collectively cheered, booed, argued amongst yourselves, or seemed pretty apathetic to the whole thing, you don’t want to miss the chance to “close the loop” on this amazing discipleship opportunity.

“Out of sight, out of mind” and “water under the bridge” shouldn’t apply here. Plus all of it may come up when your students are home. So be sure to finish our your shepherding on this important topic.

I still watch Survivor. Not ashamed to admit that.

And this week’s episode was the one (it happens each season) when the castaways’ loved ones get to visit. And it’s a powerful moment, even though the castaways have only been “away” for 20-something days. It’s a moment the contestants look forward to all season; when it comes, it’s emotional.

It reminded me that college ministers, too, have the opportunity to connect with families of their students, not just with students. Family members are naturally a little more remote, but even from the beginning there are touchpoints: orientations, drop-offs, Parents Weekends, and on through the year. And with a little effort (mostly through good communication), family members can be consistently involved from afar, too.

College ministers are in the unique position of shepherding people newly freed from home… that aren’t quite freed from home (in most cases). Connecting with family not only opens up ministry opportunities with those folks, but it helps students and their families as they adjust to this new situation – plus when families are Christian, it allows for some great shepherding synergy.

Most college ministries have a Large Group Meeting as one methodological pillar of a few. So our field is well-versed in getting everyone together.

But how often does every true “regular” feel like they’re a “member,” in the sense of being “part of something”? How often are all “regulars” gathered when there also aren’t (at least hypothetically) visitors also around? In a weird way, the very hospitality and new-person-seeking that’s a bedrock for most healthy college ministries works against them on this one score. The largest, most “all of us” kind of gathering is often outsider-facing, meaning the only folks who convene for “family talk” are student leaders and the like.

It’s not a terrible problem, but it’s worth considering the way a sense of “belonging” or “family” or “movement” increases participation and community. And then evaluating if there are chances to “get the gang together” – not to exclude, but to include in ways that encourage, and even make everyone even better at the outsider-facing stuff.

I’ve written on the importance of keeping a level of continuity over Christmas (and summer break) with students. Good shepherds don’t get to fully withdraw.

But it’s important to think about where student leaders fit in this goal. Whether your structure involves small group leaders, ministry team leaders, disciplers, or any other student ministers, they can (and should) help connect with students over breaks.

If they’re directly ministering to students anyway (like in small groups), then let them come up with their own plans that fit their crew. Others may need a plan laid out for them or at least brainstormed with them.

But then – whoever comes up with the plan – you’ll want to hold them to it. All of the students (as well as the staff) will be busy at points, and “out of sight, out of mind” is a constantly tempting enemy.

See you after Thanksgiving!

It’s a simple thing to ask at this point in the semester:

Are your student leaders better at their “jobs” than they were in August?

This is an assessment not ultimately of them, but it’s an assessment of the college ministry. Are student leaders growing in their “skills,” in their ministry aptitude, under your watch?

Sure, they’ve got experience. But are they better because of training, not just experience?

If he’s not a much stronger small group leader, if she’s not leading the Evangelism Team quite a bit better, etc., then it’s worth considering where leader training can fit in next semester. Every “job” has skills (and many of these skills overlap under the general heading of “leadership”). So these things can be taught, not simply improved by experience.

It’s easy for this to be a blow-off week college ministry-wise. But regardless of your ministry’s plans, it’s important to realize that many of your students will undertake really important experiences this week.

For some, it’s the first week home in awhile (or all semester)

For most, it’s the longest time spent at home this semester.

For some, it’s feeling stuck on campus because they can’t go home, don’t want to go home, or don’t really have “home” like some do.

The question is, do you know what your students will face this week, and how they’re feeling about it? Or if your ministry is too large to know the individual “sheep,” do their individual “shepherds” (small group leaders or others) know what each student is facing?

The stakes are higher this week than we often remember.

Finishing out my vacation week and a look at posts from Novembers past, here’s a Fridea…

Ultimately, it’s important that Student Leaders come to see themselves as your fellow College Ministers, just as international missionaries work to raise up indigenous leaders who fully “own” the mission (while remaining part of the tribe).

