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I thought I’d write this week about ways to prepare a college ministry’s student leaders for those about to walk on your campus or (especially) walk through the doors of your ministry. With some basic readings, discussions, or other resources, those student leaders can be much more prepared to welcome, connect with, and hopefully shepherd the diverse crowd that’s coming… as well as to avoid any unnecessary early debates before people get to know each other.

First thought: Help students understand the varying theological backgrounds of Christians who will try out your ministry.

It certainly seems more common for college ministries to position themselves as non-denominationally as they can… even when they do, in fact, come from a denominational heritage (or even a specific church). And I don’t mean they’re deceiving or baiting-and-switching; they simply don’t choose to wear those particular theological commitments on their sleeves, and they are happy to welcome students from other traditions. (Some do. But most don’t.)

And even truly non-denominational college ministries generally have theological commitments of some sort, in some stream of Christianity that differs from other streams. If your ministry is “a little more Charismatic” (or less), has a Calvinist bent (or bends the other way), focuses on building a diverse membership (or generally attracts certain types of students), focuses heavily on international missions (or doesn’t), etc. … then you too have some specific commitments.

But welcoming all-comers – and even deeply believing they can be shepherded well in your ministry – doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare well for the welcome. Good disciplers get to know their audience.

So how well will your student leaders interact with someone, say, who grew up in a Pentecostal church? A Fundamentalist Baptist one? A heavily Reformed upbringing? A Church of Christ, a very mainline upbringing, or a King James-Only spot? And how well will they interact with any of these people who bring up their own unique theological commitments, or hope to “vet” your ministry through this lens?

You may not need to set student leaders up for success on all of these types of people… or there may be several others you need to consider. You know who comes to your ministry (I hope). But it’s also not hard to prepare a number of FAQs or – even better for this purpose – Talking Points to help student leaders navigate those conversations – and any differences – well. (In fact, a few theologically-minded students could probably knock out this task for you!)

I’ve been writing about “customer experience” in college ministry, because any college minister should care deeply about the actual experience of the ministry’s members, whether or not it translates into “numbers,” etc.

One big opportunity to improve students’ experience within your campus ministry will arise if/when you become familiar with what they hope your ministry provides. Many college ministries already have some sort of “Get to Know You” form that new guests fill out. Many ministries also make a point to have a leader sit down with those visitors ASAP. In both cases, though, I wonder how often students are asked,

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

(If they’re clearly still in the deciding process, you could change “this” to “a” and accomplish the same thing.)

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.

What if your student leaders and other “core” students took some time this summer to share about your ministry with incoming freshmen?

And what if they reached out because of a connection – same home city might or of course same high school when available. Maybe other characteristics can help, too – same denominational background, or same major, or same sport in high school.

How does one get this sort of info? And how can we keep from just sending a bunch of spam?

As for getting the info, every school is different on what it provides. But they might provide student organizations with some level of info on incomers. If you just have a mailing address, someone can still send a note. But you should be polling a lot of the youth pastors in your state, to help share about your ministry with their incoming students. It’s amazing what social media connections can do, too – and there might be a “Class of 2021” group out there for your campus already (offering you students to connect with).

As for the spam angle, different ministers will draw different lines here. It’s important to respect students and their info and their “space.” But it’s also okay to recognize that they’re used to getting contacted and may even like it. One (wise) reach-out, with something a student actually might care about, on social media or email may not seem invasive.

Your students, honestly, may be more clear on what will seem “awkward” than you will be. Social norms matter (as long as they don’t enslave us), so don’t run forward without thinking them through. But with all the fliers, reach-outs, mailings, booths, and other efforts to reach them they’ll face between now and October, it might be okay to offer a “chance to do something spiritual” in there, too – especially if they’re offering to connect with them (regardless of whether they come to the college ministry or not). Freshmen still know they’re freshmen, and some of them are pretty freaked out. However your students serve them in the midst of that, it’s likely a win.

College ministries don’t often have “membership classes”… because they don’t tend to have “membership.”

But what if you imagined a way for new students (not just freshmen, but anyone new) to learn your ministry’s “secret sauce” – its pillar values and mission statement and involvement pathway and leadership opportunities?

Some ministries may do a fantastic enough job discussing these very regularly in Large Group Meeting. But other than purposely outlining each of these things at least once a semester, how else could you help students know them?

Your structure for this doesn’t have to look like a membership class. It might involve a 30-minute low-down after a Large Group meeting once a month. It could take place within a prerequisite “kick off meeting” for every student who’s joining a small group. Perhaps making it part of a “future leaders” class would suffice, if that class is pushed for just about anyone who plans to stick around your ministry.

