like it’s your grand opening (because to them, it is)

Last night I had the chance to attend the opening worship service of a new church plant here in London, UK. (How’s that for an opening sentence?) My wife and I are on vacation, and we got to scout out a new church with the friends we’re staying with… and I got to feed my love for seeing churches-in-action.

Anyway, it got me thinking – from the first moment we found the announcement of the Launch Service for this church: What if we treated our new school years as true “Grand Openings” even more than we do? Because for a sizable percentage of our future best participants, this is a brand-new ministry.

It’s new for all the freshmen. It’s new for all the transfer students. It’s even new for the other students who, perhaps surprisingly, simply haven’t noticed your ministry.

Until now. Your “Grand Opening.” As far as they know, it’s Ignite Student Fellowship (or whatever your name happens to be), Established Fall 2014.

I realize that, in a sense, we already do this. The normal college ministry start-of-school fanfare and recruitment very much mirrors some of what a new church (or new Wal-Mart!) might do. But what if you turned that “Grand Opening” approach up a few notches more? What if you really advertised as though people never had the chance to attend before? For some of us, that might mean…

  • More “earning the right to be heard.” If we’ve got a long-running ministry with a great reputation on campus, so what? We’d be arrogant to think new students don’t need a respectful and exciting “introduction.”
  • More information. They don’t know how to get to our location. They don’t know what to expect when they do. Many of the Christian freshmen honestly don’t even know what a “college ministry” or “campus ministry” is (let alone the non-believers!). They don’t know our history or “values,” either.
  • More reasons. When a church plant “invades” an area, it recognizes that it has to present reasons for people (churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike) to choose to attend. All those students have a variety of really good choices for having fun, learning, hanging with friends, and even growing spiritually. Why might your ministry be the best choice for some of them?
  • Less assumption. The preacher at Cornerstone Church Teddington didn’t assume anything about his brand new congregation, including where they are with Christ or that they’re likely to stick around this church. His highly evangelistic message and explanation of church history and identity highlighted that fact. We shouldn’t assume the students attending this autumn’s Grand Opening are Christians, nor should we assume they’ve “bought in” to our vision for the ministry. Teaching the basics makes a lot of sense.
  • More normalcy. Personally, I appreciated that this church service seemed to “feel” a lot like a normal church service will. (Of course, I could be wrong, but it’s a good guess.) I realize there are reasons to start a school year a bit “different,” but we’ve got to beware the potential bait-and-switch, even when it comes to “style” or “atmosphere” or emphases.

That’s what comes from the top of my head, but I’m sure there’s more we could imagine if we compare our efforts with the paradigm of a “Grand Opening.” What will you do in August to make your ministry’s “Opening” to countless students more “Grand”?

Yes, we really are in England, and we’ve got plans to visit with some college ministers in Oxford today!

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