This past weekend’s Fridea was the simple idea of providing students with “invite-cards,” so they always have an easy way to provide classmates with info about good “entryways” into your ministry.
That’s what we spent much of last week using to promote Zoe, the young adult church we ministered with in São Paulo. (And the fruit we saw from this simple method was actually shocking in its immediacy!) On the front of the card are details about the church service; on the back, details of the two even more easy-entry Starbucks spiritual discussion gatherings.
After we attended the Zoe weekend service, and especially after attending the Starbucks community / spiritual discussion gathering, we all felt pretty confident that we could meet someone, hand them a card, and know they would be well-received by whatever Zoe community they came into contact with. We did it on campus, we did it when a Free Hug led to conversation, and so on. Broadly inviting those we contacted absolutely made sense.
But as I ponder why I don’t see this very basic method more in American college ministry, I wonder if our campus ministries are truly broad-invite worthy. Have we created entryways that are nearly guaranteed to provide a solid welcome, a comfortable setting, and/or clear pointers to Next Steps? (And of course, I mean beyond the first three weeks of class.)
Or is it an unspoken requirement that a visitor must show up with a buddy, so they can have a guide to help navigate the slight – but definite – barriers? In other words, do visitors need a “sponsor” to help accomplish
- meeting regulars?
- knowing what to do?
- finding opportunities?
- feeling comfortable?
If that’s the case, then it certainly won’t do to have students handing out info cards willy-nilly, as though this ministry might actually “make sense” for the out-of-the-blue first-timer! We should stick with word-of-mouth-from-friends as a primary strategy, or at the very least hope for word-of-mouth-from-students-who-will-be-sure-to-watch-for-their-invitees-so-they-can-sponsor-them. (Aren’t those two strategies just a little too common in our world?)
I don’t know if “invite cards” will fit your ministry or not. But I think it’s worth asking if a college ministry is practically – not just theoretically – open to first-timers who might not be tagging along with someone they know. Many of the ones I’ve visited around the country don’t seem to be (and remember, I was just about always a first-timer who came alone).
I wonder how many of us could say (objectively) that it makes sense for our students to invite not only their suitemates but also those they “randomly” encounter on campus: the adjacent classmate in English 202, the chatty gal on the bus, the fellow intramurals fan. It seems like building that kind of culture would do a lot more than build “visitor retention”; it would build a more outward focus, more hospitable gatherings, more prominent Next Steps, a more diverse crowd…