what we call things, updated

I first wrote about using the term “college ministry” (rather than “campus ministry,” “student ministry,” and a variety of other options) way back in 2009. In the years since then, I haven’t much changed – although I probably use “college ministry” and “collegiate ministry” fairly interchangeably.

As multi-site churches have become ubiquitous, these distinctions are more likely to matter than ever. (What’s the connection? See below.)

Here are what seem to be the main options for referring to the work:

University Ministry

This one’s easy: “University Ministry” simply doesn’t apply to all work with college students, ’cause many students aren’t at a school that considers itself a “university.” So I wouldn’t want to use this to describe our field as a whole – it would always give the perception that some are left out.

For a local ministry that does only serve a university, then it’s as clear as anything would be.

Student Ministry

“Student ministry” is very often used as a synonym for “youth ministry” in churches; other times it’s used to denote ministry to both youth and college students (as a division in a church, for example).

Using this to describe our profession will never cause anything but confusion… and we didn’t get first dibs, anyway. Youth Ministry is well ahead of us in field-development, so they probably own this one, whether we like it or not. (But either way, both groups are students, so it seems like neither Youth Ministry nor College Ministry is best served by using this name.)

Collegiate Ministry

I honestly really like this one as a way to distinguish our entire profession (and sometimes I use it for that distinction when I write). But I’m not sure it will ever catch on. It’s too close to “college ministry,” and people are likely to shorten it, anyway.

Campus Ministry

Ah, this is extremely common, all the moreso in parachurch and denominational ministry (for whatever reason). When I first wrote this post, here were the reasons I gave for not preferring this one, especially when talking about the field as a whole:

  • It often connotes, rightly or wrongly, campus-based ministry (parachurch or denominational ministries). I have heard many people use “campus ministry” as the opposite of church-based college ministry. So if we’re trying to describe the field as a whole, the confusion doesn’t help.
  • Some use “campus ministry” specifically to describe the spiritual life department of Christian colleges (particularly, I’ve noticed, in Catholic colleges). Do a Twitter search yourself, and you’ll see that use come up regularly. That is certainly one branch of college ministry, but it makes it confusing – at least for describing the whole profession.
  • “Campus ministry” is also occasionally used to describe – get this – youth ministry. Yes, high schools are “campuses,” too, and I know at least one fellow minister who bought a book on “campus ministry” just to find out that… well, you can guess.

BUT in the years since I first wrote this, a far better reason has arisen: the emergence of numerous multi-site churches around the country. What do they call the ministers who lead those individual sites? Campus pastors, which is far too easy to confuse with a “campus minister.” This may deal more with the title of the person rather than the ministry, but it is what a lot of American Christendom will think of when we say “campus.”

College Ministry

So we’re left with good ol’ “college ministry.” This does seem to be the term most recognizable to the largest number of people as just what it is: ministry to college students. And yet it doesn’t distinguish between the various forms of college ministry (or the types of schools), so it serves us well when talking about the field as a whole.

So that’s my argument. Take it as the analyzations of a college ministry nerd (or a campus ministry nerd, if that’s what you prefer!). What do you think?

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