a “second step” in a college ministry’s life?

Stick with me on this one. You might be intrigued.

When I first began “hard” training in college ministry practice (often by attending conferences, but through some other means as well), I absorbed a lot from a guy named Tim Elmore. If you’re not familiar with Tim, he’s the Prez of Growing Leaders, one of the most phenomenal organizations you could possibly connect with, learn from, and get resources from if you’re in the world of collegiate ministry.

One of Tim’s many emphases is on “creating a disciplemaking culture,” and it’s something I heard him mention a lot in those early years of college ministry work. And when he brought that up, I always had a reference point for that notion: my alma mater, Texas A&M. What I didn’t fully understand then (but now know) is that Texas A&M has probably been the campus with the most college ministry “success” (along several measures) of any campus in the U.S. in the last few decades. And what I experienced in my years there (around the turn of the century) was, indeed, a disciplemaking culture.

All over that town, ministry was multiplying. One-on-one disciplemaking was inordinately commonplace. But so were other examples of student initiative leading to surprising impact, service, conversions, and calling. And in every organization (at least from my point of view), college students were “replacing themselves” by raising up younger students to fill their roles. The ministries didn’t exactly “run themselves,” I’m sure. But they kinda did, as we were quickly assimilated into wild-eyed Jesus-following and disciple- and ministry-multiplication.

Now that I’ve had the chance to visit campuses all over the States, I’ve had the awesome chance to see other places where various collegian activities have become, it seems, commonplace. I haven’t run into too many environments where the entire campus is saturated, like what we experienced down there. But I have seen several college ministries where one or more of the following seems to be springing up and/or simply normative among students:

  • immersive “missional” ministry on campus
  • voluntary service to campus or outside of campus
  • purposeful disciplemaking
  • deep ministry commitments
  • discipleship communities of fellow believers / communal living
  • large numbers sent to missions, seminary, or other ministry endeavors
  • and probably more that I’m not thinking of

It’s hard to explain, and I certainly can’t get my head fully around this notion yet. But there almost seems to be a sort of campus ministry out there where students are building upon the vision of the leaders, rather than simply running with the vision of the leaders. Perhaps this is along the lines of the “flywheel” spoken of in Good to Great, that begins to turn faster and faster as time goes on. I do think it’s the “disciplemaking culture” Elmore spoke of. It’s a situation where not only teachers and Bible study leaders and others impact students, but even the culture itself seems to accelerate the growth process. These are the ministries where you’d say, “It’s in the water,” because somehow the whole ministry has gained synergistic influence.

Not nearly every college campus has even one college ministry that has reached this point. Hear that again: The “most effective” campus ministry on a given campus might not have reached this point. And two things need to be said about that:

  • While I do believe a disciplemaking culture is very worth aiming for, most college ministries (by far) probably haven’t gotten to the “step” I’m trying to describe here. And yet lots and lots of ministries are still having incredible impact on campuses, even without having this particular attribute.
  • This is one of the many reasons fully understanding the field of college ministry requires a very broad sample. While the above activities (bolded) are common, they are far from everywhere – an important distinction for all of us to grasp.

This is one of those areas where I’m really simply highlighting something I’ve noticed in my trips around the U.S.. And that “something” boils down to this:

There seem to be ministries that have achieved a sort of “second step,” when ministry and impact have begun to multiply – in both quantity and quality – in what appears to be a nearly “automatic” way.

For me to be able to speak of anything definite here, much more work and observation needs to be done. I don’t know if this is something happening more than I realize, if it’s achievable by all college ministries, or if it’s helpful to spend lots of time worrying about achieving this “step.”

But I do think it’s worth thinking about, and realizing that in at least some campus tribes, college ministries are seeing something astounding like this.

I’d love to hear some thoughts on this notion. Still working this one through, but that’s what Monday blogs are for!

The picture was taken at the steps of Cal Poly, another campus tribe with a reputation for strong Christian impact!


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  1. I’m going to guess these ministries that have taken that “second step,” as you put it, nearly all have effective leaders behind them, and I’m willing to bet that those leaders share a few key characteristics worth examining.

  2. Pingback: surprises from the journey(s) « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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