40 decisions you’ve made about your college ministry’s large group meeting

When I first thought about this post, my immediate guess was that there are twenty individual decisions that go into a college ministry’s weekly large group meeting.

“Twenty?,” I second-guessed myself. That sounded pretty high.

And then I wrote this list. It’s more than twenty.

The classic “Sing ‘n Speak” is perhaps the most recognizable element of college ministry – showing up in some form in not only campus-based college ministries but also in institutional college ministries (i.e., Chapel) and church-based college ministries (though when it takes place on Sunday mornings, the “sing” element isn’t always there).

And yet it’s surprising just how many variations actually occur. Often without realizing it, ministers around the country make various decisions about all sorts of things within their large group meeting.

So here’s the list of decisions I can think of – and each decision listed is based on variations I’ve actually seen or heard about. In other words, I could point to at least two actual choices for every decision I list.

Please don’t read this as a to-do list; your ministry probably shouldn’t “to-do” all of them! Instead, this is meant to point out how many choices we make in even one aspect of our college ministries – whether we realize it or not. Whether our choices are active or passive, purposeful or automatic, we are indeed making them.

So as you read through this list, ask yourself, “Did I make this decision on purpose, or was it automatic, inherited, or otherwise passive?”

And for one reason this matters, see the follow-up post.

Decisions you’ve made about your college ministry’s large group gathering
(…whether you meant to make the decision or not)

Schedule, organization, etc.

  1. Day of the week?
  2. Time of night (or day)?
  3. Length? (I’ve seen 30 minutes to 1:30+)
  4. Number of times in a week / month? (Besides the standard weekly meeting, there are daily meetings, monthly gatherings, and less-than-monthly gatherings)
  5. Location? (off-campus or on-campus, and then the decision of where beyond that)
  6. Is the bulk of the meeting organized / run by students or staff?
  7. Who is involved in setup and how is that managed?
  8. What advertising for the meeting is done on a week-to-week basis?

The Start

  1. What takes place as student wait to start? Congregate and talk? Sit? Pray / prepare? Eat something?
  2. Do students wait inside the room or outside?
  3. Does greeting of members and/or visitors take place? Is that greeting organic? Systematic?
  4. Nametags?
  5. Start on time? Purposely delayed? Non-purposely delayed?

The Music

  1. How many songs are sung?
  2. Does the majority of (or all) singing take place before or after the message?
  3. Is the worship leader and/or band a part of the college ministry?
  4. Is the worship leader and/or band required to meet certain spiritual qualifications?
  5. What is the song choice based on?
  6. Are there other worship stations (art, prayer, etc.) available during this time?

*of course, some “special gatherings” might involve other variations on the singing – like a whole meeting of only singing, a certain type of music, no music, etc.

The Message

  1. Standalone message, or part of a series? (and if so, how long is the series? A few weeks? Semester-long?)
  2. How is the message topic / passage chosen?
  3. Who gives the message? Does that change week-to-week?
  4. How long is the message? (I’ve probably seen from 10 minutes to an hour)
  5. Is there group discussion of the message?
  6. Is there interaction with the audience during the message?

*of course, we could ask a billion more questions about message content, speaking aids, components of a message, etc. I’m sticking to broader issues here, but those are all important decisions, too.

The More

  1. Are announcements given? If so, what is their tone and method? Who gives them?
  2. Are announcements from outside organizations allowed?
  3. Is there a “greeting of those around you” time?
  4. Is there a corporate ice breaker?
  5. Is there a set-aside time for prayer in groups and/or an extended time of silent prayer?
  6. Is an offering taken? (yes, plenty of ministries do this)
  7. Are visitors pointed out during the meeting?
  8. Is attendance counted, or are attendees recorded somehow?
  9. Are the college minister and other leaders identified to attendees?
  10. Is there an opportunity given to take any sort of next step immediately? (this could be anything from an evangelistic appeal / invitation to a “5-minute party” to share about the ministry afterward)

The After

  1. Do students congregate afterward? (yes, even this is partly our decision!)
  2. Are there activities organized after the meeting (on location or elsewhere)? Are these ministry-related (like small groups), fellowship, or for some other purpose?
  3. Are sign-ups and/or advertisements available?
  4. Do we sell / give away anything (T-shirts, stickers, etc.)?
  5. Who is involved in “tear-down,” and how is that managed?

So is this one Method or a bundle of Methods? Why does that matter? Check out the the follow-up post for more.

—————————————————————————————

[Click to comment / see any comments on this post!]

15 Comments

  1. Logan

    Benson,

    I’m curious. How many college ministries (as a percentage) choose not to have a weekly large group meeting?

    Just curious where we typically fall.

  2. Great question, Logan.

    I would say it’s highly common for ministries to do SOMETHING to bring their entire ministry together on a regular basis. (If they’re small, this is rather automatic, but this is still true for large ministries.)

    But your case is probably one of the more common exceptions – a church with a weekly church service that already draws a high percentage of college students. Still, lots of those kinds of ministries often have a collegiate-only gathering – but some of them don’t, or they don’t feel it needs to be as often, because they have a large group meeting via their church service.

    From what I can tell, some Navigators chapters don’t have large group meetings, or they’re not pushed as hard as in other ministries. …which makes sense, knowing their focus on small groups and tiny groups.

