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This summer, you’re likely taking stock of your college ministry – or at least the last year’s worth of college ministry activities. But here’s one avenue worth taking that evaluation down:

What niches does your college ministry cover in the campus ecosystem?

Nearly every college ministry covers some sort of “niche,” if all that means is that each ministry has an identity, geography, or focus that means certain kinds of students are more likely to participate than others. Even a giant ministry tends to skew in some direction – even if it’s simply skewing away from students who want a more “homey” or “personal” experience.

Maybe we should call this a “quasi-niche.” It’s not that leadership has chosen to focus on athletes (like FCA has) or on International Students. It’s simply that, over time, one or more “pockets” of students have tended to drift toward your ministry. There may be plenty of involved students not in those pockets, too, but it’s clear the ministry has found a foothold among a certain population or two.

For many college ministries, the quasi-niche can get pretty specific. The ministry may be more likely to draw intellectual types. Or athletes. Or socially awkward people. Or students of a particular ethnicity. Or students who truly prefer a smaller community. Again, the campus ministry (in this case) didn’t set out to draw only this type (then it would simply be a niche-based or niche-focused college ministry from the start). Instead, it has become that way, probably for a variety of factors.

The point of this post is: Have you gotten honest about your quasi-niche(s)? Just like an individual is encouraged to “know themselves, like themselves, be themselves,” so your college ministry will be much more effective as it “knows itself” – and comes to appreciate what God has wrought. So whether it’s through outside observation or really honest introspection, how about taking some time this summer to consider who populates your campus mission? You may realize more about its identity than you ever have, and that’s a great foundation to build a new school year on.

You’ll want to read yesterday’s post to get the full context for this, but how can you “produce” students who will influence and impact well as post-college young adults? Here are eight examples of ways students need to be ready to have a ministry in their next church – some specific, some pretty broad.

(And no, this isn’t exhaustive by any means. But it should get you started with your own brainstorming!)

1. Know How to Serve on a Team

If students can’t function well alongside others – when they’re personally not in charge – there will be a lot of potential volunteer opportunities they just won’t be a fit for.

2. Know How to Lead a Discussion

Plenty of young adults are drawn to lead with youth ministry, where small group leadership ability is vital. But that’s true for several areas of the local church. Can your students lead a discussion?

3. Worship Leaders Who Shepherd

Helping talented musicians learn that Worship Leadership involves shepherding is a huge opportunity for any college ministry. Will your graduating musicians provide a shepherding boost if they’re afforded worship-leading opportunities at a church?

4. Can Interpret the Bible Faithfully

You may not have called it “hermeneutics,” but faithful biblical interpretation should be familiar to every college ministry student by the time they’re graduating. The Church needs – and local churches need – those folks.

5. Respect for the Church

If they’re not willing to submit to, honor, and love the local church, they’ve lost even before they’ve played.

6. Patience in the Proving

Sure, churches can be ridiculously slow when having potential leaders “prove themselves.” But today’s students are more likely to get frustrated they’re not used immediately. Are your students ready to be patient, do good, and dwell in the land for a bit? (See Psalm 37)

7. Knowing Themselves (Enough)

Yes, students will continue to learn themselves, their strengths, and their weaknesses throughout their young adult years. But if they haven’t started on that journey, then they’re going to have a hard time expressing to a church just how they can be used… or they’ll waste everyone’s time trying to “be used” in areas they’re not strong in.

8. Focused

Hopefully by the time they’ve graduated, each of your campus ministry students has learned the value of going deep rather than wide. In other words, they shouldn’t be over-committed but should be making a big impact in one or two key things (at least that’s the hope, right?). They’ll need this skill when they find themselves in a new ministry environment – especially if that church is a big one.

My first significant college ministry experience was as a sophomore in college, leading a small group of freshmen in an awesome on-campus ministry called Upstream. (Upstream was overseen by a local church but, at the time, had small group leaders and participants from a variety of local churches.)

One of the many fantastic aspects of that ministry was that it allowed me (and my female partner), both little ol’ sophomores, an incredible amount of latitude in planning our ministry efforts. Even though our “base curriculum” was assigned (so all groups were reading the same book or talking about the same Christian book of the Bible), the week-in, week-out activities of the group and the presentation of the material were under our direct control. We had to make those decisions.

And it changed my life.

It was a year of learning to humbly beg the Lord for insight and direction, as Audrey and I led these two dozen freshmen. We were given ownership, and it made all the difference – ultimately launching me into a whole passion for collegiate ministry.

