Last week, a college minister friend texted me to ask about ideas for recruiting students in the Fall. While that may be two months away, it’s also – for many of us – one of the biggest things we’ll think through this summer.
So I figured I’d visit that important topic this week!
The First Chapter of my Yearlong Road Trip was focused on the recruitment that took place by college ministries around Chicago. I was new(er) to this whole “exploring college ministry” thing, but it was certainly interesting to experience much of this as a student might. (At the time and in that setting, just about everybody assumed I was an incoming student.)
So, from a student’s point of view, here are some of the ideas I picked up directly within that experience. It’s a lot to read, but that’s kind of the point: To springboard you to thoughts for your own contexts!
Know Thy Audience
- Remember, I’m a college student. And beyond that, I’m at a specific campus. The more you “target” me within my particular lifestage and particular context, the better off you’ll be. And truthfully, the better you’ll serve me as I look for a ministry to join.
The Ministering Begins Yesterday
- Remember that you’re first-and-foremost a minister to me, a student, whether or not I come to your ministry. So begin ministering to me from your first encounter!
- If you can, help me make this decision about ministries and a church to be involved in. Why is church important? What about campus ministries? How should I make these decisions? Help me!
- Be ready to adjust your ministry, even now. Pay attention to your visitors and adjust accordingly. A pastor at EV Free, Libertyville said that because students asked about rides to church during one of the school’s church fairs, the church immediately began organizing Sunday-morning pick-ups with members of their congregation. There are ways any campus-based or church-based college ministry might be able to adjust, on-the-fly, to meet the needs of incoming students.
- Not every part of your encounter with a student needs to be solely “recruitment.” Love me and disciple me through your conversation, through your giveaways, through whatever.
So Help Me Make the Decision
- Tell me who you really are as a church and/or ministry. What makes you distinct? (It’s okay – I know you’re advertising. Just tell me your skills!) What are your teaching topics this semester? What’s on the calendar? Why would anybody want to come to your ministry? Why might I want to look at other ministries instead?
- But don’t overwhelm me. I probably don’t need to read your ministry’s constitution, for example. Yes, at least one church at the church fair was handing out their church’s “founding documents.” Another ministry listed thirty “Values” in their flyer. They may be an awesome ministry, but that’s an awful lot of values…
- I’d like to know what I can expect if I come to your ministry. That will help me feel comfortable if I do come, and it will help make this decision a lot easier. I shouldn’t have to try out every college ministry or church in order to make this decision, so tell me about your group in real, concrete ways.
For church ministries specifically
- Don’t only give me the usual handouts your church has every Sunday for visitors. If those things are attractive, yes, give them to me. But include something printed up just for college students, too.
- Give me a clear and simple understanding of how college students “fit” and connect to your church, too.
- Finally, fill me in on any connections you have to my school already: like that you have students already in your ministry, or professors who attend there, or graduates on your staff.
- College students like Youth Ministry, Children’s Ministry, and Worship. Tell me about those areas of your church, if there are places for me to be involved.
Make Things Simple, Easy, Cool, or Otherwise Accessible
- Give me something to do soon if you can. If you tell me that you’re not really “gearing up” until way after Labor Day, you might lose me before then. Have some sort of gatherings or events right away if you can.
- Give me a web site. Always.
- And make the web site helpful, loaded with more information – and NOT just flashy promos – about your ministry. If I’m on your site, I’m interested – don’t just tell me there what you told me on a flyer. If it’s well-organized (and up-to-date), lots of information on your web site is a good thing.
- Give me other easy access to information – phone numbers, text messages, the Facebook Group (if it’s well-populated and up-to-date), etc.
Direction on Directions
- Several ministries in Chicago gave print-outs of Mapquest directions, from the campus to their church. Bravo. That’s easy, and it’s what I’d be looking up anyway if I wanted to come to your church or ministry. You just helped me skip a step. (Remember, freshmen need directions even to campus-based ministries.)
- List your address if your ministry isn’t on campus. Today’s students will Mapquest, iPhones, etc., to get there.
- Make sure whatever directions you give are correct. I spent 10 extra minutes trying to find a church in Chicago ’cause their map wasn’t perfect. I don’t need your mailing address, I need an address/map that you’ve actually tested that will get me to your parking lot.
