On Mondays, I’ve been looking back at my free book, Reaching the Campus Tribes, and the many ways our work parallels the work of international missions.
Today’s entry is controversial – especially for two groups: college ministers who have experienced rapid numerical growth, and those who have made that their goal. But I encourage us all to read with an open mind, and to remember that health is a huge part of our lasting impact.
College ministers and those who oversee them must understand that slow growth is normal and indeed often necessary.
In international missions, it takes time for connections to be made, for important truths to sink in, for a minister to get to know the context and culture, for language to be learned, for strategy to be developed, for trust to be earned, for life to be shared, and for God to prepare the missionary herself for the task ahead.
Many new college ministries also naturally grow slowly, too – for many of these same reasons! Just as with missions efforts, it takes time for word of mouth to spread on a college campus. It takes time for spiritual foundations to be built. It takes time for a new college minister to learn the campus tribe and its particular “language.” It takes time to build relationships, a major key for impacting college students. It takes time for the campus missionary to prepare personally for the marvelous pioneering task ahead.
In fact, if those things don’t happen, it is unlikely that the ministry will be a valuable addition to the campus tribe. Any college ministry that quickly settles on its target audience, mission statement, core group of students, major goals, or other fundamentals should question whether it has done sufficient work to learn the campus tribe, build meaningful relationships, and develop the ministry strategy. Certainly, many elements of a new college ministry may be derived from other ministries. But how those elements are formed and fit together should be as unique as the mission field itself.
Since there is no “college ministry in a box,” college ministry formation that is both quick and healthy will be rare. College students may be drawn to a singular personality, flashy programs with little substance, or unbalanced teaching more quickly than to a healthy, holistic, purposeful, and “in-this-for-the-long-haul” college ministry.
Looking back at those words, what might I add?
For one thing, I’ve certainly run into plenty of additional unhealthy ministries since I penned those words. And for many of them, sorting through these issues might have helped; weeds seem to spring up more easily than trees.
Second, a good number of the questions I receive from people seem to place an undue importance on speed of growth or size of ministry. But let me be clear: numbers matter, because they represent people. I would most likely want my college ministry to grow large, too. Yet a focus here can cause plenty of issues – especially because it distracts from more important focuses. (After all, a focus is a focus. You can only have so many.)