some first and scattered thoughts on recruitment

RecruitmentWhile we’re still at the first of the school year, I did want to write some random thoughts that have arisen as I’ve watched churches and other ministries recruit in these Chicago schools. This is not a “treatise on recruitment,” because for most of us, it’s too late to try to revamp anything now. These are generally thoughts that anyone could put in place fairly easily that might improve our ministry to students here at the beginning of the year.

My friend Jessica asked in the comments on the last post about how hard we “recruit” for our individual ministries. You might wanna read my answer there, at least to see my personal take on the issue.

Remember, these are scattered thoughts. So don’t be mad when they’re… um… scattered.

The Ministering Begins Yesterday

  • Remember that you’re first-and-foremost a minister to me, if I’m a college student, whether or not I go to your church. So begin ministering to me from our first encounter!
  • If you can, help me (in words or through materials you give me) make this decision about church. Why is church important? How should I make this decision?
  • Listen to me and my friends and adjust accordingly. I already mentioned that one church did this (EV Free, Libertyville) – because students asked about it at the church fair, they immediately began organizing Sunday-morning pick-ups from members of their congregation.
  • Not every part of our encounter needs to be “recruitment” (despite what this whole post may sound like). Love me through your conversation, through your giveaways, through whatever.

So Help Me Make the Decision

  • Tell me who you really are as a church. What makes you distinct? (It’s okay – I know you’re advertising. Just tell me!) What are your teaching topics this semester? What’s on the calendar? Why would anybody want to come to your ministry?
  • But don’t overwhelm me. I probably don’t need your church constitution. (Yes, some churches hand those out.) One church listed THIRTY “Church Values” in their flyer. They may be an awesome church, but that’s a lot of values…
  • I’d like to know what I can expect if I come to your church. That will help me feel comfortable if I do come, and it will help make this decision a lot easier. I shouldn’t have to try out every church in order to make this decision, so tell me about your church in real, concrete ways. (Just don’t run me off – highlight your strengths.)

Know Thy Audience

  • Remember, I’m a college student. And beyond that, I’m at a specific campus. The more you “target” me, the better off you’ll be. And truthfully, the better you’ll help me as I look for a ministry.
  • Don’t only give me the brochures you give all visitors. If those things are attractive, yes, give them to me. But include something printed up “just for me,” to help me wade through everything else as a college student.
  • In other words, give me a clear and simple understanding of how college students “fit” and connect to your church.
  • Tell me connections to my (new) life – like that you have students from my school already in your ministry, or professors who go there, or graduates on your staff.

Make it Simple, Easy, Cool, or Otherwise Accessible

  • Give me something to do soon if you can. If you tell me that you’re not really “gearing up” until way after Labor Day, you might lose me before then. Several Chicagoland churches are having some sort of picnic or other hang-out right away, and I think that’s a good call – even if you’re not really “gearing up” for a couple of weeks.
  • Give me a web site. Always.
  • And make the web site helpful. If I’m on your site, I’m interested – don’t just tell me there what you told me on a flyer.
  • Give me other easy access to information – phone numbers, text messages, automated systems…
  • Shockingly, I’ve only had ONE church here tell me their ministry’s Facebook group. You can LEAD with that. (And yes, I think your ministry should have a Facebook group. Just make sure it’s somewhat well-populated before you advertise it to new people.)
  • Several churches here gave printed Mapquest directions, from the campus to their church. Bravo. That’s easy, and it’s what I’d be looking up anyway if I wanted to come to your church. You just helped me skip a step.
  • List your address. Today’s students will Mapquest, GoogleMaps, etc. And, increasingly, they might even have those GPS things – but we need an actual driving address.
  • Make sure whatever you do directions-wise is correct. I spent 10 extra minutes trying to find a church ’cause their map wasn’t perfect. I don’t need your mailing address, I need an address/map that you’ve actually tested that will get me to your parking lot.

Brilliant Giveaways

  • Anything you give me should advertise your church – especially if it’s something I’ll have to deal with later (like popcorn – if you give me unpopped popcorn, make sure to put a sticker on it about your church!).
  • It really is brilliant to give things (like unpopped popcorn) that I’ll have to look at / deal with later, if it advertises for you.
  • If you want to be extra-helpful, give me some sort of bag, because I’m collecting a lot of stuff at this church fair, and it’s getting annoying to hold. (And as long as I keep all the ministries’ info, YOUR ministry’s name will be right there on the bag!)
  • Sure, some of the stuff you’ll give away (if you can afford to) will be “common” among ministries: candy, magnets, pens, coffee, etc. But what’s keeping you from giving it better? Give the best candy (everybody loves a Lik-m-Aid / Fun Dip), personally serve the coffee (like the Anglican Mission in America did at Trinity’s church fair), or give me super-cool pens. (I’m still playing with the International Mission Board‘s crazy scroll pen I got at Glorieta. Or you could just give Pilot G-2s, the very best pen in the whole world.)

Potpourri – More Random Thoughts Based on What I’ve Seen

  • College students like Youth Ministry and Worship. Tell me about those areas of your church, if there are places for me to be involved.
  • The availability of van rides or car pools can for some students be a “make it or break it” point.
  • If you sell me on one great part of your church, you’ve probably sold me on your whole church.
  • Don’t come across mean – in your presence or in your materials. Now is not the time to prophecy, presumably. You can do that when I actually come to your church. :)
  • If you bring “Senior Adults” and/or little kids to the church fair, you’ll stick out – in a good way, probably, at least for those who want a “church family.” But make sure there are people I can identify with at your booth, too.
  • Ooh – since we’re on the subject, maybe you could hand out potpourri to students. Some people would appreciate that, and candles are dorm-illegal.

