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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.

Hopefully you’ve got student leaders serving in your ministry. Whether you’ve simply got small group leaders, you have a wide range of ministry teams, or you’ve informally assigned oversight to things like “large group meeting setup” or “greeting newcomers,” those leaders usually have a specific role. Or even if some leaders’ “specific role” is “Do whatever’s needed,” they still have an assignment.

So here’s the weird question of the day: Have your student leaders ever met their “counterparts” in other college ministries on campus?

In the working world, professional associations allow for collaboration and skill-improvement. When doctors or engineers or teachers connect, everybody’s better for it (or at least that’s the hope).

I’m not suggesting you start a professional organization for student leaders (although if you’re in a position of regional or national leadership, you definitely should consider this!). I’m suggesting you connect with the RUF guys or the BCM folks or that church college ministry, and bring college ministry student leaders together. If you bring all student leaders together, that’s a win; if you bring “like” leaders together with their counterparts – small group leaders with small group leaders, sports ministry team leaders with other sports ministry team leaders, and so on – then it might be even better.

Summer’s a great time to work out this “scheme,” even if you don’t actually attempt it before October.

As I noted earlier this week, I’ve been on a learning trip with our large church team. That meant several great learning “interviews” – not too unlike the hundreds I’ve done with college ministers, only this time with a few other people sitting alongside me in each one.

Of course, my coworkers asked many good questions. But since some of them are newer to their roles than I am to mine, I led the way in several of those conversations. I also knew it was good to show the kind of questions they should ask of other ministers on a regular basis… and even show the kind of great question-asker they should become.

How often do students get to sit in on your learning sessions – whether that’s with other college ministers, campus administration, overseers or supporters, even other students?

Since this is a Fridea, I’ll offer a concrete challenge: Involve students in five learning conversations between now and the end of the school year. You can do that, can’t you? It might even set you – and them – up for a great new school year in the fall.

Holding your own “Bracket Challenge” is really a no-brainer for most college ministries. Not only does it help with community and culture like any competition, but it could also set you up for ministry gatherings over the three tournament weeks.

(In case you’re wondering, brackets will come out Sunday, March 11th, with most bracket systems requiring entry by early AM Thursday the 15th.)

But besides the usual, college ministry-wide challenge, perhaps with some simple prize, here are some ideas for expanding – in your goals and your effort. Enjoy!

  • Offer a prize for the winner that creates buzz
  • Better yet, offer a “prize”/dare/penalty for the loser that creates buzz (that’s what we do here at our church)
  • Open it up to the whole campus
  • Have winners/losers along the way (at the end of each round, or weekly)
  • Put a spiritual twist on it: pray for the schools and college ministry there (at least the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight schools)
  • Connect with college ministers in your organization/denomination (or not in your organization/denomination) at some of the schools in the tournament
  • Wear T-shirts from as many of the sixty-eight campuses as you can (oh wait, that’s what I do)
  • Plan a road trip… to whatever school wins. Or plan a road trip to the closest school of the Elite Eight teams, and leave the morning after that’s settled (the Elite Eight will be “set” the night of Friday, March 23rd). If you won’t do it, I bet a bunch of your students would…

Happy New Year! I’m excited to be back blogging – and back to offering some “pebbles in your shoe,” some ponderings to bug you as you consider this coming semester.

Is there one problem your campus faces that your college ministry could work on this semester?

Imagine sitting down with your school’s President, Dean, somebody, and offering to help. Not from a “savior” mentality but as a servant, a servant of the campus tribe where your ministry resides.

You may already know of an issue that would be worth tackling. Or maybe you don’t, and you need to ask the question. Even asking the question shows something to the leaders of your campus. Who knows? Your students might find a solution that impacts an entire segment of campus or even the whole school. Or even if they don’t, your effort is a powerful gesture of servanthood, an amazing way to disciple those students who help make the attempt, and an awesome testimony of missional engagement to your entire campus ministry (and beyond).

With Thanksgiving just two weeks from today, I thought I’d repost these notes on last-minute T-Day ministry…

College ministry rarely gets to jump into Christmas in the same way that churches do; even church-based college ministries don’t necessarily expect big crowds or much opportunity on (or near) December 25th.

