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Two ways to build community and culture are so simple (and so effective) they almost feel cliche:

  • honoring examples of the culture you’re trying to build
  • self-deprecation

While these two avenues seem worlds apart, they can share a common mode, one method that can accomplish either (or even both): a “best of” ceremony. Whether you’re awarding people humorously (offering “awards” for funny mistakes and goofball moments) or seriously (awarding people for greatness), each avenue presents an opportunity. Either you’re doubling down on what you want… or you’re building community by helping everyone not take your ministry (and each other) too seriously.

Examples of the humorous route: Each year at our staff-wide retreat, a few staff members present an “Oscars”-style awards show… which is basically a “roast” of various staff members. No one’s exempt; top leaders are just as likely (or probably more likely) to “win” as admins or new staffers are. Another example is the weekly wrap-up on a sports radio station I listen to, when three “bloopers” from the week are presented and then voted on by listeners.

Examples of the straightforward route: On the other hand, awards for things like “Volunteer of the Year” can go a long way toward highlighting what you want to see more of. You might not have to chain yourself to a particular category, either – instead offering something vague like the “Ministry Innovation” award once in awhile. (I used to have a team member who would hand out little “Great Job” tickets for various successes she noticed. It meant a lot!)

Whichever route you go, the point is to think about publicly building culture. Could an award ceremony (or an “award” ceremony) be just what you need?

For Valentine’s Day, a past post assessing the relationships and romances that develop within your college ministry…

We college ministers need to talk plenty about “love and relationships” – those things are on our students’ minds, they trip up plenty of Christian students, they provide a chance to run counter-cultural to the campus, and they’ll lead to the life-changing choice of a spouse either in college or afterwards. So I figured I’d spend some posts talking about college students and romance. (Find the whole series here.)

Here’s the first post in the series: evaluating your ministry through the Great Couples Assessment.

One interesting way to assess your ministry is along this unique line: the kinds of romantic couples it’s producing. These questions are worth asking – even if there are different “right” answers (because campus ministries are different from each other).

1. When romantic couples emerge within your college ministry, are they awesome? A healthy college ministry will tend to produce healthy couples, and couples that exemplify the very things the ministry celebrates. Do you and other students enjoy being around the couples your ministry produces? Are those couples healthy, or are they full of red flags?

2. Is your campus ministry really good about celebrating romance, relationships, marriage, etc.? Sometimes campus ministries aren’t even good at supporting couples, let alone celebrating God’s work in bringing people together!

3. Do solid Christians within your college ministry regularly build romances with each otherHow this one relates to healthy college ministry is a bit more complicated. But if you’re not seeing couples emerge from within your ministry (and especially if you are seeing students enter into relationships regularly with Christian students outside your ministry), it’s at least worth asking Why that’s the case.

Are you providing opportunities for awesome men of God to meet awesome women of God? Is your ministry the kind of ministry that even attracts those awesome people – both men and women? Is there room – even alongside the accompanying awkwardness – for students to build friendships, and eventually more, with others in your ministry?

Related to this is the issue of offering gender-specific vs. co-ed opportunities. Read where I wrote about that – including some great comments from you guys!

4. Do people get married? Some might presume that a strong college ministry will indeed produce lots and lots of marriages, while others would recognize that marriage-immediately-after-graduating really isn’t the norm anymore. But I think we have to imagine that within a college ministry with a good number of students, we would likely be seeing the occasional marriage produced. If not, it’s probably worth asking Why – even if in the end, we decide we’re right where we need to be.

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So there you have it. Four questions. As you answer them, simply consider what the answers in your ministry should be… and then what they actually are. Ministries will be different, but I think these things are worth examining!

But what do you think?

(Continue the series here.)

When first-timers show up to your Large Group Meeting (assuming you have a Large Group Meeting, and assuming you have first-timers…), what do they experience?

Is it any different than what the regulars experience?

While visitors should certainly feel at home, get a taste of what the ministry is like, and not feel singled out, it’s worth considering an opportunity to meet them, greet them, or give them an idea of what your ministry offers. A “five-minute party” (like I’ve seen some churches do)? A separate orientation from the small groups that meet afterward (if you’re a ministry that combines those into one night)? A great conversation with the college minister?

It doesn’t have to be big. It just needs to be different. And it might just be a win.

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.

Want something new for the New Year? Here’s a post from way back about using adults…

I would argue that any college ministry should consider getting adults involved. This is a common effort by church-based ministries, but providing intergenerational connections and using adult volunteers is a fantastic option for many ministries besides those housed in churches. And it provides impact that you’re simply not going to get from mono-generational discipleship.

