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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.

I don’t know what your campus ministry is doing for the Super Bowl. Maybe it’s an opportunity to bring people together; maybe it’s a chance to draw new students in. But like I said, I don’t know what you’re doing in particular.

But let me ask you: Do YOU know what OTHER organizations are doing this Sunday?

That leads us to this week’s Fridea: Find ways to discover what other organizations do. (…not just for the Super Bowl, but year-round.)

When I put it like that, this idea feels a little obvious – and a little boring. But the truth is, college ministers can easily keep their heads down with all the activity that takes place within their own ministry. Yet… you’re in an ecosystem likely filled with other organizations. And while most don’t have spiritual aims, their recruiting/retention/fun goals probably look similar to yours sometimes. Others may seek to serve the campus or the city, as well, and many seek to raise up leaders, equip their members, and so on. In other words, lots that you could identify with.

All that to say, they’re worth learning from – whether you directly “steal”/borrow their methods, or use their methods as a springboard to new ideas for your college ministry. Regardless of how creative you see yourself, you’ve got plenty of idea factories and clever “ingredients” around you to observe.

But you’ll need to develop ways to observe what those orgs are up to. Whether that means you regularly walk through campus reading fliers, check out other orgs’ web pages often, or (my favorite) commission some students to do these very things, it takes effort to observe strategically what the clubs/fraternities/leadership orgs are doing on your campus.

Sorry for the lack of promised “pebbles in your shoe” this week! I’m sputtering to the end of 2017 after the happy birth of our second kiddo – and quite the year at work. But I hope to resume with a few pebbles after taking next week off. Merry Christmas!

What’s the best way you can welcome old students back after the break, reconnect their relationships with each other, remind them of how God moved last semester, and “start where you left off” rather than “start over”?

I’m asking, not telling.

That’s the pebble I want to leave in your shoe today, encouraging you to spend time architecting the beginning of second semester. This is worth your brainstorming, your analyzation, your purposeful plotting of major purposes followed by structures that actually attack those goals.

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?

I’ve spent the week at a “Big Data and the Church” gathering (which explains my blogging lack), and I heard lots of intriguing things.

It also made me realize that many college ministers have access to many thousands (or millions) of dollars worth of research on their mission fields – because their schools are paying for such research. Who’s doing that for churches?

There may be a variety of rules/strings attached to viewing the data your campus compiles. But there’s just as likely to be access that would surprise you – especially because schools seek student continuation… and participation in campus organizations is a key factor in that.

When’s the last time you at least asked? And what’s more important, when’s the last time you spent time with any data you do have access to – even if it’s on the school’s web site – and brainstormed what that could or might or should mean for your college ministry?

This isn’t about finding something profound or shocking. It’s about using data – whatever it is – to prompt discussion. If your campus has a number of Caribbean students, or Kinesiology majors, or junior college transfers, or National Merit Scholars… does that prompt your wheels to turn? At the very least, it’s a thinking exercise, and those can always lead to something.

What happens at your campus during the summer?

Is it “business as usual,” albeit with a bit smaller attendance? While hundreds or thousands of students might indeed be taking classes this summer, even then there’s a good chance some irregular things are taking place, too – from summer camps to campus construction to offices moving to new initiatives getting underway. You’ve got new student orientations, high schoolers visiting with their parents, athletic team practices, and community events or even conferences taking place on a campus that usually doesn’t have room for them. And on and on.

So why bring this up? Two reasons:

  1. College ministers should know these things. If you’re not quite sure what’s taking place on your campus(es) this summer, then that’s an opportunity to get to know your campus better. At the very least, the missionaries to the campus tribes should be vaguely familiar with those tribes’ goings-on, even in “out of season” moments for your college ministry.
  2. You might find opportunities in these activities. Besides new student orientations, it’s easy for college ministers to overlook these particular chances to impact (and I’m not sure Orientation is always utilized, either). This is where brainstorming comes in – but fortunately you’re brainstorming from a list of events. “How could our college ministry connect with visiting high schoolers?,” you might ask. Or, “Could we serve our school somehow as they host cheerleading camps?”

Between ways to serve the school, ways to serve outsiders, and some chances to help future students think about joining a college ministry, you’ve got some pretty obvious possibilities. But you may also have the chance to learn about new campus initiatives, make new relationships with staff or faculty, or even share Christ with those on campus for one reason or another. Your students might staff the welcome desk for an incoming conference, bring snacks to the football team, move boxes for the Psychology Department as it changes offices, or sign up en masse as tour guides.

And on and on. And on and on. You get to brainstorm. But first you have to know what’s happening.

I’m writing this with the assumption that you already have some leaders slated for the fall (or are using some this summer). But if not, this might be worth putting on your calendar.

Have you ever asked a new student leader what they think could be added to / deleted from / changed about the role? Or how their unique makeup might cause them to “tweak” the job description for maximum impact? You know, if they were in charge?

