this is how you start a mission

I received an email recently from Pat Morse, who’s helping start a collegiate church (which she refers to as a “mission”) connected with Evangelical Anglicans in the U.S.. She asks a question that’s important even for those of us in the other branches of college ministry: when should we meet?

We are exploring starting a mission where the primary audience will be college students. Most of our missions look for a location where they can have services Sunday morning because that has been our most successful model to-date, but the audiences for our other missions have been families & neighborhoods.

Since colleges can be so different from the rest of the world, I was wondering if your experience has pointed in the direction of an effective time to have weekly services for college students?

I am keeping in mind your blog about best practice myths and I don’t expect there to be one right answer but I was hoping for some indications of what has been successful for you – especially if it was not Sunday mornings. (I am helping our missioners find a location and where will largely depend on when.)

I plan to spend a couple of days talking about this very important issue – not just for the collegiate church planters out there, but for all of us who have any sort of Large Group Meeting. But before that, I want to highlight a few things that are valuable for all of us in the question Pat’s asking:

1. Doing it like we’ve done it doesn’t matter. There are fine things to be learned from tradition, whether that tradition comes from our own past work, our organization’s work other places, or even “standard practice” in the field of Collegiate Ministry. But this church planter recognized that while “most of our missions” have done things one way, a new audience means starting from scratch on our approach. Maybe we’ll end up doing things similarly to the past, but traditions should never be our starting point.

2. “Standard” = “sacred” far too often. Note what this particular church is willing to rethink: the day the church meets. Now, I recognize that there are denominations with specific convictions regarding a day of the week for worship, and convictions shouldn’t budge. But except for those places where we feel adjustment equals sin, we college ministers have to be willing to put even the most “standard” of practices on the table for discussion.

3. Colleges aren’t like the “outside world.” As she so rightly said, “colleges can be so different from the rest of the world.” It’s so easy to lose sight of that as we work with college students.

4. Best Practices are few and far between. As she notes, I’ve argued this before: “Best Practices” are actually pretty rare in our world, simply because each campus has to be presumed to be unique until we discern otherwise. (Read more of my argument here.) It’s a paradigm shift to realize this, and it’s a tough pill to swallow. But it might make a huge difference for how effective we can end up being in campus ministry.

This is how you start a collegiate mission. With this sort of humility, with this sort of wisdom, with asking questions and opening yourself to (sometimes scary, usually messy) decisions.

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