You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘churches’ category.

As I continue placing (small) pebbles in your shoe, hoping to give you something to think about as the new semester approaches…

I want to ask: Have your students caught your vision for church involvement?

College ministers – just like all other Christians – can differ on what “biblical church involvement” looks like. But I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered a college minister who says they’re not hoping for students to be intentionally involved in church. For some college ministers, their conviction is that students simply need to show up on Sunday (and participate in corporate worship). For others, a much deeper level of church engagement seems prescribed. And I’m sure plenty fall in between the poles.

But my question today is… Whatever your conviction for your students is, is the flock you’ve got responding to that conviction?

If they’re not… or you’re not sure… then something probably needs to be done (either to make that call clearer, find out why they’re not engaging, or figure out how to figure that out).

For most college ministers, a good segment of their students go home for the summer.

Have you ever thought about using this moment to see how well your instruction about church involvement has “sunk in”?

I realize it’s a weird season – they’re only home for a short time, and they may be heading on vacation with family or have other activities that keep them busy. So I’m not advocating some sort of hard-line assessment.

But I do think that it’s worth observing how well your students plug in to their “home church” when they return, especially if it’s a church they’ve already been connected to previously. Do they see attendance as important? And much more importantly, do they see significant involvement as valuable? Are they willing to jump into the college ministry or young adult ministry (if there is one), find a small group, enjoy the men’s or women’s ministry, volunteer somewhere in the church, etc.?

What does their actual involvement in church this summer show about their understanding of connecting to a body of believers?

Again, I think this is one of those chances to observe and learn, rather than harshly assess them (or your ministry). It is summer, and summer is weird.

So maybe more evidently, it’s a good chance for students to practice. Because one of these days, they’ll leave college and go home (or elsewhere) for the final time, and it will indeed be a moment to plug in to a church. (And hopefully that will happen in a matter of weeks or days, not months.)

And the church God leads them to might not have a specialized Young Adult ministry, may not have any of their friends (at first), and may require some effort on their part that collegiate-season church hasn’t. They may have to make awkward introductions to the pastor and let someone (or everyone) know they’re ready to be connected and used and known.

Not unlike this summer.

So the summers are a potential practice round, a time you could challenge students to see just how well they get involved at church back home. (It’d be fun to hear their stories if this actually became a well-heeded challenge in your ministry.)

Either way, this is a chance for all college ministers to proclaim the importance of church involvement, and probably a chance to practice and assess.

Last week I started blogging about a unique road trip I had after the yearlong exploration. On that trip (also nationwide), I got the “inside scoop” on 10 Chi Alpha chapters, since I’d been commissioned by the national office to do just that. But when you explore one college ministry, you might just learn things that apply to all. I did, at least. (See the first posts here and here.)

College Ministry Can Take a Variety of Forms (Believe It or Not!)

In the course of those ten visits, I certainly saw several ministries that took a pretty “classic” form. But even in that relatively small number of chapters (one-thirtieth of Chi Alpha’s 300+ sites), I found some less common forms that seemed to be working well.

The first was the large North Dakota State XA… which just happened to be multi-site, with the other site situated across state lines! Minnesota State Moorhead held the other “half” of this chapter. But not only was this chapter multi-site, it was anchored deeply in a local church, Fargo First Assembly. While this sort of “church anchoring” is the norm for some groups (I’m thinking of the Churches of Christ campus ministries and some expressions of the CCO), it’s certainly not standard across most campus-based ministry organizations.

Second, I ran into the Chi Alpha at Winona State in Winona, Minnesota. (Because that visit took place over a weekend, that’s one of those handful of schools I couldn’t get a T-shirt for.) In Winona State’s case, XA had grown in connection with a collegiate church plant called The Edge – the church is pastored by Chuck, and his wife Stephanie is the Chi Alpha campus pastor. This Chi Alpha chapter also has a student center building, something pretty widespread in some denominations (Baptist Collegiate Ministries, Wesley Foundation, etc.), but not really in Chi Alpha.

The point of this lil’ recollection isn’t to encourage church-anchoring or buildings or multi-site college ministries; it’s to celebrate variety. I’ve long argued for more variety, and I’ll keep right on doing that. Because sadly, we often thing college ministry should – or at least will – look a certain way.