- Most of the giveaways during Orientation should advertise your ministry – especially if it’s a giveaway I will use later (like popcorn – if you give me unpopped popcorn, make sure to put a sticker on it about your ministry, so I’ll see it when I pop it!).
- It really is brilliant to give things (like unpopped popcorn or unrefrigerated soft drinks) that I’ll have to look at / deal with later, with an advertisement right on the item.
- If you want to be extra-helpful, give me some sort of bag, because I’m collecting a lot of stuff at all these booths, and it’s getting annoying to hold. (And as long as I keep all the ministries’ info, YOUR ministry’s name will be right there on the bag!)
- Sure, some of the stuff you’ll give away might be “common” among ministries: candy, magnets, pens, coffee, etc. So why not give the best of each of these? Give the best candy (everybody loves a Lik-m-Aid / Fun Dip), personally serve the coffee (like the Anglican Mission in America did at Trinity’s church fair), or give me super-cool pens that I’ll actually use all semester (Pilot G2s are my personal fave).
Potpourri – More Random Thoughts Based on What I’ve Seen
- When it comes to churches or other off-campus ministries, the availability of van rides or car pools can for some students be a dealbreaker.
- If you sell me on one great part of your ministry, you’ve probably sold me on your whole ministry.
- Don’t come across mean – in your presence or in your materials. Now is probably not the time to prophesy about the evils you’ve seen on campus. You can do that when I actually come to your ministry. :)
- If you bring “Senior Adults” from your church and/or your own kids to the church fair, you’ll stick out – in a good way, probably. But make sure there are people I can identify with – a.k.a. student leaders – at your booth, too.
- Ooh – since we’re on the subject of potpourri, maybe you could hand out potpourri to students. Some people would appreciate that, and candles are dorm-illegal.
And the Winner Is… (A Few Methods I’ve Liked the Best)
- A few different ministries had pre-prepared bags or folders with all their brochures inside. I really liked this, because it was quick to grab AND kept all their info together. But remember – some students may not take the time to peruse everything later, so make sure to leave a lasting impression, too.
- The winner in that department during the Chicago part of my trip was Larkin Avenue Baptist Church in Elgin, which gave me an actual laundry bag, perfectly folded into a big Ziploc bag, along with other brochures, etc. A laundry bag may mean a year or more of advertisement for a church… Now if only the church would offer to do my laundry… (I used that laundry bag all year long, too!)
- Living Hope of Calvary Community Church put a map on their flyer with directions from the school campus, and they included both a “toll” route and a “no toll” route. Each of those aspects shows skill at “knowing their audience,” especially up there in toll-laden Chicago.
- I particularly liked the text on the flyer from Christ Church Lake Forest. While you gotta be careful about too much text, it at least does seem like they’ve incorporated lots of understanding about students and their needs. So here’s the whole text: “[In little type toward the top] We really hope you enjoy the microwave popcorn. Yeah, it may feel like a shameless giveaway, but it’s a lot more fun to get a bag of popcorn than just a postcard with a bunch of information on it, right? And we didn’t even say something cute like ‘pop on over.’ [now bigger type] We at Christ Church would love to have you check us out! Here are some things we can tell you. Tomorrow (Aug 19), our services are 9 and 10:30. Beginning next Sunday August 26th, times are 9 and 11. All services have the same sermon and feature exceptional music. Our senior pastor was a college pastor for eight years, so we think you’ll enjoy his teaching! If you’re interested in serving in a ministry, please check out our website at www.cclf.org and contact the staff member associated with the ministry. [a little more, then at the bottom in smaller type:] Enjoy that popcorn, and remember not to let it cook too long. No one likes to smell that.” No, it doesn’t take a genius to write this – but it incorporates humor, concrete/helpful details, discussion of music and teaching and ministry opportunities, the “college pastor” reference, and the web site. They “get” the audience.
- One campus ministry around here (the college ministry at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Ft. Worth) has given city tours to students – talk about helpfully ministering to those students! And getting a captive audience to build relationships and sell the ministry!
- Lastly, when I was in Abilene, Texas, Crosspoint Fellowship handed out ice-cold Dublin Dr. Peppers with a sticker about their church stuck around the bottle. But the next year, they gave away warm Dublin Dr. Peppers – even more brilliant! Not only did they save themselves the annoyance of trying to keep sodas cool in August, but their advertisement wouldn’t get thrown away until after spending some hours/days in the fridge!