variations in the branches

I enjoyed sharing with Dallas Seminary students yesterday, and I wanted to offer here some of the points I presented to them. But one of the areas I didn’t get to cover – fully, at least – were the variations found in each of the branches of college ministry. It was, after all, a primer, so it generally made the most sense to present the “classic” versions of each branch.

But each of the branches do indeed have variations – and they’re important to note, since often we only know the “versions” we ourselves have seen. So here’s a quick run-down of some diversifications within each branch.


This one has two well-known methodologies already: denominational campus-based ministries (like Wesley Foundation, Chi Alpha, and several others) and fully parachurch work (like InterVarsity, Navigators, and Campus Crusade). But even beyond that, some ministries look a little different from the “norms.”

  • Niche-based ministries (based on anything from campus geography to majors to ethnicity)
  • Complementary ministries (that purposely accomplish only part of students’ discipleship, leaving other portions to other ministries)
  • Student-directed ministries (with no adult leader on-site or off-site)
  • These have a spectrum from fully autonomous, standalone ministries to well regulated, national ministries


  • There’s a broad spectrum here of fully volunteer-directed ministries (with even students sometimes playing this role) to multi-staff-member church-based ministries running very large, well budgeted ministries… and everything in-between (part-time ministers, full-time ministers with multiple “hats,” and so on)
  • Some church-based ministries (or portions of those ministries) function in a way nearly identical (“on the ground,” though not in oversight) to campus-based ministries
  • Some hybrids exist – like some CCO ministries and Campus Outreach ministries – in which the college ministries function under a church but are also resourced and overseen by a national ministry


  • The primary duties may vary more widely than any other college ministry branch. Institutional college ministers may (or may not) focus on a Chapel program, mobilizing students in service and missions, discipleship / small groups, serving in more of a “chaplain” / pastoral role, involvement with faculty and staff, and/or other areas.
  • Somewhat like church-based college ministers, those serving at Christian colleges could have spiritual development as only one of lots of duties… all the way to having large staffs
  • The religious spectrum of schools obviously affects the institutional college ministers, and not all college ministers are necessarily of the exact same theological bent as their institution
  • While the institutional college minister is often the only college minister serving a Christian college directly, many are impacted by local church-based ministers and some even have campus-based ministries present
  • The amount of freedom these college ministers have varies, since they are completely tied to the college they serve

Collegiate Churches

  • The main variation I’ve seen here is in autonomy. Some of these collegiate churches are independent church plants. Others were planted by a “mother church” that still has some tie to them. Some are part of a larger church-planting body (particularly Great Commission Ministries). And a few multisite churches have planted a campus site – which still fits this branch, certainly, but functions as a site of a larger church.


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

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