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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.

This week, I’ll be posting (and occasionally updating) some solid ideas that you could pretty easily work on – or get students to work on – at this point in the semester. And if you’ve already done these things, I’d love to hear about it.

In my visit awhile back to Texas A&M Corpus Christi, I got the chance to chat with Clint Hill, the local Church of Christ college minister. One of the things he pointed out about their ministry is their effort to participate in a bunch of the activities organized by the Student Organizations and administration of the school.

Is the campus holding a dodge ball tournament? Then Christians in Action will field a team for that. Have they organized freshman move-in? Then CIA will be out there, serving. All. Day. Long.

And so on.

I’ve certainly heard other college ministers espouse this same “doctrine”: that there is great value in plugging in to what the campus as a whole is doing. Some of the whys:

  • Connections with the lost and other non-involved students
  • Participation as valuable members of the campus community
  • Endearing ourselves to the administration
  • Serving the campus by helping it thrive
  • Serving students tangibly in ways we might not imagine on our own
  • Recruitment to the ministry

So the Fridea, in a nutshell: Find out what the campus is already doing… and show up!

For some of you, this might be as easy as taking the Campus Events calendar and making its entries a major part of your calendar, too. For others, it might involve choosing 4-5 important events this semester and attending them as a group – and purposefully. Sometimes it might simply involve encouraging, pushing, and helping students to be present and active within their campus, and to know how to do that with Jesus-purposes in mind.

In any case, I’m not sure it’s best practice for our ministries to be “islands” within (but not really with) the larger collegiate community. And I’m happy to have been reminded of that fact by a guy who just happens to serve among the Islanders tribe at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

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.

And… I’m back. Our son’s birth went well, and we’re sleepy as we learn about life with two under two.

I’ve come to realize through the years that I’m drawn to all sorts of (what I would call) “ministry gaps” – areas the big-C Church seems to have under-served, under-appreciated, under-funded, etc.

That’s a big part of why I gravitated to college ministry nearly two decades ago.

And even as I do explore other ministry gaps, what’s great is that I can usually connect my pondering on those gaps to the world of collegiate ministry.

One thing I’ve had on my mind a lot lately is what you might call “user experience” within ministries. Since “UX” in the corporate world most often applies to digital settings (like how easily customers can navigate a company’s web page), the closest comparison here might actually be to CX – customer experience. But of course ministry people like us sometimes get a little queasy talking about attendees as “customers” – understandably.

So maybe it’s just “experience” for now. In the case of our field of ministry, CMX perhaps.

Whatever we call it, our “users’ experience” should be a major concern to anyone who leads a ministry. And significantly, for college ministers this MUST apply to “users” beyond freshmen.

Yet college ministries may function often like churches that put heavy investment into “first impressions” (for new guests) and “assimilation” for new regulars and/or new members… but then leave longer-term members largely to their own devices when it comes to going further up and further in.

So that’s what I’d like to blog about this week. It’s not a new discussion around here, but maybe some new thoughts in new ways will pop out.

In the meantime, I’d encourage you to ask how your investments line up: What percentage of emphasis, activity, and resources is dedicated to students “pre-assimilation”? (In your ministry, a student may be “assimilated” when they’ve joined a small group… attended three times… attended something more than the Large Group Meeting… or whatever. It doesn’t have to be an official designation to be useful here.)

Hopefully, during the school year, news of a major event in a student’s life would make its way to student leaders and/or staff in your college ministry. But what about this summer?

That’s a great assessment for just how well you’ve grown the “family” feel. Would a student whose dad was sick reach out? What about a student who lost their job – or who landed a fantastic job for post-graduation? Would you know if a student led someone to the Lord… or would anyone else in the college ministry know? What if a student got engaged? If they failed a summer school course – or aced it? If they got hurt or landed in the hospital? Or if a student realized they weren’t able to return to school in the fall?

Maybe a college minister shouldn’t settle for this threshold of “major events”; maybe a true family would know a lot more about each other – at least at the level of small groups or other “intimate community” structures. But this is a start at an evaluation.

If every student who returns in the fall needs to catch everyone up on their lives, then there might be room to improve the “community” aspect of your campus ministry. And even now, a little reach-out to students (or through student leaders) couldn’t hurt.

Have you considered visiting any of your students who are away for the summer?

You might not be able to accomplish this for all your students, but a misplaced “fairness” shouldn’t keep you from visiting others. If there’s a city where several of them live (or are working this summer), all the better. Or maybe you’d try to visit as many of your student leaders as you could, or those about to be juniors, or some other segment.

Your staff could split this up, or even student leaders might get in on the act, visiting other students to grab lunch or whatever.

Yes, it takes time and a little budget. But it’s a powerful way to remind everyone that this college ministry is a family. And it will get you in touch with that “other world” of your students – you know, since y’all usually just hang out inside the campus bubble.

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.

What role does celebration of individual accomplishment play within your college ministry?

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is underway right now. While it’s not a college student effort, it’s edifying to imagine how these kids’ schools, churches/synagogues/mosques,, and even whole towns are cheering them on.

How does your college ministry respond when a student…

  • Competes in a student body election, or seeks another leadership post?
  • Secures a competitive internship for the summer?
  • Gets a job prior to graduation?
  • Publishes an article or literary piece in a prestigious journal?
  • Gets accepted to graduate school?
  • Enters a campus competition – or wins it?
  • Makes it to the NCAA playoffs in their sport?

It could be cheering students on as they compete. It could be celebrating when they win. (It could also be encouraging them when they don’t win.) But surely a college ministry should be a place of “rejoicing with those who rejoice” at the very least, right?

Here’s an interesting student leader role to consider for the new school year:

What if you set up a guest experience evaluator?

I was listening to a podcast recently that highlighted this role at a church. While that was a staff role overseeing the church’s various hospitality efforts around worship services, there could be a lot more to it in a college ministry than that. For all the recognition of college students who “fall through the cracks” in a given year, this position might just help a lot.

I realize this person wouldn’t have to be a manager. They could simply be a “quality-control” specialist, watching month after month for gaps in a campus ministry’s touchpoints with students (and especially new students).

I’m thinking an upperclassman marketing major, business major, even sociology or psychology major might just devour this opportunity. You could easily do a short first-run effort the August and September and see what feedback you glean.

(You could easily do a short first-run effort the August and September and see what feedback you glean.)

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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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