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. Get adults to teach (including doing “panel discussions” with multiple adults and on-stage “interviews” of local adults)
  5. Help build “Campus Missions Teams” within 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).
  6. Encourage churches to welcome students into adult small groups/classes, if there’s no (well done) collegiate option – and show them how
  7. Bring adults into student gatherings as “hosts”
  8. Highlight the other opportunities at your church or at various churches (women’s Bible study, special speakers, service projects, Christmas events, etc.)
  9. Initiate disciplemaking relationships between adults and students
  10. Initiate mentoring (i.e., between students in certain majors with adults in those fields)
  11. Life “mentoring groups” (i.e., learning to cook)
  12. Getting local adults to eat on campus, spend time on campus, and otherwise begin having a “ministry of presence”
  13. Find opportunities to serve local adults (in ways that build relationships with them)

Last night, our church held an “international potluck,” bringing together many of the international-born members of our congregation (and another couple of hundred American-born folks). It was a great chance to celebrate our church’s growing international population and growing diversity, as well as to encourage those born outside the U.S. (who may not always feel “seen” in our largely white church).

Are there any populations within your college ministry that would be impacted by their own “banquet” or other celebration?

Clearly, care must be shown so other populations don’t feel relegated to “non-favorite” status. Much care. But at the same time, sometimes it’s really valuable to gather students around commonalities – not simply to celebrate them, but also to equip them, encourage them, and even help add other students from their niche to your ministry.

You’re not FCA (unless you are FCA), so what if you held an athletes’ gathering? What about a Liberal Arts majors lunch? A Seniors’ banquet? A Christmas gift exchange for all those who live on the south side of campus? An international student potluck? An artists’ breakfast?

There are three points here that keep this wise, even if it doesn’t always seem fair:

  • Communicate. Share why you’re doing this. As long as you communicate well the reasons a certain group is being celebrated (or being gathered for other reasons), students should be open to that.
  • Be strategic. Don’t hold a special gathering just because certain students might like it – or worse, because it makes you feel like your college ministry is extra-cool. Hold the gathering because you have strong reasons to do so.
  • Involve students in planning. You may end up having lots of special gatherings, led by students in those niches. If Ag majors or musicians or those involved in student government want to rise up and plan something, then so be it! That way you’re certainly not playing favorites. And when a student asks where their niche’s gathering is… you can ask them if they’re prepared to lead it!

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.

What happens when your students face an “underwater week”?

The difficult mid-semester week, when it seems like all projects are due and mid-terms come calling and a paper or two still need to be written, is a universal facet of collegiate existence.

My question is this: How do you use these moments to shepherd students?

“Underwater Weeks” are phenomenal opportunities for (1) pastoral care, and (2) mentoring… even if the latter is done after the fact. Whether it’s you as college minister or students’ small group leaders, somebody has a great chance to care for students in the midst of the mini-crisis of a very long, very hard week. Just think of the possibilities for action steps…

As such a week looms ahead: Talk with students about their particular temptations in the middle of these weeks. Do they get angry? Get anxious? Slip into looking at porn? Become a bad roommate? And then ask how you – or others – can help. Are these students asking for help when they need to?

In the middle of the Underwater Week: Let students know you’re praying for them (and actually pray for them!). Hold them accountable on stuff discussed earlier. Offer them space to study, encouragement to sleep, and whatever other resources they need. Round up encouragers and encouragements.

After the week: Sit down to discuss how it could have gone better. Was the craziness pretty unavoidable… or could they organize better in the aftermath? Did sin “get ’em” during this stressful time? How should next time look different? And in the midst of the trial, how was God big and real and close? What did He teach them? In other words, debrief.

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?

It’s unlikely you have official “membership” in your college ministry, which makes sense. While I can think of some advantages to having something official along those lines, there are disadvantages too.

But one disadvantage to not offering membership is that it’s easier for students to fall through the cracks. If an official list indicated which students, at some point in the past, had gone “all in” with your campus ministry, then you could occasionally identify if they’re still showing up for Large Group or participating in small groups.

But again, you probably don’t have an opt-in “membership” list. But what if you created that sort of list anyway? And what if you actually used it every few months to discover anyone that might have come up missing (or might be involved less than usual). Those students deserve a contact, don’t they? They’ve been all-in with your college ministry; now you can be all-in with them.

I realize there’s some trickiness attached to this (especially figuring out who’s missing if your ministry is sizeable). You may not arrive at a perfect solution. But something intentional will beat the “organic,” we’ll-probably-just-notice-who’s-missing approach nearly every time.

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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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