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Like most college ministries, yours probably has some vital, mostly unchanging “structures.” Maybe you’ve got more of these than your Large Group Meeting and your small group setup, but those two pillars of collegiate ministry will fit this example.

When’s the last time you evaluated your key structures’ FORMS in light of their hoped-for FUNCTIONS?

This doesn’t have to mean going “back to the drawing board,” but sometimes it should – if only to help everyone in the room be more open as you brainstorm. (Inertia will always tempt.) Fundamentally, this process means renewing the “whys” for a key structure, then (re)imagining whether that activity/event currently hews as tightly to those goals as it could.

“Mission drift” is one thing, but this method more directly combats “mission diffusion”; many of you will likely find that your main goals are getting hit (at least somewhat), but so are a lot of other “good” targets that you probably didn’t originally intend. So you have to decide if those “good” outcomes are truly “great”… or, on the other hand, if those good outcomes are actually enemies of your best, because they take energy/time/resources away from the more important goals.

A recap, in bullets:

  • What are your main goals for this key structure?
  • Is this activity/event hitting those goals as directly, efficiently, and deeply as it could?

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?

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”?

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?

I’ve pondered before about what might happen if college ministries’ Large Group Meetings resembled late night talk shows just a bit more. I don’t mean in “entertainment,” exactly, but simply in the organization of the evening and perhaps too in how some methods are presented.

So along those lines…

I wonder if any college ministries have ever attempted announcements that go beyond simply “ministry events” alerts, wading into a look at current issues. A talk show’s opening monologue – even though it’s presented with humor (and for the sake of humor) – actually does help viewers “process” the headlines of the day. (Sadly, for many in the audience this may be their primary exposure to the news.)

Shouldn’t college ministers be in the business of helping collegians process current events, too? I’m not suggesting a turn to jokes or ripping off the Onion. Instead, I find myself drawn to the idea of a short, weekly description of one or more current issues, along with…

  • a Christian response (if there’s a clear one),
  • possible Christian responses (if there’s not one obvious path),
  • noting the ispiritual issues at hand within that topic that Christians must consider,
  • offering resources for wading through the topic from a Christian perspective,
  • or any mix of the above.

Can you imagine how that might not only help your students process in real-time, but it might help them learn to think when it comes to current events? And how often would that prompting then lead to great conversations in class, with roommates, with friends, or with family?

One added (possibly discouraging bonus): This might be many students’ only exposure to this type of news. If that’s the case, then you’re also helping them keep up on the goings-on beyond their campus. And that’s a good thing.

I’m taking a vacation this week, so I’ll have a collection of favorite posts about one topic that hits most college ministries… the Large Group Meeting! Whether you have a classic “sing-n-speak” or some twist on the all-come gathering, I hope you’ll find these useful.

Do the front-line students (or other volunteers) in your ministry act more like hosts or hawkers?

On a vacation awhile back, my wife and I got to enjoy some restaurants and hotels where the customer service was top-notch. The front-line staff – hostesses, valets, front desk people, etc. – often did a great job of making us feel very welcome. (This can happen in non-“fancy” places, too, of course!)

But on that same vacation we also visited Maine’s Fryeburg Fair, a famed New England gathering of exhibitions, animals, crafts, booths, and carnival games.

There’s a lot of “hosting” happening at a fair, too. For instance, the carneys running the games have apparently found success with high-pressure efforts, trying the blunt-force, yell-across-the-way to reel people in to throw darts, guess a number, and win prizes. (My wife isn’t a big fan of that form of “hosting.”)

But it’s easy for college ministry greeters to come off more like the latter than the former – in part because they are hoping to recruit new students all the time.

Have you taken an honest look recently at how your front-line volunteers might appear to a stranger or someone else relatively new to your campus ministry? This doesn’t just include students greeting at a Large Group Meeting; true “hosts” should be found at info tables, passing out fliers, recruiting on campus, doing announcements, and anywhere else people are encountering your ministry for the first time. (It even includes the styles of your ads!) Are all these people and papers staying on the hospitable side of hosting, or have they wandered a little too much toward hawking?

 

I’m taking a vacation this week, so I’ll have a collection of favorite posts about one topic that hits most college ministries… the Large Group Meeting! Whether you have a classic “sing-n-speak” or some twist on the all-come gathering, I hope you’ll find these useful.

One of the most important teaching steps college ministers can take is to define terms. Especially when it comes to exhorting students to “be” and “do” like Jesus, we’ve got to make sure they actually know what’s being said.

