the first month: discipling, not just recruiting

If you missed last week’s College Ministry Blog-a-Thon (hosted by Guy Chmieleski), I hope you’ll take a second to look at the posts by various college ministers and others from around the country. You can find the whole list here.

But in case you missed it, I did want to post my entry – a look at something we college ministers may forget during the first weeks of the school year. It’s a big longer than my normal posts, but I encourage you to stick with me. It’s stuff that could really increase your impact in the coming weeks! (And at the end, I link to the great comments people left last week – be sure to check those out!)

the first month: discipling, not just recruiting

In the first weeks of each school year, most college ministries place ONE purpose above all others: Recruitment. I have no problem with the reasoning behind this effort, which is probably something like this:

  1. Students are likely to be impacted by finding a college ministry
  2. We (whoever we are) believe our college ministry is one of the best opportunities for that impact
  3. There’s a limited time for encouraging students to make their involvement choices
  4. What’s more, we want to begin impacting students as soon as possible!

But in those first awesome-crazy-overwhelming weeks of the school year, the temptation is to focus so much on #2 and #3 that we forget our first roles as shepherds of college students – rather than simply staff members (and recruiters!) for our organization, church, or college.

As college ministers, we believe it’s more important that students find a (solid) college ministry than that they find our college ministry (even if we do prefer our own!). And we believe it’s more important that students are impacted than that they are recruited.

Don’t we?

So here are some ideas for keeping impact – and not simply recruitment – flowing in the first month of the 2010-2011 school year:

Help students make a great decision.

It’s a sad thing indeed that college ministers rarely (if ever) teach on “How to choose a college ministry.” In fact, our recruitment efforts may not even do a good job of teaching “Why you should choose our college ministry”! But both of these topics are important to share with students. So unless they’ve learned how-to-choose in their Youth Groups (they haven’t), we have to be the ones.

Help students choose to commit.

Do we really believe that it’s far better for students to go deep in one college ministry than to stay in the shallows with several? Or are we satisfied if 50% of your Large Group Meeting’s students could be found in other Large Group Meetings throughout the week? We need to disciple students – from the beginning – to commit well to a few things (and probably to only one college ministry).

Don’t forget to impact your “old” students.

Are we faithful – from the beginning of each year – with the students God has already provided us? I’m not sure that going after new friends at the expense of old flocks is a good shepherd’s trade-off. Re-recruitment, re-assimilation, responding to what God has done in their lives, responding to their spiritual struggles over the summer, re-evaluation of students’ leadership positions, and other steps may be vital. Likewise, it’s vital that we help these students get off on the right foot as they enter their sophomore, junior, senior, or SUPER-senior years!

Don’t forget transfer students and others who aren’t freshmen.

Transfer student ministry is an undervalued and under-discussed area. So is recruitment among those who aren’t freshmen. But these guys and gals are worth recruiting during this time… and not in the exact same ways we treat the freshmen. Who knows? Perhaps some of your best student leaders this fall will be Juniors and Seniors who weren’t around your ministry last year.

Disciple freshmen in the other time-sensitive elements of college-ness.

If we’re only focused on Recruitment of freshmen, then we’re only focused on ONE area of discipleship. But what about their time-sensitive needs to

  • Decide to study well?
  • Connect Jesus with their education?
  • Find a church?
  • Form spiritual discipline habits ASAP?
  • Think wisely about other things they join / commit to?
  • Think wisely – from the start – about friendships and dating?
  • Assimilate well into their new “campus tribe” – not just spiritually, but emotionally, relationally, academically, financially, and otherwise?

If all our teachings, events, activities, discussions, and other measures are focused on Getting-and-Keeping, where’s the room for the other vital things? Even if our student audiences are a bit “fluid” in the first weeks, we have the real chance to impact those who flow through, whether they stick around or not.

Consider a unified effort.

What if multiple ministries taught the same series – “Starting the Year Off Right”? What if they put out a book listing the college ministries – with little articles on how to pick, how to find a church, how to study, etc.? What if every ministry made a point to tell students for the first three weeks that

  • We love the other college ministries, and
  • We want you to pick just one?

Want to know one of the best “unity efforts” I’ve seen around the country? It’s when multiple ministries on a campus have decided (purposely) to hold their weekly Large Group Meetings on the same night. At first blush, this sounds like competition; they’ve done it to help students make a choice.

Not all teaching takes place on a stage.

Finally, don’t forget that these efforts aren’t limited to the Large Group Meeting. We might dedicate early small groups to these formative efforts. We could distribute a pamphlet, as described above. We can – and should – disciple students from the first moments they check out our Orientation booth. We can meet with freshmen one-on-one (or have our student leaders do this), or send a good welcome email with some discipleshippy links!

Whatever you come up with – and yes, some of it may be Large Group teaching, too – we have an enormous opportunity to disciple people in the first month. Recruitment is 0nly one piece of that amazing work!

You can see the great comments people left last week by clicking here.


[Click to ask questions, comment, or see any comments on this post!]


  1. Kevin Y

    I love discipleship. I love investing my life into students and walking with them as they mature and grow.

    What bothers me is when I start investing my time and resources in a new freshman, only to have them discover rugby, or parties, or another ministry even about 3 months into school. I’ve made that mistake a few times now.

    Now, instead of devoting my discipleship time to brand new freshmen, I spend time getting to know as many as possible – what they’re likes and dislikes are, what their schedules are like, how they were raised. Then, I can start to find the truly FAT ones. Not like Obese, but Faithful, available, and teachable.

    I check on their faithfullness with a series of simple meetings with assignments – if they can stick with these for a month, it’s much more likely that they will stick around for an 18 week discipleship study.

    I check on Availability by seeing how they react to a schedule. Busy isn’t necessarily bad, poor time management is. But if someone is working full time, and doing 20 credit hours, and still managing to make it to our large group meeting, it’s really hard for them to commit to a couple more hours a week with me.

    Finally I check on Teachability by seeing how well they can retain info, usually from our large meetings or freshmen bible studies. Sometimes students look like they get it, and then by one day later they’ve forgot.

    When I find a student who meets all these criteria, I then know that I’ve found someone that I want to spend my time on. These will be the effective students, rather than the ones that frustrate me to no end. I don’t dump the others, but they aren’t as much a focus as before.

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