a big moment in college ministry history: campus crusade gets a new name

If you’re interested in college ministry at all, you’re interested in this: The country’s best-known, best-branded college ministry (by far) will change its name in 2012. Campus Crusade for Christ will officially become “cru” nationwide.

(I was going to post about something college ministries can learn from Justin Bieber – really – but I’ll save that for this week’s Fridea. Check back in a couple of days!)

Campus Crusade has done a good job with their announcement page for this change, including the official press release and a very strong Q&A page. It’s interesting to note not only the whys (and the hows) of the name-change, but also to read between the lines and see some of the concerns others have already expressed.

(See some additional thoughts & links in the next post.)

the why of the change

In their words,

There’s only one reason we’d change. We want to do a better job of connecting people to God’s love and forgiveness. It’s all about helping people experience the good news that Jesus offers.

Since 2009, Campus Crusade for Christ International has been officially looking at making a change for its U.S. mission, but various levels have felt this need for a much longer time. The key issues involve both “campus” and “crusade.” The former is a problem because Campus Crusade does have much work beyond college campuses.

But for the huge part of U.S. Campus Crusade that is collegiate work, it’s the word “Crusade” that has been problematic. (I wrote on those “unexpected shiftings of vocabular connotations” back in 2009.) While “crusade” actually has a much more general meaning, newer generations may not associate the word with anything other than the historical Crusades. And when you add the fact that Campus Crusade sends lots of students to the mission field each year, the level of concern increases all the more.

Very interestingly, they write

Our surveys show that, in the U.S., twenty percent of the people willing to consider the gospel are less interested in talking with us after they hear the name. We are changing the name for the sake of more effective ministry.

my first thoughts

From my viewpoint – not only of Crusade but also in broader Evangelical campus ministry – here are some first reflections on this far-reaching decision in the world of College Ministry.

1. The name. I knew this change was coming, and my best guess was they’d land on one of three options:

  1. Cru, since it is the common nickname across many campuses.
  2. CRU – as an acronym – since it keeps the common nickname but adds meaning. It could be something like “Christ Reaching the University” (at least for the campus work).
  3. Campus for Christ, which is the Canadian name already and is (obviously) stinkin’ close.

Officially, the new name is “cru” for the logo and “Cru” in normal sentences. (“Lowercase letters are used in the logo to “avoid confusion as an acronym or abbreviation.”)

2. A tough situation. When it comes down to it, I think they had to change the name. (That 20% statistic alone is enough to sway me!) So once that decision was reached, it’s sensible to go with something derived from what they’ve had, and something already connected to many of their chapters (which they call “movements”).

But having to change at all still makes things tough. There’s no college ministry out there with nearly the name recognition among outsiders; pastors and parents seem far more likely to know to tell their students to “look for Campus Crusade!” than anything else.

As a point of comparison, second prize in “brand recognition” probably goes to the Baptist Student Union… the former name of the Southern Baptist Convention’s campus-based ministry. BSU is now called “Baptist Collegiate Ministries” nationally and all sorts of different things state-by-state. Yet those outside the world of college ministry continue to point students to “BSU,” even though that name is only used in a few states. (You can read about their situation here.)

So Cru is likely to face something similar for a long, long time: As students, donors, and others come looking for “Campus Crusade for Christ,” they won’t find what they’re looking for (immediately, at least). That’s a huge loss from a branding perspective.

3. Growing in Cru vs. Rowing in Crew. While it may sound silly, there will be places the new name will cause confusion with rowing teams. “Cru” and “Crew” are homophones, obviously. So at campuses where “rowing crew” is a big deal – yes, there are such campuses – this may cause a bit of a hiccup. Remember The Social Network? (Fortunately, Cru is known as “Real Life” in Boston!)

The funny thing is, Cru will now share this difficulty with InterVarsity, whose name has long caused some to assume an athletic connection.

4. Internal pressures. No matter what we outside the Campus Crusade family think about the name-change, I imagine it’s probably a bit nightmarish dealing with detractors from throughout the staff and donor base. (The FAQ makes clear what some of the concerns are.)

We should pray for our Cru brothers and sisters as they, again, do the best they can with a tough situation. And we should pray for those on the local level; it’s never fun being told you have to change your name, even if you can see why. Those who haven’t already shifted to “Cru” or something else entirely probably have reasons for keeping the status quo, so I’m sure there will be some level of grumpiness and difficulty!

5. The larger campus missionary community? In describing the process, Cru noted that they solicited ideas from thousands within the organization. The decision itself involved 30 staff members from throughout the organization, as well as input from two outside agencies. All of that is superb.

What I missed in reading the site, however, was any mention of discussing this with those outside the Campus Crusade family. (Of course, they might have involved staff from IV, Navigators, Chi Alpha, etc., but I didn’t see it mentioned.)

Rightly or wrongly, one of the biggest concerns I hear about local Cru ministries is the classic “They’re just interested in doing their own thing” complaint. It seems like both the name-change process and the announcement were big chances for this largest of campus ministries to clarify that they see themselves as members of a much larger community of those “reaching the campus tribes.” But hopefully this was a part of the process; if so, maybe they’ll note that at some point.

6. God cares about names. I really appreciate the emphasis they’ve placed on God needing to direct this process (especially in the video announcements). In the end, the decision may seem “simple,” but it’s good for all of us to remember that God cares about directing us in our individual ministries, too – whether we’re picking a name, designing a T-shirt, or writing a blog. We should be praying about it all!

