determining the branches

Today I have the chance to share a brownbag seminar at Dallas Theological Seminar. I’ve been asked to speak on “The Four Streams of College Ministry,” introducing for students the branches that make up our field.

I’ve found it immensely helpful to think about collegiate ministry in four branches. But it’s actually been through my journeys that this nomenclature has developed, and I wanted to revisit that issue before jumping into further thoughts later this week.

In October 2009, I first broached the subject of broadening my original 3-branch system. I received some great comments on that post – comments that truly helped me digest that issue. Here’s (most of) that post, followed by a link to the comments it received.


I believe I first outlined my classification of the “three branches” of college ministry in a post way back in February 2008. I had variously referred to those three branches before, including in my book:

  • Campus-based college ministry (including parachurch, denominational, and independent ministries centering their activity on the local campus)
  • Church-based college ministry (ministries overseen within individual churches)
  • Spiritual development at Christian colleges (the specific people or departments in Christian colleges dedicated to student discipleship, often called “spiritual life” or “chaplaincy”) (from Reaching the Campus Tribes, pages 17-18)

Those branches are distinguished, in my mind, by a few major things:

  • Campus integration (the connection of the ministry to the college campus, including where it centers its activity)
  • Oversight (who tends to hire, govern, and evaluate a ministry’s leaders)
  • Function (the way the ministry operates and “feels,” particularly to students)
  • Field reception (the lines the college ministry community has tended to draw between these areas)

While any of these factors might be clearer or fuzzier for an individual ministry, I do feel they fairly well delineate between the various branches. So using this terminology has been really helpful to me.

But as I continue to explore and ponder, I always want to be open to tweaking my approach! One question has especially led me to consider adding a “fourth branch” to my classification (it’s the first question listed below).

The big questions:

  1. Collegiate Church Planting is a major strategy employed on a significant number of campuses. Should it be considered a fourth branch of college ministry, or does it fit better under one of the present branches?
  2. Should campus-based ministry be split into two branches: denominational / church-related and fully parachurch?
  3. Should ministries run entirely by students be considered a separate branch of college ministry?
  4. What’s the best term for Branch #3? “Spiritual development at Christian colleges”? “Chaplaincy”? Something else?
  5. Any other adjustments you would make to this system?


A handful of college ministers weighed in on that post with some outstanding thoughts, leading me to the four-branch system I now use. I highly encourage you to check out those comments here.

Those thoughts also helped solidify the names I tend to use for these “Four Streams.” Here’s how I’ll describe those branches with the seminary students today:

  • Campus-based college ministry (which includes both fully parachurch and denominational ministries)
  • Church-based college ministry
  • Institutional college ministry (specific spiritual development organized by Christian schools)
  • Collegiate churches (including independent church plants and campus-focused sites of multisite churches)

In the days to come, I’ll observe some of the differences, similarities, and unique aspects of these branches! And as always, I’d love your thoughts on how this is organized – in our underdeveloped field, this is one sort of discussion we need a lot more of!


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  1. One fairly new branch that I think will get more and more popular is multi-site churches will start a campus “campus” that holds the churches service on campus whether it is the same teaching pastor, a video or college pastor. Has anyone heard much about people trying this? I know some Mega churches such as Mars Hill in Seattle are. What other churches are trying this?

  2. Hey Paul! You’re right – that’s definitely one area I’ve enjoyed watching. I wouldn’t consider it its own “branch” (in the way I’m using that term this week); those sites seem to function like Collegiate Churches. But it’s definitely interesting watching them. (There’s a little bit in the post today on those.)

    The examples I point to generally are Mars Hill Seattle, Highview Baptist in Louisville, and Hill Country Bible in Austin. The latter has been doing it for awhile. Chapel on the Campus in Baton Rouge is also multi-site, but it started fully collegiate and then planted a site that caters more to “grown-ups.”

  3. Pingback: struggles in the branches of collegiate ministry « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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