(Of course, that means the teacher has to know, too.)

Off the top of my head, here are some examples of terms that defy easy definition, either because it’s hard or because we (wrongly) think the meaning and application are “obvious”:

  1. “Gossip”
  2. “Judge” (as in, “Judge not…”)
  3. “Gospel”
  4. “Lust”
  5. “Self-Control”
  6. “Humility”
  7. “Sexual Purity”
  8. “Repenting”
  9. “Church Involvement”
  10. “Confront” / “Hold accountable”
  11. “Commit” (as in, what it means to commit to do something)
  12. “Dying to yourself”
  13. “Accepting Jesus” / Converting / Becoming a Christian
  14. “Honoring your parents”
  15. “Being a good steward”
  16. “Shame” (as in, the difference between “good guilt” and “bad guilt”)

That’s just off the top of my head, although a couple of them stick out for me. In high school, a youth pastor hurtfully brushed me aside when I expressed that some people don’t know exactly what “gossip” consists of. And in college, it was really helpful (and guilt-relieving) to hear a speaker and a pastor (two different guys) share what “lust” really is – and what it isn’t.

Think about the most recent message your students heard: Was every exhortation fully defined?

And another thing…!

And there’s another area that could often use more definitions. Too often we ministers assume students understand the words they’re singing during our “praise and worship” times. Words like “Hallelujah” or “bless the Lord” or even “Jehovah” are sung… but how sure are we that students know what they’re singing?

Have you “vetted” the songs you use for potentially-unfamiliar words?

What about the concepts they’re singing? In this case, especially if you’re singing older hymns (even if they’re set to newer music), there may be concepts that should be explained… or else our students really aren’t praising at all during those moments, are they?

On a less urgent note, a third way to facilitate our students’ worship is to help them connect the concepts in songs to Scripture. Sadly, we can’t assume that even songs directly derived from the Bible are understood as such by our students.

Have you considered highlighting connected verses, either alongside the songs, or before/after certain songs are sung? Even if only one song is “amplified” in this way each week, your students’ worship would be awesomely deepened.

What’s more, you could even consider teaching on the songs you regularly use in worship – either from the stage, in a series of emails, or by other means. How cool would that be?!

I’m taking a vacation this week, so I’ll have a collection of favorite posts about one topic that hits most college ministries… the Large Group Meeting! Whether you have a classic “sing-n-speak” or some twist on the all-come gathering, I hope you’ll find these useful.

My 15th multistate, college ministry-exploring road trip meant a trip to Vegas and back. And along the way, I shared the unique aspects I found in ONE college ministry visit. In this case, it happened to be the weekly InterVarsity meeting at Northern Arizona U. (Some of these unique characteristics come from this being an IV chapter, but some are probably rare even within that org.)

Walk with me through the uniquenesses I found at NAU’s IV.

1. Musical marketing. At least an hour before the meeting, the worship team could be heard (warming up, presumably) throughout a large portion of the South Campus of NAU. Since their meeting takes place in a second-floor ballroom, the windows open onto the campus below – and allow for some major acoustical advertisement.

2. Song scheduling. They led us in two songs before the message, three afterwards. (Admittedly, the leader did act like that diverted from the usual plan.)

3. MCs. Apparently they have official, every week emcees – a guy and a girl – for the school year. They did announcements (twice). This isn’t uncommon among some of the campus-based ministries, but not nearly all college ministries use this device.

4. Camp and Dance (unique events). Some campus-based groups hold a weeklong summertime camp or mission trip or something similar – but plenty of college ministries don’t do anything like that. This one offered Camp. Less common, I’d imagine, are formal dances, but they were advertising one that night.

5. They took an offering. This week, the offering went toward their upcoming Chapter Camp this summer.

6. Song styling. Worship had a distinct “world beat,” multi-instrument, diverse feel – down to singing one song in a Hawaiian language (with an electric ukulele accompanying!) and learning a sign language phrase for another. This sort of reflection-of-diversity is not at all uncommon within InterVarsity, but for the rest of us, it’s a unique treat.

7. Speaker profile. Not only does IV at NAU appear to use different speakers each week (which doesn’t fit some ministries’ molds), but last night’s speaker was an alumnus AND an introvert (he noted that). In fact, he basically read his talk. And it was very, very good.

It’s always helpful for college ministers to consider if there might be value in varying the speaker lineup, varying the types of speakers they rely on, and considering the impactfulness alumni could bring.

