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I hope your students read the campus newspaper, as an act of spiritual discipline in loving their campus.

(Heck, I hope YOU read your campus newspaper as an act of spiritual discipline in loving your campus.)

But there’s also room for a college ministry to help students access good reads on a variety of important topics. Have you ever considered creating curated lists of articles your students should check out?

There are a few directions a ministry might take in this regard, but one manpower approach I’d suggest is giving this to students. Depending on direction, anybody from a Communications major to a Poli Sci major to future ministers can do this… and there are plenty of others who might be a great fit too.

As for approaches, some varieties come to mind:

  • A site that points students to smart reads about current world/national/city events – a basic, curated news feed to keep them up-to-date
  • An email that offers excellent reads from Christian sources about spiritual topics and/or current events
  • A blog that lists four to seven longer articles that hit on one important issue, like Maxwell Anderson’s Weekend Reader
  • Or just connecting students to sites/lists that already do that well!

You’ve got access to vaults of wisdom for your students – people with “the wisdom of years,” most of whom have been exactly where your students are.

It’s your alumni list.

While (if you’re in certain branches of college ministry) you may request funds from these folks (and from plenty of other supporters), when’s the last time you sought wisdom, on behalf of your students?

Asking, “What advice would you give to the student who’s thinking about joining a fraternity or sorority?” or “How did you balance spiritual life and your studies and everything else?” could provide you with awesome quotes to share with your students. And yet it also connects your alumni back to what you’re doing, allowing them a direct piece of the discipleship rather than only the indirect portion provided through fundraising.

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!).

Does recruiting students to your events and activities feel too “icky” to see it as a ministry? I hope not. While there are all sorts of icky methods in recruiting – whether we’re talking about drawing students within your ministry’s ranks already, or recruiting students from the larger campus – the act itself is far from evil. When you’re helping students connect the dots from what they need/want to what your ministry offers (and beyond that, what God offers through your ministry), you’re impacting them. You’re discipling them.

So that means: As with any ministry area, this ground is ripe for raising up students.Leading to today’s

Leading to today’s Fridea…

Create a student-led “awareness team” to help draw students to ministry activities – either with current students, the campus as a whole, or both.

You’ve likely got students whose majors prepare them for this role! And you’ll help those students develop their understanding of “Marketing to the Glory of God,” etc., leading them to navigate now what it means to raise awareness, recruit, advertise, and so on… in non-icky, people-serving, God-glorifying ways. They’ll have a better vocational discipleship if they do this.

And even if Awareness Team members aren’t all in relevant majors, students will have wisdom for drawing their fellow students that you simply don’t have. Why not let them help?

If someone gives announcements at your campus ministry’s Large Group Meeting, do they approach that task with intentionality?

In churches, it seems that worship leaders, perhaps more and more, spend time considering their “worship set” – organizing around a theme, perhaps even building a purposeful flow. (I hope your college ministry’s worship folks are learning that sort of purposefulness as well.)

But I don’t know that announcements – in church or in college ministry – are put under the magnifying glass quite as often. Yet this is key space within a meeting. It shows who you are, communicating to visitors and regulars alike what your ministry actually finds important – and what they have to look forward to. What if you…

  • Tried to reflect a few different core values through the events you chose to announce each week?
  • Considered which announcements should be placed first, last, and otherwise?
  • Pared down announcements so they’re not too long?
  • Pursued thoughtfulness in how announcements are worded?
  • Purposefully appointed a great “emcee” (or rotation of announcement-givers) to deliver the announcements?
  • Let student leaders participate in suggesting announcements and deciding what “makes the cut”?

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.

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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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