When we send a missionary overseas to start a new effort, she may come back a year later with little in the way of actual numbers to report. “We’ve developed relationships with people in the village,” she might say. “We found a ‘person of peace’ there, and we even bonded with some chiefs of the tribe!”

As the missionary tells us fantastic stories of God’s work and gives her report, she continues, “Our mission hasn’t seen any conversions yet, but we’ve developed a plan to begin a Bible discussion group in the coming year. And we’ve developed a long-term strategy for reaching this tribe for Christ.”

What do we do when we hear that report? We celebrate! We praise God! We send that missionary back, and we’ll give her even more financial support if we can!

If a college minister reports the exact same thing to his superiors, he’s probably looking for a new job the next day.


Maybe that should change.


  1. It’s hard to put any kind of number on it – and evaluating a ministry that’s truly starting from 0 versus one that’s “restarting” will be different, too. For a restarting ministry, the problem is that you may be gaining students, but if ones who aren’t on board (or just who graduate) leave, you look like you’re not growing…

    One key for the number thing is what ministries the overseers are comparing you to. In Texas, our ministries can get compared at times to Breakaway – which is pretty scary, since some years that Bible study at Texas A&M has pulled 5,000 a week or so. Yikes indeed.

    I think the “If you build it, they will come” mentality is fairly pervasive among SOME pastors and other college ministry overseers.

    During the trip, I was mostly meeting with present college ministers. But I do know some ministers who seem to have fallen into this category. And from plenty, I have gotten the picture of being really required to have numbers, because numbers supposedly show effectiveness.

    Which isn’t, in my opinion, completely untrue. But numbers work quite differently in college ministry than in, say, youth ministry. It’s understanding the time issue – the requirement of patience – that seems pretty key.

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