campus ministry brand difficulty for baptists

Yesterday, I looked at the difficulties faced by Campus Crusade for Christ in light of the negative connotation of the word “crusade.” I found that interesting in my travels around the country, so I thought you might, too!

Probably the biggest branding difficulty in the world of college ministry right now belongs to the Southern Baptists. In case you’re unaware, their campus ministries collectively are officially called “Baptist Collegiate Ministries” at this point in time. But that name is far from standardized nationwide.

brand difficulties and the BSU (BCM, BSM, etc., etc., etc.)

BCM used to be known as BSU – Baptist Student Union. And as far as I can tell, that name was pretty standard on campuses throughout the country. In fact, that branding “stuck” so well that I regularly hear about “BSU” from those inside and outside college ministry circles.

The problem is, only a few states’ Baptist college ministries actually use the “BSU” name anymore.

It seems that a while back, various states began stepping away from the “Baptist Student Union” designation. I’ve heard of three (possible) reasons for this:

  • no longer wanting students and leaders to think of their ministries as simply “student unions for Baptist students”
  • confusion with the Black Student Union
  • growing disuse of the term “student union” in general
  • not wanting to be solely identified as the ministry of a certain denomination

Since any state and any local campus ministry is free to decide its name, over time the above reasons (or others) have led to various names. These names now include:

  • Baptist Campus Ministry / -ies
  • Baptist Collegiate Ministry / -ies
  • Baptist Student Ministry / -ies
  • Christian Challenge
  • Priority
  • Crosswalk
  • Northwest Collegiate Ministries
  • Baptist Student Union
  • and various names of individual local ministries

This is no critique of anybody’s choices in this matter, but it’s instructive for anyone who might be thinking about names for college ministries or “branding” issues.

In the case of the SBC, I think this is a real challenge (in large part because they’re so widespread). Whether they realize it or not, pastors, youth pastors, parents, and others may be ineffective when they hope to point new college students to the SBC ministry on their new campus. The name they know may have changed, or the name they know may not be in use in that state.

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  1. Being a Baptist campus minister definitely has both its advantages and disadvantages, but then I suppose every other type of campus minister does too. I don’t know that it gives us any great advantages in connecting with students outside of the fact that our school will give us a list of Baptist students that we can contact directly. Other than that, it seems like a lot of the Baptist students are just as likely to get involved in some other ministry, which ultimately is fine by me.

    On the other side of the coin, I’ve met many students who gave me the “I’m not Baptist” reason for not wanting to be a part of what we’re doing. I usually tell them than neither are half of the students that come! It’s gone so far that I’ve met students who were afraid to come (but eventually did) because they figured we’d be handling snakes. And here I thought that was a mythical stereotype…

    Several years ago we thought about changing the name but decided not to. I think the reasoning was something along the line that we’re not going to pretend not to be who we are – although I’m not suggesting those who do change the name to be doing just that. I never use the word Baptist and have tried to just use the name BSU.

    Much of what we do is accomplished through our students’ involvement in the lives of others, and that is easily done without the word Baptist ever entering into the picture. I think seeing a community of students that just love Jesus goes a long way in overcoming whatever branding problems we might encounter by wearing the name Baptist.

    (We don’t have a Black Student Union at our campus, but I’ve had people from other parts of the country wonder how I could be leading that particular organization =P )

  2. That’s definitely a good word – especially about the quality of an organization being the main factor here.

    On the local level, “national branding” has very little import, I figure. The transition-to-college issue (where high schoolers are starting from scratch because the suggestions they hear don’t apply to their campus) is the main one I can think of.

    Of course, if the field of college ministry grows stronger, more and more high schoolers will hear about college ministry sooner and sooner. So that could make that impact even more severe. But that’s a ways down the road. Plus, even the best organizations will have variations in quality around the U.S.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Jason.

  3. Pingback: a big moment in college ministry history: campus crusade gets a new name « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

  4. Pingback: many names & many ways: sbc college ministry for outsiders « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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