    Sorry I can’t give a percentage – I avoid stats without studies, and there are few reliable studies in our field these days… :)

  3. Ben Coleman

    Hey Benson! I know it’s not fair to only evaluate College Ministries by the number of students coming to faith in Christ, but I’m curious…of the ministries that do the best job of reaching the lost…do they reach them through large group meetings or in small groups/missional communities/discipleship?

  4. Hey Ben –

    That’s an even trickier stat, in large part because I’ve been hesitant to ask that question of the college ministers I meet with – not because I don’t care, but because I don’t want to seem like I’m “evaluating” them in the formal sense. (It’s a touchy subject for some.)

    But, many college ministries use small groups as their front-door for non-Christians – that’s for sure. GIGs and/or the Manuscript Studies done by IV may be the most famous example of that. Dorm Bible studies (whether formal or student-initiated) are common across ministries. And direct on-campus evangelism (Crusade calls it “ministry-mode” evangelism) is still quite common – just not the go-to method it probably was in the 90s.

    Yet what surprised me a little on my yearlong trip was seeing how the IV at UCSD – apparently WIDELY known for its evangelism success – seemed to be using the large group meeting as a chance for students to bring their non-Christian friends to something where they’d hear an evangelistic appeal – including an invitation! Not your usual college ministry setup, but San Diego is also where, I believe, their Four Circles evangelism tool comes from.

    Ooh ooh ooh – I just found an InterVarsity article on that, and they know far more than I do: http://www.intervarsity.org/news/san-diego-story.

    That article also reminded me of the other common evangelistic method among ministries, and that’s using the Large Event: things like Veritas Forum, After Dark, and other events are used a lot, though I’m not sure whether they’ve seen a large number of conversions result directly or not.

    Like I mentioned to Logan, stats are really hard to come by – even if I had asked a lot of ministries about their evangelism, I’d still be generalizing generously. On this topic, stats are particularly hard – because you have to take into account what students a ministry is starting with, not just what they’re ending with.

  5. Logan

    Benson,

    Thanks for replying back. Just so you know, if you ever want to do a college ministry survey (I think it would be awesome) we’re in for opening our ministry up to all our failings and successes.

    I think it would be great to discover some of those stats, though insanely difficult.

  6. Thanks, man! I would love to help with or conduct that kind of thing one day…

    In the meantime, I have had a few ministries talk about bringing me in for an evaluation / brainstorming / ideation with their ministry. In a week or even a few days, there’s a LOT that would be accomplished.

    So let me know if you’d be interested in that – I’m extremely inexpensive for a researcher-consultant, because I honestly can’t think of anything more fun than helping a college ministry in that way. :)

  7. For a few years, we disbanded our large group meeting in favor of smaller groups led by our leaders. This worked pretty well, until we realized one day while were headed for a campus retreat and people from different groups were meeting each other for the first time. This was in February. It turned out that by focusing on trying to build community and close-knit small groups, we were missing out on the sense of belonging that happens in the large group.

    So now, we’re back to both again – after a rework of how the large group runs.

  8. Bob

    Really enjoyed this, Benson. In fact, I printed it out (how un-green of me) to use with our student leaders the next time we meet. One thing I’d add to your list is: How does your large group meeting display the gender and ethnic identity of your group? You can’t “fake” diversity, but you can choose to highlight it or minimize it.

  9. Good testimony, Kevin – that helps.

    Bob, now I’m very intrigued. (And I’m glad the list was helpful!) Great idea about highlighting gender / ethnic diversity: Can you give examples of how that could take place?

  10. When I was a UCLA Crusade student, we made a point of having our first week meeting emcee be a duo of an Asian American female student and an Indian American male staffer. That might be more extreme than normal, but it is helpful to look at whether there is a way to target under-representing ethnicities for leadership teams, worship bands, or teaching.

  11. Thanks for this post Benson! And good comments too.

    This topic is one of my passions. I think that the large group meeting – while not the end-all of Christianity – is one of the most enduring tools we have for building the body of Christ.

    In Acts chapter two, the public version of the church is launched. Notice how it begins and ends: v1 “They were all together in one place”, v41 “About 3000 were added to their number that day.” The first thing the church ever did was hold a large public meeting. And awesome stuff happened!

    Of course, we know the story doesn’t end there. Small groups were started, local ministries began serving people, and a network or house churches were planted. I think that your list of 20+ questions is vitally important, since a large group meeting will largely define (or at least expose) the character of your group. Acts 2:46-47 “Every day they continued to MEET TOGETHER in the TEMPLE COURTS. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the FAVOR of all the PEOPLE.” (emphasis mine)

    The early church’s large group meeting told the city what they were about, and established the trust that they became known for. In my opinion, we must invest in our large group meetings – regardless of the size – because it perpetually informs us of who we are as a group.

  12. Pingback: Cone of Learning :: Part III :: Too Much Emphasis on the Wrong Things? « Faith ON Campus

  13. Pingback: 49 decisions, conscious or otherwise « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

  14. Pingback: 49 decisions for your large group meeting « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

  15. Pingback: forty-nine tools, not one big machine | Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes on our field)

Leave a Reply