If you can get your students to that point, then spending time brainstorming with them about the mission only makes sense.Yes, they’ll need direction. Yes, they’ll probably have to hear some “Nos” to their Big Ideas – although

Yes, they’ll need direction and guardrails for that brainstorming. Yes, they’ll probably have to hear some “Nos” to their Big Ideas – although couching that response in “we’ll have to see if it works out” terms may be good. (Better, help your newly-fellow college ministers see why lots of good ideas, though “good,” aren’t best.)

Taking this a step toward the concrete: What if this sort of brainstorming became the focus of a special night – or even a college student (or leadership team) retreat?

“Brainstorming Brouhaha?” “Conspire Camp?” “Rack-our-brains Retreat?” Whatever you call it, if it’s done well, letting students brainstorm about specific areas of the ministry and possibilities for the upcoming semester or school year could unleash all sorts of great new ideas. They are, after all, the indigenous leaders – there are lots of reasons foreign missionaries try to raise them up to impact their own tribes, but one of them is because indigenous leaders know their tribe best.

One tip for making this great

Before I close out this Fridea, I want to point back to a principle that will make-or-break this experience for your ministry: teaching your students (and yourself) to build methods around purposes, not vice versa. (I call it Backwards College Ministry, and you can read about it here.) Teach your students that stuff first, and this activity really could generate some fantastic next steps for your campus ministry.

As my week of November posts past continues, here’s an entry from my “A Week of Assessment” series I posted two years ago. You can find the first in that series here. But here’s a favorite:

One quick way to get a gut-check in your ministry is to ask students what they know about it. Surely there are some things you hope your best-involved students know. But how well those things have actually gotten across – from the stage, in small groups, in your emails or other messages, etc. – will be unclear unless you actually ask.

So, an assessment along those lines: What if you simply surveyed all your students next week, anonymously, and then examined the results?

Here are the sorts of things I would ask (if they apply to your ministry); adjust the wording for what you need:

  1. First, ask how long they’ve been involved in your ministry. (When you evaluate the survey, this will be important for judging the results – including discounting results from those who have only been coming in the last few weeks.)
  2. What do you think our ministry is all about?
  3. What is our ministry’s mission statement? (or ask about your ministry’s theme verse, official “pillars,” etc. – whatever you’ve officially established to guide the ministry)
  4. Name as many of our student leaders as you can, and their role in the ministry
  5. Name as many staff people as you can (including the college minister!)
  6. Write down as many topics or truths from this semester’s messages as you remember
  7. What’s the reason behind our ministry’s name?
  8. (If you’re at a church) What’s the name of our pastor? (or anything else they should know about the church)
  9. How does someone become a leader in our ministry?
  10. How does someone serve as a volunteer in our ministry?

Hopefully these 10 questions get you thinking about others; the point is to ask students to articulate the things you feel like they should know.

Like I said, this one could be a gut-check!

This week’s vacation took me yesterday to UC Santa Barbara with its many, many bicyclists… plus the original Freebirds World Burrito nearby, in the fantastic college town setting of Isla Vista. And it brings you another post from a past November!

As part of a seminar on Student Leadership, I have discussed ways to raise up leaders from within (or even outside) our campus ministries.

One little nugget from that talk makes a handy idea: Build a retreat, a weekend, or a series of gatherings around helping students find their “place.”

One college ministry (that I was a part of) once used a retreat to teach on and discuss spiritual gifts, complete with having students work through one of those helpful “spiritual gifts inventories.” You could do the same thing with personality tests – from DISC or Choleric, Sanguine, etc. to something more hearty, like Myers-Briggs. Heck, you could even try to get through the whole SHAPE inventory or have everybody take the StrengthsFinder test.

A retreat gives you the context in which to discuss results. What’s more, students can find others who score similarly to them – who knows the synergy that might take place there?

On the other hand, like so many things a college ministry teaches on, these things could be tailored into a seminar or two for the campus at-large – especially if you or someone you know is a true expert on any of this. Plenty of non-Christian or non-involved students might be drawn to a mini-conference that will help them, too, find their place in the world… and that’s a great bridge toward helping them find their place in the Kingdom, too.

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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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