Planting Where We Get Less Press

Another really fun aspect of that long-ago trip was seeing just how “out of the way” those campuses ended up being. Name the campuses you’re truly familiar with in this list:

  • Texas A&M University Corpus Christi
  • University of California Davis
  • Winona State University
  • Minnesota State University Moorhead
  • Rowan University

Nearly half of the campuses I visited on that trip – designed to exemplify the Chi Alpha story to a national audience, remember – weren’t flagship state schools or prestigious scholarly institutions.

And yet Chi Alpha chose to celebrate the work in those places. Of course, we know that isn’t always the case; college ministry at places like Rowan University doesn’t get as much attention or funding or hoorahs from back home. But at some point we need to work to convince Christians – especially the supporters, overseers, and other “sponsors” of collegiate ministry – that going to the “unknown” (and often “unreached”) campus tribes is an awesome call.

I believe I’ve touched on this before, but it bears repeating – and connects with a conversation I had with a college minister yesterday.

Whether you’re a church-based college minister or not, it’s likely you have a plethora of programs available for your students through the local church. Whether it’s Christ-center recovery or mid-week Bible study, special seminars or a men’s retreat, the churches in your town may offer something for your students.

Have you ever considered making a list of what’s available, either in your church or among churches in your town? This seems an automatic change to buttress your ministry to various niches and various needs, without finding the student leaders or staff to do it. And in many cases, getting students in an intergenerational context would be a win on its own!

My friend DJ Chuang sent me a random ministry question the other day – and I love random ministry questions. It was a fun chance to think through what I’ve seen (and what I haven’t).

While his question (below) is specifically about post-college young adults, it’s entirely applicable for our field, too. They may be useful to you, as you plan your own Large Group gatherings… but also as you help your ministry, your church, or other churches / ministries in your city. As I’ve written before, this is one area where there’s a lot of “zeal before wisdom.”

Here’s how DJ’s post starts – click here for the whole thing.

More churches are asking how they can reach the next generation (some for its own survival, some for the mandate of reaching more people in their community as part of its on-going mission.) Recently I got this question from a pastor of a church wanting to reach the next generation, and he texted it to me this way: “what are best days/times for worship services for Emerging adults (20s) aka post-college?” I could rephrase it as: what are the best worship times for reaching young adults (to be friendlier to search-engines.)

I checked with Benson Hines, the best expert I know of that’s thoroughly researched  college ministries (chronicled at, and thus the subsequent post-college stage of life after the inevitable graduation of most college students. Here’s his reply, posted with permission…

Click here for my answer.

Like I said, I love questions like these – plus, they give me great things to blog about. Feel free to send one my way!

I would argue that any college ministry should consider getting adults involved. This is a common question from church-based ministries, but providing intergenerational connections and using adult volunteers is a great option for many ministries besides those housed in churches.

What are some ways you can get this done?

  1. Adopt-a-Student with local Christian adults
  2. Recruit adults / churches to serve meals (or snacks) to students on-campus, at a church, etc.
  3. Use families’ homes (for small groups, parties, etc.)
  4. Initiate “Campus Missions Teams” at each church that has shown an interest (call them “Tiger Mission Team,” “Longhorn Mission Team,” etc., based on the name of your own campus tribe).
  5. Encourage churches to welcome students into adult small groups / classes, if there’s no (well done) collegiate option
  6. Bring adults into student gatherings as “hosts”
  7. Highlight the other opportunities at your church or at various churches (women’s Bible study, special speakers, service projects, Christmas events, etc.)
  8. Initiate disciplemaking relationships between adults and students
  9. Initiate mentoring (i.e., between students in certain majors with adults in those fields)
  10. Life “mentoring groups” (i.e., learning to cook)
  11. Getting local adults to eat on campus, spend time on campus, and otherwise begin having a “ministry of presence”
  12. Get adults to teach (including doing “panel discussions” with multiple adults and on-stage “interviews” of local adults)
  13. Find opportunities to serve local adults (in ways that build relationships with them)

This week in Ohio, I’m meeting with various college ministers and church planters, and one topic has come up a few times: how some of the most “missional” American churches and church plants actually take a very UNmissional approach to college ministry. Even if you’re not in church-based college ministry, I think this “classic” post could help you help churches think this through better. Enjoy – and new comments are welcome!

On page 30 of Reaching the Campus Tribes, I broach a subject that I believe is really important for churches to ponder. The interesting dilemma is that some modern-style churches may actually impact students worse while striving to break with tradition. In fact, while trying to be more missional, some churches may end up less missional.

