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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.

Our entire church staff has been asked to read Onward by Russell Moore, which we’ll be discussing at a staff meeting soon.

It’s something you could try too – an inversion on the normal book club – encouraging everybody to read a certain book, and offering a study (or a party?) to chat about it… for everyone who actually reads it.

You might be surprised at the mix of student leaders, brand new attendees, and those in-between who get drawn to something like this. (You’d have the same sort of fun nmix if you offered an elective “lunch chat” about culture issues or a book of the Bible, too.) And that’s a win – anytime you can gather collegians who aren’t normally running in the same circles, you’re deepening the community of your campus ministry.

And of course, you get students reading a great book.

Because I’m always in brainstorming mode, seeing – for instance – the Punxsutawney Phil / Groundhog Day festivities this morning got me thinking.

One small Pennsylvania town has built a once-a-year media circus around a groundhog, enough so that Today Show viewers around the U.S. spent at least one valuable TV-minute watching the festivities this morning. And you know what, it was fun! (Especially for Al Roker.)

What sort of sophomoric festivity is your campus missing? And more importantly, how has your college ministry added to the fun and festivities of your school?

It’s all well and good for the shadow you cast – pun intended – to be one of moral differentiation and dramatic life-change. I hope your college ministry is known for both those things. But as citizens of the campus – proud members of a tribe of mostly 18-23-year-olds – I also hope you’ve cast a shadow of fun.

One of the cooler services you can offer new students is a view of their new “neighborhood.” …which in collegians’ cases, includes both campus and the town your campus resides in. (This works even during summer orientations!)

What’s more, you have the opportunity to start students with a spiritual view of your campus or city – showing them where the need is greatest, where the opportunity is highest, where the churches and ministries meet, where they can serve and make an impact.

And where they can get great burritos, of course.

A tour can be a great recruitment tool: Offer it to all new students, and you’ll get the chance to connect over a couple of hours.

This gives an opportunity to provide lasting resources: A map you’ve designed, books or mp3s they can learn from, a printed intro to your ministry and its upcoming events. Even an article or two on “doing college.”

Would school admin or city leaders or ministry leaders make a cameo on your tour? Maybe. Could you get local establishments to offer free tastings or coupons to get students to return? Sure.

But when it comes down to it, this is a chance to serve students, love your campus or city, build relationships with students, and lend them lenses with which to see their new environment. If you pull this off and do it well, it could jump-start students (and your ministry) like little else could.

As I noted, last week I was immersed in two different conferences – which means, of course, that I had two chances to learn some college ministry principles – not because these were “campus ministry conferences” per se, but because we can always be learning about this field.

So that’s the direction I’ll likely be blogging this week.

One thing addressed at my first conference – the Church Leaders Conference here in Dallas – was building a culture that includes fun. A speaker introduced the topic onstage, and then he challenged the church teams to play a game together that night… with the losers returning the next morning to spin the Wheel of Consequences.

For some church teams, this was quite new.

But while that might be an obvious topic for some church teams, it seems weird to encourage college ministers and college ministry teams to “make sure they’re having fun” too. But the truth is, not all college ministries have been as intentional about this aspect of community-building as they could have been – either among staff/leaders or within the ministry as a whole.

Intentional is the point.

Back when Cru was still “Campus Crusade,” I wrote about “fun” being a hallmark of their ministry (typified by their Winter Conference):

One of Cru’s hallmark strengths, from what I can tell, is the preponderance of fun in its chapters. I’ve written before about this being something the other branches can learn from campus-based ministries – but even among those ministries, Crusade certainly seems to be one that places a high value on fostering a Culture of Fun.

Of course, that showed up at Winter Conference. School pride was on display, the emcee-gal was full of dry humor, a crazy monkey-suited fellow roamed about, students and leaders seemed to share true camaraderie inside and outside of official activities, and the atmosphere itself “felt” really lively – that final point being the most noticeable difference between the average Cru chapter I visit and some other ministries.

(Read my additional Cru reflections here)

In the post I linked there (which I’d highly encourage you to read), I noted several ways “fun” was popping up during the course of my Yearlong Road Trip. Then I concluded:

So maybe for some of us…, having fun together – even beyond pre-planned “fellowship activities” – might be a shot-in-the-arm for our own ministries. And for some of our students, this can be a chance to fulfill their God-given purpose of bringin’ joy to others through humor, creativity, and other applications of their personality.

Can you over-do the “fun thing”? Sure! We’re all trying to fight the caricature of “just-pizza-parties” college ministry.

But you can under-do fun, too, right?

(Read more here)

But even before that, just two months in to that crazy year of exploration, I was already noticing that there’s a spectrum in our field on this issue:

Whenever you expose yourself to multiple ministries of the same type, you’re gonna notice contrasts between them. … On this trip, I’ve seen some ministries really “make room” for joy in abundance. I’ve also seen ministries that almost seem to aim for general gloom, in the name of spirituality or wisdom or whatever. And others, not quite as bad, simply miss opportunities to enjoy life with their students (who, believe it or not, can occasionally be tempted to be too serious). Just something we can all think about – and something I’m learning about on this trip.

(Read that post here)

So again, while some of this may be no new revelation for you, other college ministries really aren’t as intentional in this area as they could be. Or some ministries might be producing fun for the general membership, but serving with them (as a leader or a staff member) isn’t nearly as “fun” as it could be.

But the latter may be even more important. Because the bonds and community you’re building among staff, volunteers, and student leaders is vital to all the rest of it – not just for having fun, but in all the ways you hope to lead your students.

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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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