Or it might simply be a standalone session, offered to students who have clearly made your ministry their home. (You could even consider doing it by invite only – not exclude, but to entice students to show up.) Remember, students don’t necessarily dislike the notion of “belonging” to something – you may not call it “membership,” but they might be open to something along those lines.

Earlier this month, I offered an idea for college ministries’ large group gatherings: a “monologue” of sorts, chatting through the issues of the day.

Today’s Fridea offers a spin on that idea (and mostly comes from the fact that I love ESPN’s Around the Horn).

What if – weekly or occasionally – you offered a brief panel discussion on current events of the day? You may already use a panel on occasion, discussing Dating or Finding a church after college or Deciding about joining a sorority or fraternity. But couldn’t you do something similar for current events? What if trusted local Christian leaders – or even some of your student leaders – discussed/debated how they’re processing what’s taking place in the world (or in the city, or on campus).

The point – probably – wouldn’t be so much to argue a certain point of view, as much as to showcase how Christians are viewing “hot topics” through a Christian lens. (As long as everyone keeps this mission primary, it will go well.) Depending on the wisdom of your panel members and the topic under discussion, a panel could be as formulaic or as freewheeling as you want it to be. Anywhere on that spectrum, your students will get a view of how they too should process everything through a biblical worldview – even if that occasionally means mature believers still differ on their conclusions.

And don’t miss how I started this idea. While some panels could indeed take your entire Large Group Meeting, my original notion was akin to the “monologue” (of sorts) from a few weeks ago. This is something that many of your meetings could provide for a few minutes – and it might best hit its stated goal in that timeframe, anyway. That format – a 5-minute panel – could also be used on video (whether or not you did this in the Large Group Meeting at all!).

I’m taking a vacation this week, so I’ll have a collection of favorite posts about one topic that hits most college ministries… the Large Group Meeting! Whether you have a classic “sing-n-speak” or some twist on the all-come gathering, I hope you’ll find these useful.

I had the chance to give announcements at one of our church’s worship services recently, and it was a neat chance to be reminded about the excellence and intentionality of our staff members who direct those services.

A few days before my moment on stage, they sent out a “briefing” that shared their vision for that time. What I especially appreciated was the theme running throughout. I might summarize that theme as: Spend some time preparing, because what you’re doing really matters.

For those weekly 3 minutes, it would be easy for someone to “wing it,” to just prepare quick bullets, or otherwise to treat “announcement time” as simply as it seems.

But it’s not simple. It’s worth the 30 minutes (or more) a person could spend preparing for this impactful moment. If what we’re announcing matters… and if the (new and old) visitors sitting in the audience matter… then those 3 minutes are worth 30 minutes of prep. Right?

(The blog post they pointed me to in their materials was powerful. Read this.)

I do realize that what happens in a big worship service at church is different than what happens in a campus ministry’s weekly Large Group Meeting. But even there, announcements often they have a lot of importance, as do many of the other “basic” or “simple” elements of ministry gatherings.

So the principle can be extrapolated to your ministry and to many elements within it. And it’s our job to make sure our fellow staff and our student leaders understand the need to spend 30 minutes to prep for 3, when it’s called for.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about Easter possibilities. But can campus ministries even celebrate Easter, or use Easter time strategically?

Of course they can.

Combining and revising a couple of posts from long ago, here are some thoughts about the upcoming holiday.


Easter and Christmas, THE two biggest “liturgies” among us Protestants, are both widely ignored in the context of college ministry. Students are often home at Easter and pretty much always home at Christmas. Students who happen to stay in town (or live locally) aren’t going to celebrate these holidays with us.

But that’s kind of a shame, isn’t it? Because not only should we help our Jesus-following students better comprehend and celebrate the magnitude of the Christmas and Easter stories, but the non-Christian and “de-churched” students around us might be more likely to reflect in these moments than any others.

So first, here are six straightforward ways to impact your students and/or your campus at Easter:

  1. Round up your students who are local to participate in something a local church (or other college ministry!) is doing (like a special worship service, a seminar, a family Easter event, etc.).
  2. Connect with a local church who could use some extra hands during Easter week, preparing for their big service or other event. Recruit students to help.
  3. Before they go home, give students tips and exhortation about sharing Jesus with family over the long weekend.
  4. Encourage students with tips and exhortation about witnessing to friends around Easter week.
  5. Prepare to do something with your students after the Easter weekend to debrief about the weekend, or about opportunities students had during Easter week.
  6. Prepare to do something after Easter to impact your campus.

When it comes to those last two notes – stuff to do after Easter – here are a handful of great ways to carry that out:

1. Let students share. How often do we ask students to share the growth they gained away from our ministries? Yet some of your students probably did reflect on Easter, celebrate Easter, and grow in the context of Easter in awesome ways. Shouldn’t they share that with you, their college minister? Couldn’t they share that with the whole group?

