poles #3: impact now vs. build for then

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See the College Ministry Poles series (so far) here, and feel free to engage in the conversation!

The question: Do we focus on building our ministry in the present, or work toward better impact in the future?

It’s easy to say, “Let’s do both!” But the reality is that we all have limited time and resources. Every day, we have to choose whether we’re looking at what is or what can be (even if, at times, the two efforts aren’t utterly mutually exclusive).

Some activities that (in their usual forms) lean toward the “building now” pole:

  1. Recruitment
  2. Fellowship
  3. Many major events
  4. Most teaching topics
  5. Most individual impact of students
  6. Training / leading present student leaders

These activities lean toward the “working for better impact later” pole:

  1. Building relationships with the greater campus community and other ministers
  2. Getting to know the campus better
  3. Planning (particularly for semesters or years ahead)
  4. Considering other models and methods for college ministry
  5. Investigating new avenues of impact, both local and for missions endeavors
  6. Teaching topics specifically aimed to build a group’s vision, “core principles,” etc.
  7. Training potential student leaders

As for actual practice, it seems the huge majority of ministries I’ve seen are focusing on the “present” pole, with almost no thought given to years beyond the present school year. But that’s not only understandable, there’s also a real argument for focusing on present impact:

  • These are the students God has given us now
  • We don’t know how this ministry will move forward (or what will happen on campus) in the coming years
  • Many of us have been hired with the implicit or explicit understanding that we will show “results” fairly quickly
  • Building the ministry now will help prepare for the future automatically (more students, more student leaders, more excitement about the ministry, etc.)
  • Clearly, it’s quite possible to spend far too much time planning, analyzing, strategizing, and the like

But…

I still believe we’re missionaries. So I’m pretty uneasy if we never “get around to” planning for the future or working for aggressive progress and better impact. I think we miss the chance to see more students impacted better if we simply run the plays that seem to work and tweak as we go.

I would even argue that most new college ministries should start by working on strategy for the future, rather than simply “building the ministry.” (For one thing, as I alluded to yesterday, I believe the downfall of many church college ministries can be traced back to this issue.) And present college ministries should consider giving substantial attention to strengthening their ministry’s future impact – even if the fruit is seen years later!

Not all will agree with me, certainly, and I’m very interested in what everybody has to say about this.

Regardless of where we each are on the spectrum, it’s especially important that we examine where we are. Is your place on this spectrum the absolute best for your ministry?

Questions to ponder:

  1. What opportunity costs have you experienced in trying to impact now and/or work for future impact?
  2. Would you prefer to reach 50 students a year, or build more slowly but ultimately reach 1,000 students total across the next 10 years? Does it matter? Is that even a fair question?
  3. If you need to add some “forward-thinking” to your ministry work, would your overseers and supporters allow for that – if it means a little less time spent on the “present” of your ministry?

Remember, it’s Day 37 of College Union’s 40 Days of Prayer for Campus Ministry!

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4 Comments

  1. Luckily campus ministry has different seasons. The beginning of the school year is the time for all out “building now” while the natural breaks in the academic calendar hopefully afford time for future focus and planning.

  2. Great point! And I hope people do use it like that.

    But for some, summer isn’t so much of a break (like church-based people or those who run summer city-wide stuff). It’s also easy to spend even the summer or winter focused on the upcoming semester… instead of spending some time looking beyond.

    And on the flip-side, exegeting the context and other preparatory measures can’t be accomplished quite as well when the campus isn’t “in season.”

    But those are just counterpoints I thought of – your point is definitely well-taken. Hopefully college ministers will apportion some of their “hiatus” periods to looking down the road a ways!

  3. I think that a lot of times people jump into ministries in general without looking at what it really takes to be in that ministry. So a good starting point is to find out about the ministry before you are in it.

    However, I think that there has to be a healthy balance between the two. If you focus on everything now, then down the road, you will still be living day-to-day. If you want growth, I think it is important to keep in mind the future. Because if you neglect the future, or neglect to look at the past even, then the things you are doing in the present will suffer.

  4. Pingback: 10 quick reads on evaluating your ministry « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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