They should be in charge of their role!

Sure, sure, they’ll need some direction from above. Maybe “co-in-charge” is better. But the point is ownership.

It’s easy to assume your student leaders believe they have the latitude to tweak or evolve their student leadership role. But unless they’re the first ones in that particular role, they may not even ponder it. They’ve seen it in action, possibly served underneath the former leader for a year or more, and haven’t seen staff members suggest the role should be any different.

Or even if they do ponder a change, then having a meaningful conversation, prompted by the questions above, might unlock a world of creative ownership for them – plus help them create a role in which their strengths can be utilized best.

Is there any niche on your campus where you’re known, simply because you’ve been present?

A college minister’s ministry of presence can successfully grow in common spaces, in student centers or dining halls or dorm lobbies.

But God has created you as more than just a minister, too. And it’s likely you have passions that you could feed while developing a very focused ministry of presence, too.

Could your ministry’s next great inroads come at the spot where your own enjoyments and the campus intersect?

What if you began watching soccer games regularly, while developing relationships with fans and athletes? Are you into art? I know there’s a whole artistic community on your campus that could get to know you through your recital attendance, gallery browsing, or other patronage. Maybe you’ll regularly attend guest seminars in the Business school. You could join a book club with Lit students. You could offer to help with Alternative Spring Break, volunteer caddy for the Golf Team, or help prepare Mock Trial teams. Or maybe you’ll even connect with the School of Religion in a participatory way, because, you know, it is your line of work.

But I’m just guessing. You know your passions (don’t you?). And it’s possible that connecting them with your campus – and building relationships through them – is something God has had in mind all along.

What if the next time you got together with other college ministers on your campus (or even just grabbed coffee or lunch with one other), you purposely limited yourselves to the discussion of ONE topic?

General questions/discussions can be great: “What’s new in your ministry?” “What are you seeing in students this year?” “Tell me about your biggest changes this year.” But if you really want to improve in an area that two (or more) college ministers share, spend some time digging deeper, not wider.

Thirty minutes chatting about How We Do Small Groups can be far more valuable than 3 minutes talking about 10 topics. Or go even “smaller”: Small Group Curriculum (What We Use and How We Choose). I recently watched a bunch of ministries go for an hour on Tracking Volunteers… not recruiting, but simply tracking and connecting with them.

By limiting the questions to, well, one, it forces everyone involved to think beyond their normal spiel, whatever’s top-of-mind, or the paragraph they wrote in the most recent supporter letter. And don’t worry about filling the time: New sub-topics produce new questions, producing new lines of inquiry and edifying rabbit-trails in turn.

There are a couple of ways to look at delegation within a college ministry – the first involves filling a role that will, once everything starts working smoothly, save you and other staff members a good bit of time. That’s the form a minister is more likely to invest in; even though it can be hard to delegate, good delegation ends up offering a solid return, and both the staff member and the new volunteer/student leader are benefitted.

But college ministers should invest in the second form of delegation, too. This form involves delegating activities that aren’t actually tying a minister up all that much. In fact, it may involve tasks that – for one reason or another – the minister kind of likes! But even among these tasks, there can be fertile soil for delegation.

This sort of delegation may not seem – at least originally – like it provides a great return when it comes to time-saving. (In fact, it may offer all the annoyance of the delegation process with none of the time savings.)

But the latter benefit mentioned above still applies – this delegation allows a student to get involved who may not have been previously, or it allows for student ownership where there wasn’t student ownership before. In many cases it allows for involvement a student wouldn’t have even imagined, one that isn’t upfront but still matters.

For example, let’s imagine your weekly Large Group Meeting has a portion dedicated to ministry announcements. It may be that you’ve already delegated delivering those announcements to students.

But who finalizes the actual list of announcements? Who serves as “editor” or “producer” of that segment? Have you even realized that this is a job (one you’re probably doing)?

Many college ministries might not have delegated either of those roles– not the giving of the announcements or the creation of the announcements. But I imagine it’s far more likely to see students in the first role than the second.

You may not feel that role – of “announcement segment producer” – is anything a student would want to do. And you may also feel that giving it away would be unwise; you feel the need for final editorial control. But this doesn’t mean you can’t have that final say. And to the first objection, I would first ask, Are you sure? I personally would have really enjoyed that role as a college student – I’m much more of an editor than I am a performer, or even many times a solo-style leader. And second, it’s easy for all of us to forget that people see value in being “a part of something,” even when the role seems small-ish. Someone collating, curating, and signing off on announcements is very much a part of the larger team presenting the Large Group Meeting. What student wouldn’t get some encouragement from that?

I would consider making it a goal to have a few new student volunteer spots – whether they’re truly “leadership spots” or plain ol’ volunteer spots – each year. I bet, if you’re willing to put your thinking cap on, it would be several years before you maxed out in this direction.

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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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