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As a college minister, you’re probably creating something all the time. You plan a weekly message, you write a blog post, you craft emails to everyone. You write outlines for your leadership meeting, write curriculum, design discussion questions for small groups, or craft fundraising letters. Maybe you edit videos, post on social media, make newsletters for parents or supporters… or you’re even writing a book!

It’s possible you do none of this, but most college ministers create on a pretty regular basis.

And you’ve got an army of potential editors (your college students).

Not all students would be great at editing, of course – but “editing” doesn’t only mean carefully looking for grammar and spelling issues, either. The varying personalities and abilities in your campus ministry would actually work for you here, because you need different points of view for a phenomenal editing process.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you pull students into your process simply to help you make things better. (But they will help you make things way better!) I’m also saying it for their benefit: for their growth as leaders or potential leaders, to expose them to whatever you’re working on, even to honor them as your co-laborers.

You’re all in this little campus mission together. Why not let them partake in what you create?

A radio station that only recently has become part of my regular rotation celebrated its 24th anniversary this week. Like watching Shark Tank or any other discussion of entrepreneurial endeavors, hearing the hosts reminisce about the early risk, choices, and audience response was fascinating.

And it drew me in all the more. (Like I said, I’m pretty new to this station.)

It reminded me of the power of this sort of “history lesson,” and I wonder how often those in college ministries call attention to their campus mission’s own history. Churches are much better at this, at least at celebrating the “bigger” anniversaries. Of course, college ministries can (and should) think about doing this more often than every five or twenty years.

Have you ever connected the dots, for your students, between the current college ministry and its long (or short) and storied history? The community feel that would develop, the authenticity this would reflect, and the encouragement for the future it could very well inspire… are worth the history lesson, for sure.

Another key part of taking campus ministry recruiting seriously is being prepared to give reasons someone should participate!

Sure, many student-to-student invitations begin casually. A reason isn’t expected – just an invite. But very quickly reasons become important: Why should this person check out the college ministry? Why would they decide to jump in long-term?

But those reasons won’t be forthcoming from your students (or your staff) if they haven’t been considered before those conversations – whether invitations happen in class, in a residence hall, from the stage (encouraging visitors to stick around), at an organization fair, or somewhere else.

Meanwhile, thinking through reasons for participation also requires something important: thinking about our audience. If I have to back up my basic invitation with a couple of “benefits,” I’m suddenly going to be much more attentive to the Whom that I’m inviting. And my invitation nearly automatically becomes more “tailored,” doesn’t it, honoring the person across from me by tying my invitation to their wants, needs, and concerns.

And caring about our audience? That’s a vital part of taking recruiting seriously.

As I continue placing “pebbles in your shoe,” I’m hoping to bug you – just a little bit – with some brief questions to get you thinking about the new semester. And this one is particularly simple… but potentially profound.

How do your locations – or maybe you only have one – affect your ability to reach the whole of campus? Of course, I’m not talking only about your Large Group Meeting, but any “access points” or front doors you might make available to students, either regularly or occasionally.

Even on a small campus, geography matters, because students’ traffic patterns matter. But certainly on a big campus, a group that meets on the south side may not even be known by north-siders, let alone attended regularly. And the effect is even greater for those ministries that meet entirely off-campus… or conversely, for off-campus students who are asked to come on-campus.

So that’s today’s pebble to get you thinking: How could you expand your access points, help students come from awkward geographies, or otherwise work with the geographical reality?

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”?

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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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