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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?

This week, I’ll be posting (and occasionally updating) some solid ideas that you could pretty easily work on – or get students to work on – at this point in the semester. And if you’ve already done these things, I’d love to hear about it.

Today, a few ideas for questions to ask students as you get to know them – via survey, new student info card, or face-to-face:

1. Ask their passions.

My guess is you get some pretty good info on your students: Class Year, Major, Phone Number, maybe a Birthday or their Hometown.

Have you asked them their passions? (Surprisingly, these may not be the same as their majors…) Have you asked them the ways they really like to serve others, or what they’d do if they had unlimited time and opportunity and resources?

How do they hope to change the world? How do they hope to change their world, and soon?

Might God want to speak to you about the future of your ministry through the passions, strengths, talents, and other characteristics of the students He’s brought you? Or is the format and programming of your ministry far more about your passions, personality, etc., than it is about theirs?

2. Ask how they found you.

I think there are lots of ministries out there – even big ones – that never get a good sense of why people first come.

So what can we do?

Regarding how we draw students: If “exit interviews” for ministry-goers are uncommon, I’m sure “entrance interviews” are uncommon, too. But simply asking visitors “How’d you hear about us?” can go a long way toward developing strategies that double down on those forms of recruitment that are already working.

3. Ask why they’re coming.

“What do you hope to get out of this college ministry?”

Clearly, students will have a variety of reasons for attending – some more noble than others, some more practical than others, and some more actionable than others. But don’t you think knowing this information – for as many students as possible – would help your staff and leaders think better about providing a great experience? Even when a student “just wants to find a girlfriend” or otherwise hasn’t set their hopes high enough, it’s very useful information for discipling him (or her). And plenty of students might surprise you, even leading you to consider new activities or new emphases.

Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t about “meeting customer preferences” to keep people or get new members. I’m talking about discipleship, which should always concern itself with how well forms fit the audience.

You’re likely in the middle of – or just past – some critical junctures in your college ministry. Freshman recruiting. Welcome party. Small groups launch. First Large Group Meeting. Fall retreat might have happened, or might be coming up. And so on.

If you’re anything like me, “evaluation” gets often nudged out in favor of the next thing that needs attention. But what if you made yourself – or maybe better yet, appointed a student to – organize a debriefing time for each of these. Even “debriefing time” can be relative – maybe it’s an email chain discussing “stop/start/continue” or “good/bad/ugly.” Or better, a quick lunch with key students and staff (everybody’s got time to eat!).

Simple moves like this help a college ministry actually improve in these critical junctures. For all the planning that went into that big event, isn’t it worth a debrief? And you don’t want to trust your recollections the next time you’ll be planning it… that’s how status quo largely gets maintained, even when we think we’re improving year after year.

College ministers can hide.

It’s not hard. Unless you’re a campus-based college minister, few of your overseers actually understand what you do. If you’re a campus-based college minister, they’re still not on campus with you.

Your students don’t stick around for oh so long, and they’re in your inner circle (as student leaders or similarly) for an even shorter amount of time. So they may not really have time to recognize oyour leadership (or character) weaknesses, at least not enough to coherently confront you.

And the students who do pick up on those weaknesses… well, they’re students. They’re rarely mature enough, ready enough, and/or brave enough to exhort this guy or gal who leads this successful ministry. They’re much more likely just to move on, and no one will bat an eye. (That’s just what students do.)

If you’re a college minister, then, you’ve got to have perhaps the most radical mindset about seeking evaluation/confrontation/exhortation of any minister (although we might lump church planters and missionaries and “celebrity” teachers into that bucket too). Entrepreneurial ministers – and college ministers are certainly that! – need to be entrepreneurial about seeking radical feedback. This includes plopping yourself into intimate community that you “don’t have time for,” asking for blunt feedback from students who “don’t know me yet” and who may not say things well or very precisely, and probably finding another college minister (or other minister) who will ask lots of questions so they can, intelligently and wisely, point out some of your mess and your messiness.

Because you’re not the leader you could be. No one is. And while God can shape you directly as much as He wants, He seems to want to use people to do that, oftentimes. So where, exactly, could that happen in your schedule and your relationships right now?

Ever since I started dating my wife, I’ve grown in my appreciation of fantastic restaurant experiences. It’s one of our hobbies – though we partake less often now that we’ve got two kids under two… But that appreciation is still there.

I was reminded recently of this post from five Augusts back. It’s not just about chefs – that’s just the example – but it’s definitely about college ministry. It’s my hope it would characterize more college ministries every year.

Here’s a question that only gets tougher as you think about it:

If a future chef walks into your college ministry this fall, will he or she be impacted over the next four years in such a way that they actually turn out to be a better chef because of your ministry?

Surely our walk with the Lord should touch every aspect of our lives – including our habits, our decisions, our effort, our faithfulness. And these things, for college students, are much of what makes them become everything God meant for them to be. So does an increasing understanding – over our college years and beyond – of how spirituality connects with our chosen field, whether that field is Culinary Arts or Restaurant Management or Waitressing… or Structural Engineering or Creative Writing or the dozens or hundreds of vocations your recent grads have chosen. Glorifying God in the kitchen, boardroom, workshop, or classroom isn’t just about evangelism. It’s about excellence and ethics and great leadership and producing great food and even producing art – all things God created people to reflect His image through.

Will your ministry help produce better chefs? Or will it – as I’m afraid is often the case – help each student grow in basic spiritual disciplines without helping Jesus be Lord of (and immensely glorified within) their vocation?

How many “great chefs” are you sending out each May?

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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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