surprises in the branches of college ministry

As I wrote yesterday, I’m finding a 4-branch categorization most useful for thinking about American college ministry. Since it was on my mind (and since I shared about these things at my seminar last weekend), I thought I’d do a little riff on the four branches – particularly some points that might be surprising.

Again, I’m not comparing or contrasting. Just riffing.

1. Campus-based college ministry. Campus-based work is of course the best-known of the branches, so there are probably fewer “surprises” here than in the others. But for those outside of campus-based work (or even inside), a few important-but-sometimes-ignored points include:

  • This is certainly the most developed branch within college ministry.
  • While these ministries may look similar on the surface, each ministry has real distinctives. In fact, there is plenty of variation even within the same organizations. Some organizations, of course, have more diversity-of-methodology or diversity-of-theology than others.
  • Denominational ministries and parachurch ministries are two distinct sub-categories in this branch.
  • Denominational ministries don’t consider themselves fully “parachurch” (generally), since each ministry is in fact organized by churches (or, in some cases, a single church).

2. Church-based college ministry. Perhaps the hardest to pin down because so many churches have such a vicious turnover cycle (in both leadership and methodology), but here are some surprises from this branch:

  • This is by far the least-developed area in the field of College Ministry (and thus the greatest opportunity for immense improvement in our field).
  • While many church-based ministries have struggled, there are still plenty of them that have seen great success for many years. It’s also not entirely uncommon to find ones drawing hundreds of students.
  • Even within denominations, there are very few support structures (training, resourcing, collaborating, etc.) for this branch.

3. Institutional college ministry. The spiritual life departments of Christian colleges participate in college ministry, too – and that right there is a unique thought for some. Other surprises include:

  • This is the branch that seems to take professional development and wide-ranging learning most seriously.
  • While many institutional college ministries are (purposely) the only recognized discipleship organization at their campus, other Christian schools allow for various ministries to reach the campus alongside them. (There are good reasons for either of these positions.)
  • In recent history, this seems to have been the area of college ministry most likely to partake in campus-wide revival.

4. Collegiate churches. Those churches planted with a major purpose of reaching a campus might surprise us a little, too:

  • There are a lot more of these than people seem to think. While it’s not easy to track down, at least several dozen campuses are reached by a collegiate church.
  • There’s also a wider range of methodologies here than people seem to be aware of. While many of these churches are nearly student-only (except for the leadership), others have a large percentage of adults – either because members grow older and stay, the church reaches adults in the community, or the church “imports” adults in some way.

Anything you would add? Anything you would change?


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  1. Great overview Benson. As a Campus Pastor at a Lutheran College I’m glad to see “Institutional College Ministry” as one of your categories. We sometimes get overlooked because we interact with others in our field primarily through our denominational structure rather than with others in the general field of campus ministry. Your blog helps me feel more in touch with the other categories of campus ministries.

  2. No problem, Brian! That’s one of the joys of using these categories, like I kinda hinted at in #3: Not everybody remembers / realizes that what you guys do IS college ministry. And I really mean it when I say the rest of us should be learning from your branch!

  3. Somebody’s probably said this already, but there’s a lot of cross over, too–I ‘grew up’ in a NACCM (er…ACM nowadays, isn’t it?) campus ministry that met on Sunday mornings and very much felt like its own church (as opposed to a ‘in addition to church’ kind of thing).

    That said, I think it’s interesting that #2 is the least developed. Mostly because I think it’s arguably the most biblical model, ie. it divides the church (generationally) the least.

    That said, even the idea of doing campus ministry that way makes me cringe thinking about how hard it would be…

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