Yesterday, I wrote about one way a college ministry can take a “big leap” (which is the point of this “Going for Broke” series). That idea involved launching a new ministry effort – or even a truly new ministry altogether – to reach an underreached segment of your campus.
Honestly, there are probably several ways to “go for broke” that involve reaching out to niches at your school – or maybe even at other schools? (We’re thinking big this week, remember.) But as I’ve traveled the country and otherwise connected with hundreds of college ministries in the last several years, I’ve gained some wisdom (I hope) on taking this plunge. So here are some scattered thoughts on the Who of a niche-based leap for your college ministry.
- Not every characteristic provides a true niche. I’ve seen some attempts to identify reachable segments that don’t seem to connect to students’ actual experience. Not every dorm, section of campus, major, etc., needs to be targeted in a specialized way. If there’s not a true “identity” shared by members of the group, then they’re not that sort of niche… even if they happen to belong to the same honor society.
- Think like a student, not a city planner. Personally, I’d prefer that campuses be easily “mapped” for strategic outreach… but it doesn’t work that way. Students don’t congregate or self-identify around the lines an outsider might draw. Instead, it’s important to look at the actual reality on the ground. What interests, areas, activities, or other aspects have created actual student niches? Could / should any of them be reached in a special way? (Truthfully, your own students may have an easier time identifying these than you might!)
- Be willing to think small. Don’t assume a niche worthy of a unique ministry effort has to be a big niche. There may be a group of 10 or 50 individuals who remain “unreached” by previous ministry attempts. Be open to the call to reach them, and realize they could be harder to find because of their size.
- Be willing to think big. On the other hand, it’s possible to miss a potential niche because it seems so big. Maybe it’s the entire Greek system (and specialized efforts there have worked well on countless campuses). Maybe at your school, an entire class year – Sophomores? Fifth-year Seniors? – could use a tailored effort. Maybe there’s a need to reach men through a new ministry. Don’t overlook enormous opportunities just because they’re… enormous.
- Consider whom God has already brought. To me, this is one of the clearest signs of a potential niche to reach (whether in small ways or in the large-scale way I’m talking about here). Has God brought your ministry students who clearly identify with a niche that is generally underreached? Might he want to use those students to lead an effort, or at least to provide insight into what’s needed to reach their segment?
- Be strategic and thoughtful. Recognizing need isn’t the same as hearing God’s call, no matter how much we’d like for it to be. While noticing that the Arts crowd isn’t being reached may be the beginning of this process, it’s not an automatic call to establish a new work among them. It’s vital that we be thoughtful and strategic, and in the end, the call may be somebody else’s, or the need may be met in some other way.
- Be creative. On the other hand, noticing that kind of need could indeed lead to a new ministry eventually. So if this niche-based work is a possibility for your campus ministry, it’s worth looking high and low for ideas of groups to reach. Poll your students. Look through the list of student organizations. Pray like crazy – and then watch for unique ways God might answer. Ask your ministry’s alumni. Ask the administration.
- Consider service, not only outreach. As you’re thinking about whom you might reach, you might stumble upon the Who of a new niche ministry by thinking about whom to serve, not simply whom to recruit. Look at your campus through recruiting and evangelism eyes, and God may show you some niches. Look through the lens of “Who could really use our service?,” and He may provide you with some others. And on this score especially, campus administration may actually be a help – and then if you begin serving groups they’ve identified, all sorts of benefits may arise from that.
This is enough for now, but hopefully this is at least a start toward thinking about the Who of new niche-based efforts!