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Now would be a great time of your semester to check up on students’ church involvement: especially freshmen, but anyone could find their churchmanship waning at any point in college.

And this is applicable even if you run a church-based ministry or collegiate church. (Are those students involved in a healthy way?)

It’s easy for college ministers to say they care about church involvement, but if it’s never a topic of conversation – and a topic of accountability – then it’s probably not an actual priority. On the other hand, if you do “make a big deal about church,” you’ll remind students that, yes, this is a priority for each semester and season of their lives.

In my current role, I work hard to get church people to find their “fit” for serving others. Obviously, finding a place to impact others, where passions and spiritual gifting and strengths and schedule, is a great goal for every Christian – even if we all learn along the way that sometimes “getting done what’s needed” may be our calling in the moment, too.

But the setup of many college ministries probably aids students in exploring the latter (doing necessary things) a lot more than the former (finding their fit). Even student leadership structures that offer a diversity of roles may “lock students in” to a particular path their Sophomore year. They’re small group leaders, then leaders of small group leaders… or they serve on the tech team, then they lead the tech team… And so on.

But do you think students gain new insight about passions/gifts/strengths during their college years? Shouldn’t this be a season when they (1) get to explore options, and (2) figure out their “best and highest use” for impacting others?

You’re not necessarily called to make a new leadership position for every student, positions that are as unique as the students that populate them. But I can also say that one of the “output goals” for college ministry should probably be students knowing their leadership bent, knowing their strengths, knowing their spiritual gifts… and having at least an inkling of ways they might be deployed in their “best and highest use” for years to come. But discipling in those things will require some sort of structure aligned around that goal.

So somewhere, somehow, college ministries need options and flexibility enough for leadership disambiguation along the way. How can you start students on the path to their unique “good works prepared beforehand”?

It’s a post from the past, but it’s a little bit of a zinger…

Here’s the question for today: Are you an expert on your own campus ministry?

It might seem easy, if you’ve been there more than a few years, to answer a quick Yes. Or it’s easy to think “expertise” equals “full understanding” and offer a humble No. But in both cases, the question I’m asking is meant to be more subtle. So let me ask it another way:

Have you spent SO much time thinking, praying about, and discussing your ministry that you can clearly express the what (activities), but also with the how and the why? In light of all the other college ministries, can you chat about your ministry in ways that differentiate it from other philosophies of college ministry and other methodologies that might exist? Can you catalog the “aha moments,” turning points, and specific strategy choices you’ve made along the way?

If there was a conference about “Campus Ministry at Your Particular Campus,” would you be qualified as a 2-hour seminar speaker on your particular model of ministry?

It’s funny to realize that plenty of college ministers would struggle to discuss their ministry among their peers for two full hours, or create a PowerPoint presentation that outlines its development. But our field needs lots of workers who become true “experts” in what they’re doing. We aren’t unlike church planters or missionaries, reaching “tribes” that have their own unique contexts and situations. And college ministers are always reaching newer generations that haven’t existed for all that long. The work should include lots of strategy development and time spent deep in prayer, with counsel-seeking and book-reading and conference-going and methodology-refining.

Your organizational or denominational leaders (if we have those) can’t do all this work for you. They may offer a backbone for your work, but they can’t put contextual flesh on those bones. You’ve got to be an expert.

Like most college ministries, yours probably has some vital, mostly unchanging “structures.” Maybe you’ve got more of these than your Large Group Meeting and your small group setup, but those two pillars of collegiate ministry will fit this example.

When’s the last time you evaluated your key structures’ FORMS in light of their hoped-for FUNCTIONS?

This doesn’t have to mean going “back to the drawing board,” but sometimes it should – if only to help everyone in the room be more open as you brainstorm. (Inertia will always tempt.) Fundamentally, this process means renewing the “whys” for a key structure, then (re)imagining whether that activity/event currently hews as tightly to those goals as it could.

“Mission drift” is one thing, but this method more directly combats “mission diffusion”; many of you will likely find that your main goals are getting hit (at least somewhat), but so are a lot of other “good” targets that you probably didn’t originally intend. So you have to decide if those “good” outcomes are truly “great”… or, on the other hand, if those good outcomes are actually enemies of your best, because they take energy/time/resources away from the more important goals.

A recap, in bullets:

  • What are your main goals for this key structure?
  • Is this activity/event hitting those goals as directly, efficiently, and deeply as it could?

It’s a spectacular time to do a hospitality check-up, since October is well past most college ministry’s major influx of new visitors. Student leaders, staff, and the whole ministry will find it easier to slack just a bit; for instance, even though they see each other regularly, students may habitually connect with friends instead of looking for people they don’t know (whereas in August, “greeting visitors” was more on their minds).

