why i call it “college ministry” (usually)

You might have noticed that my preference is to call the amazing thing we get to do on a day-to-day basis “college ministry” instead of the various other options out there.

Here’s why I’ve gone this way, and why you might wanna at least consider using this nomenclature yourself when you talk about our profession. (Of course, I’d also love your comments and arguments for other options!)

This only refers to how we talk about our field as a whole. I don’t think it matters as much when individual ministries use various terms.

Here are what seem to be the main options for referring to our field as a whole:

University Ministry

This one’s easy: “University Ministry” simply doesn’t apply to all work with college students, ’cause many students aren’t at a school that considers itself a “university.”

While this may work for a local ministry, as an entire field it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Student Ministry

“Student ministry” is used as a synonym for “youth ministry” in a huge number of cases; other times it’s used to denote ministry to both youth and college students (as a division in a church, for example).

Using this to describe our profession will never cause anything but confusion… and we don’t get first dibs, anyway. Youth Ministry is well ahead of us in field-development, so they probably own this one, whether we like it or not. (But either way, both groups are students, so it seems like neither Youth Ministry nor we are best served by using this name.)

Collegiate Ministry

I honestly really like this one as a way to distinguish our entire profession, but I’m not sure it will ever catch on. It’s too close to “college ministry,” and people will probably shorten it, anyway. It can also sound a little snooty, a little self-important as we speak to those outside of our field.

You will certainly see me sprinkle this one into my writing, however. It’s great when I need a synonym, especially when I’m talking about the field as a whole.

Campus Ministry

Ah, this is extremely common. But here’s why I don’t personally lean toward this one:

  • It often connotes, rightly or wrongly, campus-based ministry (parachurch or denominational ministries). I have heard many people use “campus ministry” as the opposite of church-based college ministry. But that use of “campus ministry” isn’t standard enough for it to be a true synonym for campus-based ministry.
  • Some use “campus ministry” specifically to describe the spiritual life department of Christian colleges (particularly, I’ve noticed, in Catholic colleges). Do a Twitter search yourself, and you’ll see that use come up regularly. That is certainly one branch of college ministry, but it makes it confusing for describing the whole profession.
  • “Campus ministry” is also occasionally used to describe – get this – youth ministry. Yes, high schools are “campuses,” too, and I know at least one fellow minister who bought a book on “campus ministry” just to find out that… well, you can guess.

Still, I use the term “campus ministry” plenty – especially because I know people will search the web or Twitter for that term. I have no problem being helpful or fitting in, but it isn’t my favorite terminology for the reasons mentioned above.

College Ministry

After all that, I think we’re only left with good ol’ “college ministry.” This does seem to be the term most recognizable to the largest number of people as just what it is: ministry to college students. And yet it doesn’t distinguish between the various forms of ministry (or the types of schools).

So that’s my argument. Take it as the analyzations of a college ministry nerd (or a campus ministry nerd, if that’s what you prefer!). What do you think?


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  1. When I saw your twitter, I was going to argue for campus ministry–that’s what I’ve always felt most comfortable with.

    But I think you’re right about how it implies ‘parachurch’. Good point.

  2. I’ve struggled with this (sort of) for a while. The struggle has not just been what to “call it” but rather what do you focus on? Even by calling it “College Ministry” or any other term, you say “This is what I focus on”. With this age group do you focus on students; single people; married couples; kids vs no kids; working people or anything else. They all have a very distinct need and focus to them, so which one? I have mad respect for you Benson as you’re very focused and specific on what demographic within this age group to focus on, and i’ve learned a lot through reading your blog and e-book. But that has been my struggle. We’re in the middle of a move and I will be volunteering in a church doing their young adult ministry (yup another title), where all they have is a community college. So I need figure out what specific target I want to hit. good times…

    Thanks for all you do!

  3. Chris Bean

    I don’t know man…I still lean towards “campus ministry” because it encompasses college and university settings while also broadening the scope of a ministry to include people in the campus community (professors, admins, maintenance staff, etc). I know our focus is on college students themselves, but I believe it’s healthy to invest in those who may be around more than four years and can invest in students as well.

    But I definitely see your point on the confusion with youth/student ministry. I had that nomenclature issue during my 15 years of youth ministry too. ;-)

    And when speaking to those outside the context of this ministry environment, you are probably right to think that “college ministry” is the easiest term to use with the least amount of explanation.

  4. Brian Kiley

    I think the most appropriate name depends somewhat on context. When I was in college, the college group I attended drew almost entirely from surrounding universities, so it was called a “college ministry”. In my most recent context as a college pastor, I was in an environment where only about half of our group attended college (we were close to a marine corps base, and there were a lot of young people that just didn’t go to school). For that reason, I tended to use the terms “college-aged ministry” or “college and young adult ministry” so as to avoid making people think that the group was only for students. I agree with you that of the names listed above “college ministry” is definitely the best.

  5. mileswelch

    Great thoughts…. I like College Ministry but very often refer to our ministry as a “college-aged ministry.” We have had people not attend our college ministry who would have wanted to and who are college aged simply because they do not go to college. We have also had 40+ year olds show up because they do go to college. “College-aged” is a little wordy though….

    Thanks for the great thoughts…

  6. Ashley

    i LOVE collegiate ministry. i am an Associate Campus Minister at the University of MO in Columbia and its the phrase i use all the time. call me snooty, i will take it :)

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