Today, two posts from last year that are likely good food for thought now – because the results could be powerful, but planning (and advertising) will be required.

Behold the Summer Debrief!

Pretty soon your students will flock back to campus, ready to hit the ground running with a new season of college ministry.

Not. So. Fast.

Just as it’s important to follow a Big Event or a Spring Break Mission Trip with a debrief, you should consider holding a debrief for your returning students. Just because their activities weren’t part of your college ministry doesn’t mean they shouldn’t process together what the Lord has done. (In fact, some students’ activities might not have been ministry-related at all, but why not consider what God taught them through a summer internship or vacation with the family?)

I’ve written before about debriefing mission trips:

A purposeful Debrief is one of the best opportunities to help students “lock in” what they’ve learned over the course of a trip – as well as allowing the fruit to “ferment” and grow, as students and leaders share with each other what they noticed, realized, and gained from the trip.

A Debrief serves an evaluative purpose, too, as we ask, “What could we do better next time?,” “What was the most effective thing we did?,” and related questions.

…as well as our college ministry activities:

We can ask students the growth-related questions, too: “What did you get out of this week’s teaching?” “How did that ‘Night of Worship’ impact you?” “What did you realize while you were serving yesterday morning?” “What steps will you take to apply the series we just finished in small groups?”

Couldn’t each of these points apply to debriefing how students spent their summers, too?

Of course, since they’ve all done different things, debriefing may look different. I see a few options; maybe you see more:

  • Hold a large group debrief for all (or some) returning students. They can learn from each other’s various experiences.
  • Debrief students in groups – those who worked, those who did camp, those who did missions, etc.
  • Have students debrief with last semester’s small group leaders, or otherwise debrief in groups of 5 or 10.
  • Debrief students (as much as possible) one-on-one; enlist student leaders or volunteers as needed… even adult volunteers who aren’t normally involved in your ministry (what a cool connection to make at the beginning of a school year).

the post-summer (but pre-fall) reunion

I heard a college minister once encourage other college ministers to organize a “reunion” for all returning students. Right before classes start, or in the first week of school before the first “normal” Large Group Meeting, invite everybody who’d been around last year to come hang out… Don’t advertise this gathering when you’re recruiting new students; it’s just for returning students.

That way, this college minister said, returning students can reconnect with each other, swap stories about the summer, etc. – getting all of that (important reconnection stuff) out of the way. Then they’re ready to be great Hosts for the incoming freshmen and other new students. You need your returning students on point when the new students come, but it’s understandable they’d want to reconnect with old buddies.

This might just help your ministry’s retention rate, too! It’s something for returning students to do right away that’s comfortable and fun and that reminds them of all the reasons they stuck around last year.

Of course, this is also a great time to hold the debrief I discussed above…