Some churches have opted to go the “non-traditional” route by pointing students directly to their intergenerational structures, “fully assimilating” them into the adult programs of the church. They plug them into small groups, Bible classes, or other activities alongside the church’s adults – without any opportunity for small group discipleship as college students or specialized outreach to local college campuses.

(Certainly, this sometimes takes place by default when churches haven’t taken the time to plan anything for students, leaving collegians to trickle into other areas of the church – and otherwise not stick around. But I’m talking about something slightly different today.)

As I write in Reaching, the full-assimilation method “certainly reflects a clear respect for college students as full members of the local congregation.” So on one hand, I applaud the motivation behind not separating college students and treating them as a distinct congregation (as one leader at a famous Emerging church described).

But for these highly missional churches, the funny thing is that this approach may be LESS missional in regard to those college students. Why? Because this method usually involves yanking them out of their actual community.

Though a college campus is located geographically within a particular area, it rarely has a high degree of sociological similarity to the rest of that area. Especially at residential colleges, many college students have one primary community – and it isn’t the local neighborhood, nor is it particularly similar to the local neighborhood. It’s the campus, and it’s (obviously) a world of its own.

This means that these otherwise “missional” churches are being highly “attractional” (in a sense that’s opposite from their normal efforts). If I’m not mistaken, this format pretty clearly demands that collegians leave “them” to come away with “us” to do church – both in location and in identity.

If we desire to be missional with college students, we have to think through what that means in their special case. Just as reaching our neighborhoods missionally involves connecting with people “on their terms” and “on their turf,” impacting college students missionally involves recognizing their unique terms and turf, too. While it’s good to help college students get out of their small worlds some of the time, reaching them within their home contexts and teaching them to live for Jesus within those worlds is vital, too.

The way I put it in the book was:

At the same time, it must be remembered that many college students’ cultural identity and community are located not in the local neighborhood but specifically within their collegiate experience. Thus any church aiming to reach people “missionally” and contextually should consider the special situation of college students. Unless efforts are made to reach campus tribes on their own terms, we may actually be missing opportunities for relevant impact in this important life stage. And we will be removing students from the very communities in which they presently have the most influence for God’s Kingdom.

There are plenty of church planters and others who need to think these things through, as I continue to do the same! That’s one way we advance college ministry – through debate and rigorous thought. So while I’ll keep thinking, I did want to address this here. And I’d love to hear your thoughts – positive, negative, or illustrative.

[See several comments from the original post here] [Add new comments here]


That’s how many of Outreach Magazine‘s 2009 100 largest churches I’ve gotten to visit for a weekend service in the last TWO years. And that’s only a fraction of my total church visits, which number around 250 different churches I’ve attended – for a weekly worship service – since August 2007. Many of those churches have likewise been quite famous, extremely influential, or on similar “lists” within the past several years.

You can see most of those churches right here (though the list is only updated through 2008 right now).

Attending worship services has certainly been one highlight of my road trips around the U.S. Every church I visit – small or big, famous or little-known – provides the chance to see “living Christian history.” It’s also a unique experience as a Church Visitor to-the-extreme – an experience that I imagine few, if any, have ever duplicated in such a short time. There’s plenty you start to notice, get the chance to ponder, and begin to imagine in hundreds of visits all crammed into a couple of years.

But though I’d love to share all those things someday, this is a college ministry blog.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tuesday’s first post in the College Ministry Poles series produced some great commentary from readers. Thanks, friends. (Besides that post, you can read the intro to the series here.)

Today’s entry touches on a big question: How much should students be used / ministered to within their own collegiate context, and how much should we point them toward and bring them into the greater world apart from their campus?

Any ministry has to choose how – and how much – they’ll point students to activity, relationships, and learning that go beyond their collegiate environment. But they also have to decide how specifically they should disciple students within their actual, very distinct collegiate lives – as lived out in dorms and classrooms and organizations and friend-circles.

[This just in: DON’T miss J.D. Greear’s analysis of this issue from students’ point of view, that he blogged just today! He’s the pastor of Summit Church, a large church in a very collegiate environment – the North Carolina Triangle. And he arrives at a unique model that certainly falls between these poles. (Hat tip: Phillip Bethancourt)]


On the one hand, many college ministries want to encourage students to plug into local churches, to participate in off-campus service, and to live Christianly among their families, workplaces, and others who don’t attend school with them. Each of these areas is outside the “collegiate community.” Further, one of our major jobs as college ministers has to be preparing students for successful transition to their young adult years.