How many student leaders in your campus ministry have true ownership of their roles? This is where the difference between strategy and execution comes into play: If leaders are, for the most part, only executing on someone else’s strategy, then they’re important facilitators but not full-fledged owners. If, on the other hand, they’re led well but given latitude for some actual strategy, that’s a different – and much more exciting – story.

It’s not bad to have facilitators for your strategy. Some students should play that role. But I’m asking how many have the opportunity to do more than that.

Have you considered taking a learning trip or “learning retreat” with your student leaders?

It’s on my mind because as you read this, I’m headed to Memphis with my church staff team to do that very thing. We’re excited to learn from church folks, parachurch folks, and secular non-profits, along with a few of us attending the MLK50 conference.

It’s been a bear to schedule learning opportunities for an entire team, but it’s oh so worth it: Learning from different contexts can help any ministry take leaps – and make tweaks – like few other learning experiences can. We’ll be better for it. So would you.

So what about it? What would your ideal College Ministry-Learning Trip consist of? And whom could you take?

Have you ever looked back at past “info cards,” former small group rosters, or old ministry team lists?

What would it teach you and your ministry to learn where formerly involved students ended up? Did they simply “slip away” from college ministry and get involved in college life? Did they find another college ministry or church? Are they flourishing? Are they even still at your school?

This wouldn’t be an easy project, but I don’t think it has to be as tricky as it might sound. (And social media might help quite a bit, plus plenty of students might know what’s going on with other students.)

Somewhat like churches that get serious about examining their “back door” to better reach those still participating, it could teach you a lot about students, their rhythms, and what happens after they leave. (Of course, if you get to ask why they stopped participating, that would be of great use too.) And as your ministry reaches out, you might even connect with some students who need to come back – which would be a joy indeed.

Think about it. I know this is zany. But it could be awesome for the student leaders you’d recruit to help, and good for you to give it a try.

What “hard numbers” can you use to evaluate your college ministry?

Of course, some college ministers are required to submit “number of spiritual conversations” and other statistics to their bosses. But I’m talking about stats not for external use but for internal use.

But counting – in ministry – can be hard, beyond counting basic numbers like Large Group attendance, Small Group attendance, and number of leaders.

Yet numbers help you evaluate – and not just by saying “big numbers are better.” For instance, if more freshmen visit the ministry this August than they did last year, I’d love to try to discover why, not just celebrate the visits. (And even tracking number of visitors – versus overall attendance – might be a step better for some campus ministries.)

Likewise, both obvious and non-obvious stats could help you learn about your ministry – including examining changes over time. Here are a very few ideas:

  • Number of students who did a service project this school year
  • How many students spent spring break at home / in town / on mission / etc.
  • Where your students live on campus (or off)
  • Average number of times students attend their small group per month
  • Which majors you’ve been drawing students from
  • Average age of students / number per class
  • Number of students who came to school “churched” vs. “unchurched”
  • Number of students involved in a local church now
  • How many years students tend to stay committed to your college ministry
  • How many students are members of a local church one year after graduating college

I could go on forever. These are just random ideas I had over about 10 minutes. You don’t need to come up with fifty numbers, but five to ten could provide you some excellent learnings… especially, as I’ve said, if you keep tracking them over time.

Yesterday was the first-in-the-nation primary election day here in Texas. While it’s not a presidential election year, it is indeed a year when the students around you will hear about plenty of voting opportunities. (And we’re not really at a point in America where politics takes an “off year,” either.)

So as I’ve argued before… how will you help them process?:

Many (if not all) of the students in your campus ministry will be shepherded by somebody regarding political choices this year. Do you really want their choices to be driven by professors, FoxNews, Bernie Sanders devotees, relatives, the student newspaper, NPR, roommates, fliers on campus, or the student president of a College political club?

Or will you help them walk first and foremost as a Christian through political choices, with all the research, decision-making, stance-discernment, winsome disagreement, and dialogue that can and often should take place?

And are you teaching them to approach politics this way for the rest of their lives?

I’m no expert on delegation, neither an expert in understanding nor experience. But I want to be better.

One thing I’ve learned is that quality delegation will nearly always hurt, at least for a while. If you’re only delegating to student leaders the very parts of your campus ministry that

  1. you hate doing
  2. the students will do the same as you would

…then you’re at the bottom rungs of the delegation ladder. That’s fine and all, and it’s good you’re saving yourself some time and energy and giving them “at bats” in execution.