8. They gave an invitation. Yes, a real-life, do-you-want-to-come-to-Christ invitation. (A second option for others offered a free Bible at the back of the room – if you were willing to read it.) The first song of the post-message worship was even “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” – doesn’t get any more classic than that. Where else have I seen an invitation? Oh yeah,  the InterVarsity group (that’s widely known for seeing students come to Christ) at UCSD.

9. Message length (and entire meeting length). Message lengths vary in college ministry, but this one was 25 minutes… and the entire meeting was over in less than an hour. Like I said, everything was quite good – so I don’t feel the shortness took anything at all away from it, and there are clearly some up-sides to brevity, too.

10. Afterparty. I think the encouragement to go to Starbucks at the meeting’s end was pointing us to an after-Large Group hangout. This method pops up all over, but not nearly “all over” enough for my taste. I’m a fan of encouraging community in this way (if it fits your group and your campus).

I’m taking a vacation this week, so I’ll have a collection of favorite posts about one topic that hits most college ministries… the Large Group Meeting! Whether you have a classic “sing-n-speak” or some twist on the all-come gathering, I hope you’ll find these useful.

I had the chance to give announcements at one of our church’s worship services recently, and it was a neat chance to be reminded about the excellence and intentionality of our staff members who direct those services.

A few days before my moment on stage, they sent out a “briefing” that shared their vision for that time. What I especially appreciated was the theme running throughout. I might summarize that theme as: Spend some time preparing, because what you’re doing really matters.

For those weekly 3 minutes, it would be easy for someone to “wing it,” to just prepare quick bullets, or otherwise to treat “announcement time” as simply as it seems.

But it’s not simple. It’s worth the 30 minutes (or more) a person could spend preparing for this impactful moment. If what we’re announcing matters… and if the (new and old) visitors sitting in the audience matter… then those 3 minutes are worth 30 minutes of prep. Right?

(The blog post they pointed me to in their materials was powerful. Read this.)

I do realize that what happens in a big worship service at church is different than what happens in a campus ministry’s weekly Large Group Meeting. But even there, announcements often they have a lot of importance, as do many of the other “basic” or “simple” elements of ministry gatherings.

So the principle can be extrapolated to your ministry and to many elements within it. And it’s our job to make sure our fellow staff and our student leaders understand the need to spend 30 minutes to prep for 3, when it’s called for.

I’m taking a vacation this week, so I’ll have a collection of favorite posts about one topic that hits most college ministries… the Large Group Meeting! Whether you have a classic “sing-n-speak” or some twist on the all-come gathering, I hope you’ll find these useful.


When I went to Texas A&M, I jumped in pretty quickly to a church that just happened to draw the largest number of students down there. Our enormous Sunday morning gatherings (800 or so) began with some very “collegiate” worship, followed by announcements. But then, except for the very rare Sundays when we stayed together, we split into probably two dozen different classes. These were static for the semester (though the participants could move around if they felt like it), but new classes were introduced each semster.

So over my time at A&M, I participated in a small group studying God’s Invitation, a larger Freshmen-only class, a large Bible-book class taught by an adult, and a class working through the book Experiencing God (co-taught with a girl). There was another one in there – possibly a men’s class? – but no more for me, since I graduated rather early.

This was our only Large Group Meeting… and it was only “Large Group” for about half of its allotted time.

It took me a long time to realize that any Large Group Meeting of a certain size could offer the same sort of “split form.” Following fellowship, worship, announcements, skits, videos, etc., any large-enough college ministry could offer a variety of opportunties for its students.

From the perspective of college ministry “norms,” this is definitely from funkytown.

Potential pros? If your offerings are “electives,” then this allows for and even pushes “self-discipleship” – making students discern the learning they need the most, at this time. Whether students choose their classes or not, it allows for more of your qualified leaders (either students or adults) to participate in a teaching role. It can offer variety, which college students – and all the moreso Millennial college students – love.

Doesn’t this just replicate small groups? That’s not the intent here. But these groups may actually offer variety the small groups don’t (in their teachers, or across lines of school year, gender, or maturity). If your small groups require pretty solid commitment, these probably wouldn’t – they’d still function as “front door” (assuming that’s the goal of your Large Group Meeting). And these splits wouldn’t necessarily be very small, after all.

And while this takes away some opportunities to steer the entire group at once, you could – of course – keep everyone together in certain weeks of the school year.


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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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