great college ministry methods & missing the trees for the forest

Yesterday’s post garnered some great comments / questions, and I encourage you to check those out (and further the conversation)!

But the topic – FORTY decisions you’ve already made about your Large Group Meeting – was also meant to highlight today’s theme.

A couple of scenarios (based on actual conversations I’ve had recently, with details changed):

1. John has developed an innovative, missional program for his denomination to use in reaching collegians. So far, it’s been well-received, and his “trial run” is working well. Because John also has a passion for reaching Indian American students, he’s only interested in spreading the model in places where it will reach Indian Americans. So while the program will still reach people, it won’t be used on nearly all of the campuses where it could have made an impact.

2. Brad has spent a decade in college ministry at Turling State, developing a powerful ministry program that reaches non-Christian students consistently and effectively. While the program has several elements – and some elements are actually unhelpful – as a whole, it’s working quite well. But as John shares the whole program with other college ministers, they’re not very interested in a method that seems cumbersome, has obvious failings, and doesn’t seem to fit their campus as well as it fits Turling State.

To me, both of these college ministers are running into the same mental barrier, and it’s limiting their effectiveness. John and Brad have done what many of us do. They have tied up multiple methods into “method packages” that aren’t nearly as transferable as the individual components are.

It’s the problem of “missing the trees for the forest.” While plenty of us suffer from the more famous reverse ailment by not recognizing the big picture, we can often be just as guilty of not letting individual components stand – or fall – on their own.

Some college ministers (or even entire organizations) take an all-or-nothing approach to applying college ministry models. We get so excited about a BIG IDEA – sometimes almost to the point of assuming divinely inspired inerrancy that never needs to be changed or contextualized – that we may personally find it quite difficult to imagine those ideas as multi-piece puzzles. And we hate imagining that only some of the pieces might fit the puzzle of another ministry or another campus.

And it may even be one of those pieces – just one component of our entire program – that could radically help ministries across the campus or across the nation… if we’re willing to see the trees and not just the forest.

Yesterday’s post pointed out that our beloved Large Group Meeting is no single method, but is actually lots of methods – at least 40 of them – working together. The same is true for many of our activities – whether they’re brand new innovations or have been used in college ministry for decades.


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  1. AMEN!
    I agree that methodology is toxic when taken as gospel. No large group strategy is 100% transferable, and many ministries have sunk themselves trying.

    What are some examples of local programming that has successfully made the jump to regional or national implementation? In those examples, are there common threads? What are some tips people have used when taking a local program to the big leagues?

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

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

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