the myth of Best Practices in college ministry, part 2

Yesterday I challenged the notion that Best Practices are prevalent in campus ministry.

From what I can tell, many college ministers find it hard to believe that true “Best Practices” in our field really are rare… and that leads to all sorts of generalizing that doesn’t help – or even hurts – our field.

That’s one of the big reasons I think it’s so vital for many of us to get to know campus ministries across several regions, across the four branches of college ministry, throughout major and minor organizations. We we do that, we start doubting the prevalence of Best Practices.

We observe just how different one campus can be from another (in so many ways).

We rejoice over methods working really well on one campus – and then sit bewildered when the same method is a big bust on another campus.

And we learn to avoid promoting well-meaning generalizations in areas like

  • Cooperation
  • Church Involvement
  • Effectiveness and Success
  • Spiritual Climate on College Campuses
  • Unity
  • Evangelism Methods
  • Starting a College Ministry
  • Citywide Worship Services
  • what a particular college ministry organization “is like”
  • whether a particular method “works”
  • and anything else I commonly hear generalized about.

Our field is too diverse to have many Best Practices. There are numerous methods that work really well in some places (or just one place!) but that don’t prove as effective elsewhere.

The diversity is real. Our field – even just here in North America – varies quite drastically along a number of lines. That’s one of the clearest – and most surprising – convictions that came from my yearlong research trip.

Before I took that trip, I had no idea how insufficient my own understanding was, despite the fact that I’d served several campuses in three cities and attended perhaps a dozen college ministry training conferences. I had seen a lot – but there was plenty more to see.

So while some methods are certainly worthy of the title, naming “Best Practices” for college ministry must be handled as hesitantly as naming “Best Practices” for international missions: Sure, there are some deserving methods… but they’re probably either über-specific, focused on methodology rather than methods, or very small (but important!) methods. I do believe that as our field grows, identifying Best Practices will be a part of it.

But naming Best Practices too quickly actually harms us. It keeps us from discovering the methods that will actually lead to our own college ministries’ greatest effectiveness.

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One Comment

  1. J-P

    If I was going to name anything a “best practice,” it would have to be personal relationships. I can’t think of a time or place when the Gospel was not effectively transmitted via a close, personal, one-to-one relationship. From Christ eating with Zacchaeus, to the man who led me to Christ 2000 years later, I think the principle of forming personal relationships with the lost is undeniably vital.

    I think some people put this into the “small but important” category, but it seems that learning how to form these relationships, and how to maintain them and use them for evangelism, is the keystone of any evangelical outreach.

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