So here’s a handy checklist to think through or talk through for your campus ministry, as you recast the vision for hospitality mid-semester:

  1. Do student leaders know the names of every “regular” (in a smaller ministry) or several dozen regulars (in a bigger ministry)?
  2. Are students seeking out people they don’t know each week, or only people who seem “new”?
  3. Are next steps for students still clearly discussed – and are next-step opportunities still “open”? (For instance, will students still hear about small groups and have the chance – soon – to jump in?)
  4. Is the Greeting Team still zealous, visibly excited, and having fun?
  5. Are visitors still greeted from the stage with gusto… and are there other ways current students are regularly reminded that this is a welcome place for guests?
  6. Do you still do nametags? (It’s still always worth considering…)
  7. Are you, O College Minister, still making purposeful  efforts to get to know names (and other details) better and better?

Do your encouragements to invite friends leave an impression that longtime members are somehow less than?

It makes all the sense in the world to push students to invite. You should.

But as we’ve all noticed with “too sales-ish” email lists, pushy iPhone apps, and over-eager efforts to fundraise… most of us are turned off by feeling that “I matter because of something I can get you.” If your students hear too often that they need to bring more people – especially if it isn’t explained well – then that impression won’t sit well.

What’s more, we who “recruit” or “mobilize” face two particularly annoying challenges here:

  • Intent doesn’t really matter (in this regard). What we’re talking about here is the impression that’s left with people, not your heart. (And yes, caring about impressions is caring about people.)
  • Plenty can happen subconsciously. This is the scariest to me: People may not even realize that they’re a little irked. But somewhere, in the back of their mind, people may lose a little bit of steam (and ironically be less likely to invite!).

It’s unlikely you have official “membership” in your college ministry, which makes sense. While I can think of some advantages to having something official along those lines, there are disadvantages too.

But one disadvantage to not offering membership is that it’s easier for students to fall through the cracks. If an official list indicated which students, at some point in the past, had gone “all in” with your campus ministry, then you could occasionally identify if they’re still showing up for Large Group or participating in small groups.

But again, you probably don’t have an opt-in “membership” list. But what if you created that sort of list anyway? And what if you actually used it every few months to discover anyone that might have come up missing (or might be involved less than usual). Those students deserve a contact, don’t they? They’ve been all-in with your college ministry; now you can be all-in with them.

I realize there’s some trickiness attached to this (especially figuring out who’s missing if your ministry is sizeable). You may not arrive at a perfect solution. But something intentional will beat the “organic,” we’ll-probably-just-notice-who’s-missing approach nearly every time.

Early October isn’t the normal time for a college ministry evaluation survey. Those questions tend to be asked at school year’s end, to tee up summertime tweaks, or possibly at the end of fall semester.

But wouldn’t you want to know where adjustments NOW could improve the rest of the school year? Would you dare to ask students questions like,

  • What one word would you use to describe our college ministry? (Especially interesting from the freshmen…)
  • What themes have been taught so far this year? Write as many as you remember! (Maybe the scariest question of all.)
  • What’s the best thing about our college ministry these days?
  • What is God showing you these days? (A pattern here would be especially notable.)
  • If there was one thing worth changing NOW about our college ministry, what would it be?
  • How many people have you invited to the college ministry since the start of school?
  • What topics do you think our college ministry most needs to discuss this school year?
  • What do our campus and its students need that our college ministry could help provide?

Daring? Yeah, because no one likes the prospect of effort – effort to change – right as things are getting normalized. But every day that passes, the return on that investment gets smaller. But right now, making those changes could take this entire school year from “solid” to “phenomenal.”

I hope you have ways – even informal ones – to assess your student leaders (from small group leaders to ministry team leaders to teachers).

Assuming you do, here’s an important eval question: How much time did you spend on your ministry this week?

There isn’t (probably) a definite time requirement here, nor even a clear baseline. But the results of your question might be informative. And they will probably provide the chance to push some leaders to understand the value of preparation, of ongoing improvement, and even of the work of prayer.Meanwhile, some leaders may need to learn about using time more efficiently, or working hard but then trusting God with the results, or balance – even when it comes to this form of ministry.

Meanwhile, some college ministry student leaders may need to learn about using their time more efficiently, or working hard but then trusting God with the results, or balance – even when it comes to this form of ministry.

And once you start asking the question, those student leaders will start thinking about the time they spend. Y’all can wrestle together about what’s best.

Through 2 or 3 different media recently, I’ve heard once again that leaders have to be willing to irk people.

Of course that’s true.

The leader will simply make decisions that bother somebody.

There’s a danger for college ministers to put a finger to the wind a bit too much, or to let individual voices serve as rudders way too often.

And if it’s hard for college ministers to rightly balance collaboration and making difficult choices, how hard is it for college studentsIf you’ve got student leaders, this whole issue can’t be easy for them, and in both directions! For some, they couldn’t care less about others’ feelings. For others, they care far too much.

So how are you teaching about this balance? Are you evaluating your leaders in both directions? Are you evaluating your staff, and yourself?

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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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