2. Don’t let Easter season pass by ’til you’ve fulfilled your ministry. Sometimes we’re so interested in putting on a good “show” that we wouldn’t dare do something silly like talk about the Easter story after Easter! But if there’s something God wants you to teach about Easter… you need to do that. Even after Easter. (Your students won’t care that you’re reflecting on the Easter story after Easter; in fact, it might make it “stick” better.)

3. What are you going to do for Christmas? The seasons aren’t exactly the same in college ministry, but they have some similarities. Start pondering now.

4. Ponder what next year’s Easter will look like. It makes sense to consider your Easter and “Resurrection Week” activities for 2018 now. You don’t have to decide everything, but you should

  • analyze how well this year’s activities (if you had some) accomplished your purposes
  • contemplate what you might want to do next year (while you’re still “in the moment”)
  • write down any worthy thoughts – and maybe set a reminder to make sure you look at ’em in 11 months.

By the way, Easter 2018 is earlier – April 1st. I already hear preachers around the country polishing up titles (and church sign guys laying aside phrases) like, “When God Pulled the Best April Fool’s Prank Ever” or “No Foolin’: He is Risen Indeed!”

I’ve gotten a couple of chances to play in my creative side recently here at work. A report I planned to give to my team presented an opportunity to share data with gusto. And a video I shot allowed for some freewheeling fun.

So I’ve got a question for you: Do your creative students (and I don’t just mean the “artsy” ones, although I do mean them too) have outlets for that within your ministry? Are there great chances for humor scattered through a school year? What about graphic design – from handouts to backdrops to worship slides to T-shirts to…? Is there freedom enough in small group-leading and announcements-giving and event-planning that students inclined toward creative oomph can unleash in those venues?

Just a question. From a guy who appreciates those opportunities when they come along.

A Spring Break-related post from a couple of years ago, with an added twist or two.

You might have students (maybe much of your group) heading out for a mission trip at Spring Break. Other students may be “mission-ing” this summer overseas or in the states, and still others may have their own mission at a Christian camp, etc.. You may have some graduates participate in a longer mission experience after graduation, too.

(Others should see their experience as missions, too – interning, studying abroad, even going back home. While this Fridea is easiest to apply to the above crews, applying it to these would be an awesome tool indeed.)

In all these opportunities, how are your other students following the mission?

So that’s this week’s Fridea: Encourage and facilitate “reports from the field” via blog, email, or other avenues.

Not only is it good for those back at home to hear from their friends on mission, it’s also great for the “missionaries” to include others in their work. The “senders” back home get to feel like they’re truly sending their friend, and they get to be part of the experience and get exhorted from afar. They’re also more likely to do something like that in the future.

And for the participant, this is a form of debrief, encouraging them to process what they’re learning. It also reminds them that even by stepping out, they’re leading – for many, they might feel that burden more when they know their friends are joining in.

(There’s always the option to highlight a few students – doing a few different activities – that you know will provide awesome testimonies… and will write well.)

Often we – or at least I – get into a rut of aiming to inspire people to action without giving a good dose of practical how-to. Sometimes people need good examples – not so they can simply “check a box,” but to get their heads around exactly what obedience might look like.

For instance, I’d imagine it’s a goal of yours for students to be inspired to connect with their dormmates and apartment-mates. Right? It’s a ready-made mission field. And even if you (or others) have established great dorm Bible studies, etc., you still hope your students are intentionally growing their relationships organically, too.

If that’s the case, have you provided a roadmap? I know it’s easy to castigate people who don’t get to know the guys on their floor or the girls in the suite next door: “They must be radically self-absorbed or simply not interested in God-advancing conversations.” But some students – many students – might have a mix of a little real fear with a big lack of vision for how such an action might look, or how it might be accomplished. Whether it’s because they’re introverts, went to Christian high school, or simply haven’t experienced a situation where they lived in tight quarters with hundreds of non-Christian classmates while balancing a surprising schoolwork-load (i.e. all your students), building relationships with dormmates may not come naturally or easily.

Here are some ways you might provide a roadmap (which, you might notice, could apply to any activity and not just building relationships):

  • Testimonies by students who have done this well
  • A very straightforward ideas list
  • A combo of the two above – a list of ways their fellow students have actually connected well in their dorms/apartments
  • A challenge to do one thing (or one thing out of a few choices) in the next week
  • Accountability (once you’ve made this otherwise very practical and shared the biblical why)

Like I said, this is coming from someone who doesn’t it find it easy to think about discipleship this way. But I’m getting better.

For each “big pillar” of a college ministry, like evangelism or justice or Bible study or “life together,” a roadmap that gently shares expectations while providing concrete ideas accomplishes the “lifting a finger” of obedience-assistance we’re called to do.

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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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