So, to accomplish any of these aims, ministries have to “drag students out of their collegiate setting” – either bodily or at least in the discussions they pursue.

The most polarized ministries in this direction don’t segregate collegiate impact at all, instead assimilating students into a larger ministry – with youth or young adults, or even an entirely intergenerational group. Yes, it’s usually churches that do this. But other kinds of ministries can come close to this pole, when their ministry pulls students out of their collegiate lives into a “Christian enclave” – even if that “enclave” is on campus!


On the other hand, college campuses often look very different than even the neighborhoods in which they’re found, and students’ lives are often lived very differently than even the non-students who live next door. Whether we personally like that setup or not, this situation could indicate a need to serve students primarily on their own terms and on their own turf.

Those who fall on the Incubation side of this spectrum might argue something like this: The main goal is helping students grow in Christ, and an incubation approach maximizes that opportunity. By teaching students to live for Jesus within their own world, we’re setting them up to do the same thing in every “world” in which they find themselves. This is a hinge moment, when the stakes are high and spiritual growth (or decline) can be rapid. So it makes sense to limit ourselves to the training ground of their collegiate environments – especially since students, as citizens of these communities, are therefore “outsiders” anywhere else.

The most polar in this camp include the many ministries that do very little to point students off-campus, including to local churches. Likewise, even some church-based ministries may function in ways that keep students entirely in collegiate environments, even if they do happen to drive (or walk) to the church once a week.

notes & questions

  1. If you want more on this, I encourage you to read “The Surprisingly Unmissional Approach to College Ministry,” where I point back to this discussion in Reaching the Campus Tribes. The comments on that post really illustrated these issues – and struggling with the tension – well.
  2. Which pole do you lean toward? Or do you fall somewhere in between? Why?
  3. What if we just tried to do both sides really well? Is that even possible?
  4. Do any issues here “trump” others? For instance, is a successful post-college transition more important to aim for than helping students be academically faithful now? Is it more vital to let students learn ministry by leading each other, or to learn intergenerationality through being led by adults? Tricky stuff!


[Click to comment or see any comments on this post!]

Yesterday I discussed why I lean toward using the term “college ministry” to describe our field as a whole. (There were several great comments, too, at that post and on Twitter and on Facebook.) Since we’re on the subject, I figured I would share something else I’ve learned along the way.

Parachurch vs. Campus-based

You might have noticed that I tend to use the term “campus-based” to describe college ministries that function outside of a specific local church (and that tend to focus their efforts on or near campus). Most people who aren’t involved in college ministry or are involved in a different branch of college ministry often use “parachurch” to describe any and all of these groups – but I use “campus-based.”

Why? Because many campus-based groups that arise from denominations or other fellowships of churches don’t consider themselves truly “parachurch.” While others may disagree with that assessment, I imagine it comes down to how you define “parachurch” and whether or not multi-church organizations fit that definition. (Denominational college ministries tend to be overseen and/or supported by actual, local churches – a presbytery, an association, individual churches, etc..)

Even some members of those groups will call themselves “parachurch,” so clearly it’s not too big a deal. But I do know that some people feel pretty strongly about the difference – and clearly, there is a fundamental difference in how these groups are overseen, supported, and connected to congregations.

I figure there’s no reason to be snotty by calling ministries unappreciated terms. So I’ve found “campus-based” to be a helpful and respectful name to describe that particular branch of college ministry.

And one more note

Since it came up in the big paragraph above, I figured I might mention another term I’ve learned to avoid in certain situations. It’s important for outsiders to remember that Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ don’t usually consider themselves part of “denominations.” The churches are completely autonomous and have no truly “official” connections, though the relational and theological connections often run pretty strong. Instead, “fellowships” seems to describe them well.

So there’s some “Ecumenically Correct” vocab I’ve learned in my explorations the last couple of years. It’s been far easier learning that stuff than it has been (re)learning how to say my own first name.

Any other “ecumenically correct” or otherwise helpful tips you’ve found in the world of college ministry (or beyond)?


[Click to comment / see any comments on this post!]

Enter your email address to get new posts by email.

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.



Posts from the Past