novelty can be your enemy (and your students’ enemy)

Last week, the local college ministry I volunteer in held its first large group meeting. As the college minister was on the stage introducing the ministry to the new (and old) students, I realized that much of what he said is probably quite similar to what he said last year at this time. And the year before that. And the year before that.

And that’s a good thing.

We are wise to keep in mind that novelty in our college ministries – a new way of doing things, a new vision to cast, a new teaching series – is ONLY valuable if it serves our purposes better than older ways. Novelty in itself is rarely a good enough reason to try something in college ministry.

Why? Because our students are in a really formative, “hinge” stage in their lives. They will often need much of the same, great-in-the-basics impact as the classes before them did. Further, our students turn over so quickly – and even year to year, students forget what you said a year ago. There’s not often a need to be novel.

But the temptation for us, especially when we’ve been serving in one campus ministry for awhile, is to “change things up” simply because – if we’re honest – we’re the ones who find the old ways passé. Even things God has used to impact students profoundly, year after year.

For example, I’ve known of college ministers who now (seem to) avoid taking students to Passion Conferences simply because they’ve gone so many times. To the college minister, it’s begun to feel somehow “dated.” (Never mind that this batch of students hasn’t ever attended.)

On the flipside, one good example of avoiding novelty for the sake of impact is the (semi-)trend of college ministries developing multi-year “lesson plans”: recognizing what they want students to know when they leave, and teaching the same things (updated, of course) every few years.

Novelty can be a great thing, but when it’s pursued for its own sake within college ministry, it can be the enemy of good impact.

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