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Holding your own “Bracket Challenge” is really a no-brainer for most college ministries. Not only does it help with community and culture like any competition, but it could also set you up for ministry gatherings over the three tournament weeks.

(In case you’re wondering, brackets will come out Sunday, March 11th, with most bracket systems requiring entry by early AM Thursday the 15th.)

But besides the usual, college ministry-wide challenge, perhaps with some simple prize, here are some ideas for expanding – in your goals and your effort. Enjoy!

  • Offer a prize for the winner that creates buzz
  • Better yet, offer a “prize”/dare/penalty for the loser that creates buzz (that’s what we do here at our church)
  • Open it up to the whole campus
  • Have winners/losers along the way (at the end of each round, or weekly)
  • Put a spiritual twist on it: pray for the schools and college ministry there (at least the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight schools)
  • Connect with college ministers in your organization/denomination (or not in your organization/denomination) at some of the schools in the tournament
  • Wear T-shirts from as many of the sixty-eight campuses as you can (oh wait, that’s what I do)
  • Plan a road trip… to whatever school wins. Or plan a road trip to the closest school of the Elite Eight teams, and leave the morning after that’s settled (the Elite Eight will be “set” the night of Friday, March 23rd). If you won’t do it, I bet a bunch of your students would…

Of course the Winter Olympics provide opportunities for your college ministry: with students in your ministry, with the larger campus, even with supporters/overseers.

If you want a boost in figuring out how, here are a couple of posts where we’ve chatted about it:

…and a bonus, where the Olympics are mentioned, to get you imagining taking your ministry to Tokyo, Beijing, or Paris:

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!

I’ve used this Fridea before, but it’s a favorite. It’s a good one for the first day of December, though less applicable around here in Texas than where some of you serve.

Has your campus ministry developed a “Snow Day Capitalization Plan”? (I wanted something fancier than “Snow Day Plan” and something less awkward than “Snow Day Exploitation Plan,” but you can call it whatever you want.)

If your school ever experiences inclement weather days (or other unplanned class cancellations), I bet there are indeed plenty of ways to capitalize on the opportunity that arises. Think about the semi-chaotic canvas that presents itself:

  • There are students in your ministry who by definition don’t have other plans
  • You’ve got students all across campus who might be a little bored
  • Quasi-confinement to the campus grounds and buildings
  • A general feeling of campus “community”
  • A generally excited attitude
  • Real needs by the school itself (everything from increasing safety to reporting on schedule changes to keeping students happy)
  • Real needs from students
  • Killer opportunities simply to have a blast
  • Perhaps the best of all possible days for ministry via conversations and “presence” on campus

So what do you do? It will take the locality of your unique situation to really get the brainstorming going. What if you put a team of students on this task, praying and thinking through some awesome, purposeful ways to use the next surprise “open” day? (I’d talk to the administration, too – you never know what real needs they might have on days like this.)

*Bonus: Think about off-campus, too, especially if you’re thinking about service opportunities. Weather days on campus mean difficulties elsewhere, too.

Whether via service, community, or some of both, I bet your school’s Snow Days could turn out to be some of the best memories of your campus ministry.

The picture: I’ve never seen larger snowflakes than I did at Gonzaga University… one April…

[Everybody has a second snow day today, which is even rarer.]

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.

The husbands in my church small group meet weekly at Panera Bread, connecting with each other to chat about spiritual life, marriage, etc. But I’ve noticed we’re not alone… near our “chosen table” sits another group of men, who also seem to be engaged in biblical discussion of some sort or another.

So this week, I finally met them. Turns out they indeed attend another local church and are there at Panera for the same purposes we are.

I think they were a little surprised I approached them, which bums me out a little bit. (Why wouldn’t Christians want to connect with other believers?) But more importantly, the whole thing got me thinking about college ministry small groups.

While you may already think about “mixers” between your own college ministry’s small groups, what if you also decided to facilitate connections between your small groups and those of another campus ministry?

So often ministries strive for unity at the large-group level, but I’m pretty sure that’s often the least effective mechanism for unity. Smaller works better! On the one hand, college ministry leaders hanging out together and getting to know each other can be a HUGE win in this regard. And on the other end, at the grassroots level, I bet connecting small groups of your students with small groups of “theirs” might accomplish the same sort of semi-organic unity growth.

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.

To pair with the last post on partnership, I thought I’d repost some key partnerships you might pursue.

Here are a few options for whom we might consider partnering with for our various activities:

1. Another college ministry. We might partner with another ministry on our campus for annual events, for instance. Or we might connect with a ministry far away, in the “sister campus” situation I’ve talked about for the past two days.

2. A church. If we’re a campus-based college ministry, there still might be a local church (whether students attend it or not) which would love our ongoing service. But we also might establish an ongoing relationship with a church in a far-off land, a state away or thousands of miles away. This gives us an opportunity for impact through regular trips.

3. Another ministry. Lots of major cities (in the United States or otherwise) have ministries that regularly receive groups and allow them to participate in impactful service. And partnership with them doesn’t have to feel like “just another drop in the bucket” – as your group impacts through the years, you may find options to deepen that involvement in ways that build both your students AND that ministry.

4. A missions mobilizer. Your best partnership may not be with a ministry “on the ground,” but with an organization devoted to helping

groups serve in a particular place. And a mobilizing entity will likely introduce your ministry to on-the-front-lines partnerships, as well.

5. Individual missionaries. This option may overlap with one or more of the options above, but as we think through partnerships, it’s always helpful to consider the actual people we know – and especially those who have gone out from our ministry in the past. Is a former student serving as a campus minister somewhere else? Has a graduate devoted themselves to long-term or even lifelong service on a foreign field? Is someone employed by a great church in another city? Have you considered what partnership with them and their ministries might look like… and how it might inspire other students to examine their own callings?

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?

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.

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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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