my exhortation before it all begins

For many, next week bring the start of another school year. Isn’t that awesome? Who knows what lies before you this time around?

So I asked myself, “What’s the one thing I’d want to tell a college minister before he or she started another year?” And I landed on one thing:

Disciple as you recruit.

This theme pops up occasionally here, but I do think it’s something every college minister (and any volunteers or student leaders) has to keep in mind. You’ll likely interact with more students in the next month than you will the rest of the year. That includes both the individuals you interact with personally, and the number of students who might flow through your first few Large Group Meetings. So if you’re college minister, now’s the chance to begin that ministry – not just once they’re “in.”

Some ways to do that in either one-on-one interactions, your teaching from the stage, or both – pulled (and added to) from a long-ago post:

Help students make a great decision.

It’s a sad thing indeed that college ministers rarely (if ever) teach on “How to choose a college ministry.” In fact, our recruitment efforts may not even do a good job of teaching “Why you should choose our college ministry”! But both of these topics are important to share with students. So unless they’ve learned how-to-choose in their Youth Groups (they haven’t), we have to be the ones.

Help students choose to commit.

Do we really believe that it’s far better for students to go deep in one college ministry than to stay in the shallows with several? Or are we satisfied if 50% of your Large Group Meeting’s students could be found in other Large Group Meetings throughout the week? We need to disciple students – from the beginning – to commit well to a few things – which will really serve them well throughout all of college – and probably to commit to only one college ministry.

Don’t overlook transfer students and others who aren’t freshmen.

Transfer student ministry is an undervalued and under-discussed area. So is recruitment among those who aren’t freshmen. But these guys and gals are worth recruiting during this time… and not in the exact same ways we treat the freshmen. Who knows? Perhaps some of your best student leaders this fall will be Juniors and Seniors who weren’t around your ministry (or possibly even your campus) last year.

Disciple freshmen in the other elements of college-ness – especially the more urgent points of maturity.

If we’re only focused on recruitment, then we’re only focused on ONE area of discipleship. But what about students’ time-sensitive needs to

  • Decide to study well?
  • Understand how Jesus fits with “getting an education”?
  • Find a church?
  • Form spiritual discipline habits ASAP?
  • Think wisely about other things they join / commit to?
  • Think wisely – from the start – about friendships and dating?
  • Assimilate well into their new “campus tribe” – not just spiritually, but emotionally, relationally, academically, financially, and otherwise?

If all our teachings, events, activities, discussions, and other measures are focused on Getting-and-Keeping, where’s the room for the other vital things? Even if our student audiences are a bit “fluid” in the first weeks, we have the real chance to impact those who flow through, whether they stick around or not.

Consider other opportunities to disciple.

Finally, don’t forget that these efforts aren’t limited to the Large Group Meeting or to your one-on-one conversations. We might dedicate early small groups to these formative efforts. We could distribute a pamphlet, as described above.

We can – and should – disciple students from the first moments they check out our Orientation booth. We can meet with freshmen one-on-one (or have our student leaders do this), or send a good welcome email with some discipleshippy links!

Be ready to go off-script.

There may be a moment when you’re in the throes of small talk with student-after-student, and a much deeper conversation starts taking place. Even though in any other month that would be a welcome and exciting “God opportunity,” it can be hard to switch gears. But those moments may arise in the next few weeks. Decide now that you’ll be available, even if it means trusting God with passing students because of the need of the one right in front of you.

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