Yesterday, I broached the idea of being open to major ministry shifts. I don’t think it’s easy for us to consider radically adjusting our ministry. It’s run this way for years – or even for decades. But the question is if we’re willing to function as agile missionaries in an ever-changing context, or as curators of tradition that risks losing effectiveness (and never realizing it).
So I wanted to examine one of the shifts I believe should be considered by campus ministries on a regular basis: The shift to a narrower focus.
I have argued often – including in Reaching the Campus Tribes – that some of the most effective college ministry out there happens as complementary or as niche-based.
The former refers to college ministries that focus on accomplishing only one part of students’ discipleship. My “go-to” example is the enormous Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M, which (to my knowledge) has always functioned as a giant worship service that then points students to other established ministries for small groups, leadership opportunities, etc.. When I was there, I saw Breakaway present amazing “great in the basics” teaching in a (very) large group environment. And that effort complemented the work of other ministries, from Campus Crusade to the Sunday school class at the A&M United Methodist Church (and dozens of other ministries).
But a “complementary” college ministry might focus on another discipleship area or method. Maybe they work through all the ministries to increase the understanding of social justice. Perhaps they focus on biblical literacy, or they provide awesome outdoor learning opportunities. Maybe they train in evangelism, and multiple ministries point students to their training.
Niche-based college ministries are similar; they function by focusing on a narrow population of people on campus. FCA is a great example of that, and so are the amazing Greek ministries on various campuses. But I think there’s enormous room for other niche-based ministries on campus, including some very specific ones that only “work” on a handful of campuses.
In both cases, the impact comes from focusing more deeply instead of more widely. We all know going “a mile deep and an inch wide” can sometimes accomplish much… but it’s harder when we start thinking about whether our entire ministry should shift from a broader model to a more narrow one.
Of course, most complementary and niche-based collegiate ministries start that way. But should it be that way? Isn’t it highly possible that, over time, a ministry discovers particular strengths or particular crowds?