7. Of course, they’re phasing it in. Don’t be surprised if “Campus Crusade for Christ” is still used at your campus for semesters or even years to come. The page states they’re waiting until “early 2012” so they can make sure “Cru has high name recognition with our stakeholders.”

But I imagine (and hope) there will be major leeway given to those “on the ground” to phase this in. The tough thing about a major change at the campus level is that word-of-mouth and branding are so key. The nice thing, though, is that within 3 years no one even remembers there was a change!

More tomorrow. This is a big moment in the history of our field. I’ve got additional thoughts & links in the next post. Further, if you’re interested in getting to know Cru better, here are my reflections after attending the DFW Winter Conf, and part two is here. (One of the best ways to get to know a college ministry is to participate in what it sees as a cornerstone activity.)


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  1. Pingback: Campus Crusade’s New Name Is: Cru.

  2. Great comments, Benson. I wonder if there will be any pushback (especially from donors) about choosing a name that “doesn’t mean anything.” Even though InterVarsity (my org) is a weird word and isn’t used in the US for anything except IVCF, it does have a particular meaning (esp. in the context of our full name). Still, this was probably the best option for CCCI – even though the name “Cru” doesn’t have any particular meaning in and of itself, it’s already associated with their ministry.

  3. Micheal, I think you’re right about that being one of the biggest pushbacks. It seems to be, at least, in the comments I’ve read so far on the discussion page: http://www.ccci.org/cru-discussion.

    They address it briefly in their FAQ page, but I could see that issue catching them somewhat more by surprise than concerns about losing “Christ” or it still having connections to the word “crusade.”

  4. Fortunately, people at my university (South Florida) already refer to it as “cru,” so the name change won’t be a big deal. They even have “cru” on their T-shirts along with a smaller “Campus Crusade for Christ.”

    I had always kind of wondered if anyone felt uncomfortable with the word “crusade.” Maybe this would be a good opportunity to show that our campus ministries *don’t* represent the kind of religious fighting that took place in those days. As far as the new name not meaning anything, sure it can! It could mean “This is my crew/cru.” :)

  5. Yeah, that’s pretty common – for many of the campus ministries, this will be an easy transition on the campus. (With donors and other supporters, it may be trickier – but again, those groups aren’t too worried about the name, anyway.)

    Good call on using it like the word “crew” – that’s come out in some of the discussion on their page, too.

  6. Pingback: a few thoughts & some links on the Campus Crusade name-change « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

  7. Pingback: Fox News Headline Fail « West Coast Witness

  8. kerrymcox

    Seriously? I really do not see any positives in this? I can’t believe that people are jumping on board for this….It’s one thing to not have the name there it is another to take it out and put the name of Christ on the same “baggage” or “offensive” level of Crusade…Really???

  9. Hey Kerry –

    I’d encourage you to read my second post (which points out that others have made that claim) and also some of the stuff at the Cru rollout site. (The videos are helpful, too.)

    They definitely never imply that “Christ” isn’t in the name because it was found to be offensive, nor is there any reason to infer that from what I saw. They only mention problems with “Crusade” (because its connotation has changed so drastically in the last decades) and “Campus” (because they reach far beyond campuses now).

    Honestly, it’s clear “Christ” wasn’t removed from the name at all; instead, they started over on their name entirely. In that process, they looked at hundreds of options (including many completely different from “Campus Crusade for Christ,” I assume). The new name they settled on does hearken back to the old name, but that’s an entirely different process than if they’d “whittled things down” to the least offensive name possible.

    Wes Woodell has some good thoughts on his blog about this concern, too: http://westcoastwitness.com/2011/07/21/fox-news-headline-fail/

  10. kerrymcox

    I have read this….I have watched the videos and read things their staff has posted…They did remove Christ from the name…if Crusade is the bad word, why keep half of it? And honestly I am pretty sure if you watch Jesus’ ministry he was never concerned about “being offensive.” In fact Jesus is one of the most offensive figures in history. I cannot people are being snowed by this….

  11. Wow… It’s pretty bold to say we’re all being “snowed,” Kerry.

    Again, it’s really clear they picked a brand-new name for their U.S. work that didn’t happen to have the word “Christ” in it (and their overall, international name is the same). Would you have been so angry if the name was “Real Life” or “Ignite”? Or is it just because you assume the new name is a shortening of the old one (which clearly isn’t the case, even though it’s natural to think that – at first).

    “Cru” apparently doesn’t cause people any clear offense, even though “Crusade” did. They’ve written about that, and the testing they did.

    They’re trying their best to “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” We don’t get a lot of discussion about the philosophy of Jesus’ everyday interactions, but we do get some about Paul’s. And Paul’s pretty clear that we’re supposed to be constantly “tweaking” so as to give as little offense as possible, even while standing quite firm on principles directly related to the gospel message. He even circumcised a dude so as not to offend, and he preached a whole message (or at least the part we’ve got) that used pagan mythology (and never the name Christ) to talk about Christ.

    You seem really angry about all this, but I encourage you to continue to read their points – and realize they’ve spent a lot more time weighing all these issues than you or I have. That at least calls for a little hesitance in passing judgment, right?

  12. Pingback: do you know your collegiate ministry neighbors? « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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