hooray for tradition

Last night I got to attend an annual event at my church from high school, a sort of “reunion concert” for current and former members of our youth choir. I’m quick to point out: I am no singer; it was a big choir. But it was a really neat part of my life, so the memories were great.

On Saturday, I got to hang out with a girl I’ve known since I was the leader of her freshman Bible study (I was a sophomore at the time). She later went on to be a leader in the same freshman Bible study a couple of years later, and we – as always – had fun reminiscing about those awesome days. I’ve even shared that same bond with people far younger than I am, who ended up leading in that same Bible study eventually, too.

Except for the occasional exception, college ministries don’t seem to do a lot with “tradition” or “nostalgia.” But instituting tradition and celebrating nostalgia can seriously benefit our ministries.

It’s a way to build community, for sure. It’s a way to build reminders – which God can use in people’s lives long past their college years. It can also invigorate current students, as they realize they’re part of something much bigger, much longer-lasting than the current campus ministry. It allows students’ own impact to last long beyond their few years with you. In a way, it adds a true depth to a college ministry that can’t be achieved another way.

If you’re interested in adding a dash of tradition to your college ministry, here are a few ideas to start brainstorming with.

  • Celebrate the memories of each semester or year, as that “era” comes to a close. Encourage individual groups – like small group Bible studies – to do the same with their own groups. (Lists of memories make great T-shirts!)
  • “Institute” traditions from the teaching points, favorite songs, or inside jokes that naturally arise within the ministry. Purposely use them in a regular way (as long as they’re useful.)
  • Construct an ongoing “family tree” of small group leaders, ministry team leaders, or other positions in your ministry,  letting new leaders realize the heritage they’re taking part in.
  • Have present leaders write encouraging / exhorting notes to those who follow them in those positions.
  • Have Seniors speak to the group before graduation each semester.
  • Build actual or symbolic “ebenezers” (stones of remembrance) to remember what God taught and/or did in certain seasons of the ministry.
  • Write out a history of your college ministry (or have students do it – they might even be able to do it for some school project!). I bet you even find out some exciting new stuff…
  • Bring back alumni / former staff to speak to students.
  • Hold reunions for alumni.
  • Build alumni “clubs” – for encouragement, connection, and even fundraising.
  • Get testimonies from alumni of how God used the ministry in their lives. Share some of these with supporters, overseers, and current students.

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