And the Winner Is… (A Few Methods I’ve Liked the Best)

  • A few different ministries had pre-prepared bags or folders with all the brochures inside. I really liked this, because it was quick, easy, AND kept all their info together, for perusal later. In a ministry fair, the info can get jumbled (and therefore confusing) pretty quickly. (But remember – some students may not take the time to “peruse later,” so this probably shouldn’t be the only advertising you do.)
  • The winner in that department is Larkin Avenue Baptist Church in Elgin, which gave me an actual laundry bag, perfectly folded into a big Ziploc bag, with other brochures, etc. A laundry bag may mean a year or more of advertisement for a church… Now if only the church would offer to do my laundry…
  • I already mentioned that HBC Lake Zurich‘s fancy flyer states “We Love Trinity Students” real big, right on the front.
  • Living Hope of Calvary Community Church definitely put a map on their flyer from the school, with both a “toll” route and a “no toll” route displayed. This is definite skill at “knowing thy audience,” especially up here in toll-laden Chicago.
  • I particularly liked the text on the flyer from Christ Church Lake Forest. While you gotta be careful about too much text, it at least does seem like they’ve incorporated lots of understanding about students and their needs. So here’s the whole text: “[In little type toward the top] We really hope you enjoy the microwave popcorn. Yeah, it may feel like a shameless giveaway, but it’s a lot more fun to get a bag of popcorn than just a postcard with a bunch of information on it, right? And we didn’t even say something cute like ‘pop on over.’ [now bigger type] We at Christ Church would love to have you check us out! Here are some things we can tell you. Tomorrow (Aug 19), our services are 9 and 10:30. Beginning next Sunday August 26th, times are 9 and 11. All services have the same sermon and feature exceptional music. Our senior pastor was a college pastor for eight years, so we think you’ll enjoy his teaching! If you’re interested in serving in a ministry, please check out our website at and contact the staff member associated with the ministry. [a little more, then at the bottom in smaller type:] Enjoy that popcorn, and remember not to let it cook too long. No one likes to smell that.” No, it doesn’t take a genius to write this – but it incorporates humor, concrete/helpful details, discussion of music and teaching and ministry opportunities, the “college pastor” reference, and the web site. They “get” students, in other words.
  • The College Ministry at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Ft. Worth apparently gave city tours to students – talk about helpfully ministering to those students! And getting a captive audience!
  • Lastly, when I was in Abilene, Texas, Crosspoint Fellowship started handing out ice-cold Dublin Dr. Peppers with a sticker about their church stuck around the bottle – a brilliant giveaway in and of itself. But the next year, they gave away warm Dublin Dr. Peppers – even more brilliant! Not only did they save themselves the annoyance of trying to keep sodas cool in August, but their advertisement wouldn’t get thrown away until after spending some hours/days in the fridge!


  1. This is a tough topic, right? Like, does this topic cause ministers to pause, you know, and evaluate the appropriateness of their activities? I think it should, and hopefully it does.

    For example, as I went through the enormously popular book, “The Tipping Point” by Gladwell, I found myself wondering how to implement these principles into churches. But, then I was wondering if I was just trying to manipulate folks. I guess it is the whole debate of how Church Marketing should go.

    So, Benson, do you or will you ever have any suggestions on how to evaluate whether or not an approach is “biblical.” [I would think “Ashamed of the Gospel” (MacArthur) is 20 years out of date for this discussion.]

    First example to examine: There is a church that is giving out iTunes for new visitors (I think in the youth group). Why not just give out a $10 bill? What is the difference? One is cash, the other is hip cash?

  2. Good question(s), Steven. Yeah, probably this whole year will be looking at that question.

    But my personal first order of business is making sure the lines I draw against activities are biblical lines, too. If the Bible mandates our activities, then we seek its direction for prohibition, not just approbation.

    Important discussion, for sure. Other first thoughts from anybody?

  3. Jake

    I am just reading and enjoying. No questions yet but I think you have some great thoughts! Our church has really changed over the past few years and there have been a number of younger couples which has now moved down to college students (Amazing what good contemporary music can do). I was a little annoyed this last week when 25 students from Pepperdine and UCLA showed up with classes starting and our college ministry was still not ready. Our young couples group did our best to make them feel welcome, but I think if you don’t hit those first few weeks, then you miss out. Agree??

  4. Yeah, the first few weeks can be rather crucial – not only for welcoming students, but also for generating word-of-mouth. At the same time, there’s a lot that can be done later, too. Plenty of students won’t have found churches in 6 weeks – or by the end of the semester. Advertisement in January could go a long way.

    Sometimes, I also wonder if it might be better to have a “soft start” in a college ministry, because a church can spend time getting to know a campus and drawing the students who are particularly serious about getting involved.

    It may be that the “start of school” is more crucial for established ministries than new ministries, because new ministries don’t really have word-of-mouth to capitalize on anyway. Across their first months of existence (whenever that time may come during the year), they gain an identity that will be their reputation during the NEXT year’s “start of school.”

    But that’s just a theory. :)

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