one bridge for the non-involved (a fridea)

Yesterday, I looked at the importance of “bridges” within a college ministry’s structure. Those are the “baby steps” a college ministry provides for students between the main Pillars: an open leadership training for potential leaders, for example, or a “five-minute info party” after the large group to help visitors acclimate to the ministry.

But the bridge I want to offer today actually helps move students who aren’t involved in your ministry toward more active participation. (And notably, it could also help students who are attenders but aren’t well plugged-in or haven’t found strong community yet.) So the Fridea is…

Creating visitor-oriented gatherings to offer a taste of your spiritual community.

This is not by any means unheard of in the world of college ministry (I’ll note a famous example shortly). But after seeing this method seem to work so well in Brazil, I’ve been pondering how more college ministers might adapt this sort of thing.

In Brazil, the church we worked with (Zoe) maintains a couple of Starbucks Gatherings each week. On two nights in two different Starbucks in two areas of São Paulo, a community gathering is held. Zoe members are encouraged to come, but it’s also the entry point for many individuals who they’ve met through conversations on campuses, Free Hugs, or other encounters.

In the Starbucks community I attended, we actually spent about 45 minutes in rather raucous community (surprising for a Starbucks, but it was a pretty big one). And while we Americans might have been itching to do something, the lingering (and resulting fellowship) was actually a brilliant use of the time.

Finally, the designated “question asker” for the night quieted us down – sorta – and encouraged us to discuss the night’s question in smaller groups. That night’s Q was a really good discussion starter, too: “Would you rather sin and face whatever consequences come, or not to sin?” (In fact, one of the Brazilians and I got into a phenomenal spiritual and Gospel conversation with a guy over that very question. It was a cool night.)

Then more chatting – for however long people felt like chatting – then more community, followed by even more community at the local Domino’s.

Why can’t we do something like that on our campuses?

The brilliance of bridging comes when we recognize that the Starbucks Communities serve as a very real bridge – a sort of “halfway point” between absolute non-involvement and participating regularly in the Zoe church. Yes, the church service itself is visitor-friendly. But these communities allow for those scared-off by the idea of “church”… but intrigued by these friendly people… to check things out in a place that’s not only non-threatening but also is clearly part of the city’s natural rhythms.

Like I noted earlier this week, it makes it very easy for the church to recruit new people, too – because they know this encounter will be a very welcoming one.

InterVarsity’s Manuscript Studies are perhaps the best-known example of something similar, as they submit even the name (these are, in fact, inductive Bible studies) to the hope of welcoming the non-involved. But I’m not sure all our ministries have considered the same sort of “easy entry” bridge that an established community gathering might provide.


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  1. Benson,

    Love this. And I’m sure it’s possible – to some degree – here in the US. But I wonder if we would have as easy a ‘go’ at it with all of the angst there currently is towards the Church and Christianity here in the States. I wonder how many students would feel like they are being ‘set-up.’

    Yesterday I read a post by Ed Stetzer who was talking about some of the distinctions he noticied between N. American unchurched youth, and their Canadian counterparts, in some recent research he had been a part of conducting and analyzing. One of the biggest things he mentioned was how the unchurched youth of Canada are less negative about the church. In fact, 75% of the younger unchurched of Canada actually believe that the church is generally helpful for society.

    I’m not sure how this would compare with the South American version of unchurched youth, but I wonder if the ‘bridge’ that you mention here – which, again, I am ALL FOR – would be better received outside of the US, because our younger unchurched – and many churched – are downright hostile towards the Church.

    I hope I’m not being a downer about this (feels like I am) just trying to think this through given our current cultural context… because I know our campus/es could benefit from something like this… as long as students would give it a chance!

  2. Certainly, there could be some places where “spiritual discussion groups” receive a cold shoulder, but presumably it would be less of a cold shoulder than the same students would give the “large group” itself – whether that’s a college ministry large group meeting (which is what I had in mind here) or a church service.

    The trend seems to be TOWARD openness to discussion, so that’s good news. But I’m not sure that all college ministries are taking advantage of students’ willingness to – at the very least – be “introduced” to what we offer.

    It’s been a while since I’ve looked at Stetzer’s Lost and Found data. I’m a big fan of data and of their work to research our field. But I remember being surprised that though their data crossed an entire generational shift (from Gen X to Millennials), there wasn’t a lot of breakdown between those two camps. (But it’s also possible I missed it, or I’m not remembering rightly.) From what I can tell, students now are both more open to “spirituality” (including Christianity) and to “authority structures” than students were 10 years ago.

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