But Thanksgiving is still a season college ministers have, even if most students won’t be around on the actual Thanksgiving Day (or the weekend that follows). What could you do for Thanksgiving, even if you haven’t planned something already?

  1. Last-minute service projects. Find out some ways to impact local ministries, and throw those ideas out to your students. Students often schedule last-minute anyway, so the fact that you haven’t brought it up may be no big deal… they may not even notice!
  2. Last-minute meals or other fun. Students who are in town during the Thanksgiving weekend would probably be especially blessed by being offered a chance to get together – they’re likely bummed they can’t be home with family (or want to get away from their family that’s in town). This includes international students! If you’re going to be around, consider inviting students into your home, or find a place (like a local church or somewhere on campus) where you could hold a meal/games/football-watching/etc. day.
  3. Point to other orgs’ planned opportunities. What are the local churches (including your own) doing? Does the campus have any official plans? Do any local organizations – even other college ministries – have plans for Thanksgiving week? (You might be surprised what you can find.) Service projects? Serving meals to others? Holding festive meals for church members (and possibly student visitors)?

One more tip: Talk to campus administration (including the office that looks after International Students). Not only might they have ideas, they’ll likely love the fact that you’re hoping to serve students during the weird week of Thanksgiving.

The husbands in my church small group meet weekly at Panera Bread, connecting with each other to chat about spiritual life, marriage, etc. But I’ve noticed we’re not alone… near our “chosen table” sits another group of men, who also seem to be engaged in biblical discussion of some sort or another.

So this week, I finally met them. Turns out they indeed attend another local church and are there at Panera for the same purposes we are.

I think they were a little surprised I approached them, which bums me out a little bit. (Why wouldn’t Christians want to connect with other believers?) But more importantly, the whole thing got me thinking about college ministry small groups.

While you may already think about “mixers” between your own college ministry’s small groups, what if you also decided to facilitate connections between your small groups and those of another campus ministry?

So often ministries strive for unity at the large-group level, but I’m pretty sure that’s often the least effective mechanism for unity. Smaller works better! On the one hand, college ministry leaders hanging out together and getting to know each other can be a HUGE win in this regard. And on the other end, at the grassroots level, I bet connecting small groups of your students with small groups of “theirs” might accomplish the same sort of semi-organic unity growth.

This was originally a Fridea awhile back, but since our church is hosting a Marriage Ministry Training right now, I thought it appropriate to repost…

I’ve recently been reminded of the roles marriage ministry – usually in its pre-marital form – can play in collegiate ministry.

One method – very accessible for most college ministers – could be absolutely revolutionary in certain students’ lives.

What if you pulled in “mentor couples,” Christian spouses specifically excited to hang out with seriously dating or engaged college students?

It’s easy to think of this only in terms of “premarital counseling,” and that could be one function here. But it could be much simpler than that, too. What if seriously dating couples simply had the chance to share a meal with an older married couple? You might be surprised by how quickly your students could jump at this chance.

And while we’re at it, let’s take this one step further: Could you ever offer something along these lines to your campus as a whole? What could that even mean?

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.

How does your ministry (or how do you, as a spiritual leader on your campus) respond when “news breaks” about your school?

In light of the FBI investigation of some NCAA programs, it’s a good time to imagine how you might handle your own campus showing up in newspaper headlines. My fear is that college ministers, by and large, would automatically ignore the issue.

I’m certainly not suggesting every issue should be addressed. Sometimes it would even make a bad situation worse. But we’re called to stand up for justice, integrity, and other ideals at times, too.

So my problem is with the word “automatically.” My fear is that college ministers, by and large, would automatically ignore such issues, relegating them to the “not my problem” pile as a matter of course.

If college ministers don’t even give a thought to addressing larger campus issues (or larger societal issues, like the national anthem-kneeling issue), then they might miss a leadership moment. Sure, it can be tough to stand up to the athletic-industrial complex on campus, or to bring biblical wisdom in the midst of passionate support of various causes (and passionate arguments on opposing sides too). But it’s worth weighing whether God would have us make a response to each issue that arises, because once in awhile these moments might be your ministry’s designated leadership moment, too.

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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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