But you’re training ministers (whether they’ll ever be paid for it or not). They need at-bats on strategy, on actual leadership, on decision-making, and even on delegation themselves. For your benefit and (perhaps even especially) their benefit, consider loosening the reins on areas students might do differently than you would. Assign them the chance to come up with strategy, then actually let them run that out. If it’s obviously terrible for reasons they don’t understand, fine, maybe redirect before it even gets off the ground.

But otherwise, you’ll have to face some anxiety while you wait for their strategy to play out.

The same is true for delegating leadership, delegating speaking, delegating ministry functions (like setting up for Large Group Meeting or making a video), and so on. If it doesn’t hurt you to delegate, you’re probably not delegating enough.

There’s still a lot of meat left on the bone of this semester, and among other things, that means you’ve got room to adjust your student leadership roles and structure in meaningful ways. I’ve written about this opportunity before, so here you go:

You’ve heard the Good to Great principle of getting the right people on the bus, then into the right seats. The latter describes making sure everyone on the team is in the best possible position (for them and for the organization).

Are your leaders – from the ones leading ministry teams, to small group leaders, to musicians, to interns – maximizing their potential in the role they’ve got? For each person, is this role their “best and highest use”? Or is there a different role they’d really be better in – whether it’s because they’re “underperforming” where they are, or (hopefully) because they’d be even more excellent in another spot?

You don’t have to wait for the usual “leader selections period” to make the change. And the time remaining this semester provides a good chance to experiment.

Switching people’s “seats” should always be on the table (any time of year), always worth considering, and often worth doing. Sure, a small group will be sad if their leader needs to move out (or their time gets divided with a new role). And yes, there will be a learning curve for the new guy working the sound board or leading your evangelism team. But you have to be open to this, and brave enough to do it when the opportunity arises.

For Valentine’s Day, a past post assessing the relationships and romances that develop within your college ministry…

We college ministers need to talk plenty about “love and relationships” – those things are on our students’ minds, they trip up plenty of Christian students, they provide a chance to run counter-cultural to the campus, and they’ll lead to the life-changing choice of a spouse either in college or afterwards. So I figured I’d spend some posts talking about college students and romance. (Find the whole series here.)

Here’s the first post in the series: evaluating your ministry through the Great Couples Assessment.

One interesting way to assess your ministry is along this unique line: the kinds of romantic couples it’s producing. These questions are worth asking – even if there are different “right” answers (because campus ministries are different from each other).

1. When romantic couples emerge within your college ministry, are they awesome? A healthy college ministry will tend to produce healthy couples, and couples that exemplify the very things the ministry celebrates. Do you and other students enjoy being around the couples your ministry produces? Are those couples healthy, or are they full of red flags?

2. Is your campus ministry really good about celebrating romance, relationships, marriage, etc.? Sometimes campus ministries aren’t even good at supporting couples, let alone celebrating God’s work in bringing people together!

3. Do solid Christians within your college ministry regularly build romances with each otherHow this one relates to healthy college ministry is a bit more complicated. But if you’re not seeing couples emerge from within your ministry (and especially if you are seeing students enter into relationships regularly with Christian students outside your ministry), it’s at least worth asking Why that’s the case.

Are you providing opportunities for awesome men of God to meet awesome women of God? Is your ministry the kind of ministry that even attracts those awesome people – both men and women? Is there room – even alongside the accompanying awkwardness – for students to build friendships, and eventually more, with others in your ministry?

Related to this is the issue of offering gender-specific vs. co-ed opportunities. Read where I wrote about that – including some great comments from you guys!

4. Do people get married? Some might presume that a strong college ministry will indeed produce lots and lots of marriages, while others would recognize that marriage-immediately-after-graduating really isn’t the norm anymore. But I think we have to imagine that within a college ministry with a good number of students, we would likely be seeing the occasional marriage produced. If not, it’s probably worth asking Why – even if in the end, we decide we’re right where we need to be.

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So there you have it. Four questions. As you answer them, simply consider what the answers in your ministry should be… and then what they actually are. Ministries will be different, but I think these things are worth examining!

But what do you think?

(Continue the series here.)

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Welcome to Exploring College Ministry

After ministering to college students for 8 years, I've spent the last 6 years trying to help push our whole field forward. This meant, among other things, a yearlong road trip, an e-book (Reaching the Campus Tribes), exploring 250+ campuses, consulting, writing, speaking, and more. I love any opportunity to serve college ministers or others who want to reach college students better. To learn more, explore the header links or the tools below.

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