the ministry reinvention: worth some trepidation

This occasional series, “Worth Some Trepidation,” explores some of the Big Ideas college ministers often pursue without recognizing their inherent difficulties or poor track records. While any of these could be the right method for a ministry, they’re easy to adopt too quickly.

In Reaching the Campus Tribes, my ebook about the national college ministry environment, I write briefly about a concern that probably merits more attention:

…there is a cost to our trial and error. Both resources and goodwill (of participants, other students, campus authorities, and community members) can be diminished by ineffective attempts. (p. 29)

In context, I’m talking there about how college ministries often start… and then restart, and restart, and restart.

But these same concerns apply to campus ministries of all sorts that recast vision, make major shifts in their approach, or otherwise jump into a Big New Idea.

It’s not that big ideas aren’t worth pursuing. But when we do, it’s important that we recognize that these moments are not to be taken lightly; there isn’t as much room as we’d like for a “Trial-and-Error,” “let’s throw lots of things at the wall and see what sticks” approach in collegiate ministry.


  • Any collegiate ministry has a limited time to impact any individual student before they move on. A Not-Best undertaking could lessen our impact for a huge percentage of the time we have. And even with good ideas, there’s often less impact during the “ramp-up” phase.
  • Collegiate ministries can easily lose students to other opportunities (Christian or otherwise).
  • The “ecosystem” or “tribe” is always relatively small (even in the largest campuses); our choices rarely go unnoticed, affect all the other ministries, and impact our reputation among students, campus staff, and others. One Not-Best idea could lessen a ministry’s impact for years to come, even if the idea itself is only tried for a semester.

Again, these concerns are only to highlight our need to move carefully when making big shifts. We have the opportunity to learn from others who have tried it – and yes, many other college ministries have probably tried that Big Idea you’re pondering. And we must be careful to pray, seek wisdom, and be very sure before we make these shifts… a Trial-and-Error approach is, very often, just Error in the world of Collegiate Ministry.

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