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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.

I’ve visited Willow Creek Community Church a few times, and I found a little “study nook” tucked away in their large public space. It was stocked with some Bible commentaries and “Christian classics” for public use.

Have you ever considered curating a Christian “study library” for your students’ use?

On the one hand, offering some great Bible commentaries not only edifies students (including your small group leaders), but it would offer a great help for teachers’ teaching prep, too. Having a couple of great, accessible commentaries on each book of the Bible might be a great place to start. This wouldn’t be a scholar’s library, but you might want to go beyond simply having devotional commentaries, too. The new editions of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, the Tyndale Old and New Testament Commentary, and the NIV Application Commentary would probably be where I’d start, since cost isn’t terribly prohibitive and the scholarship is good… without students needing to know biblical languages.

Meanwhile, collecting and curating a “spiritual classics” library offers visual recommendations of what students should read next. You’d probably need to loan some of these out – although if you’ve got a good space, maybe students would read the books on site.

So how do you build this thing?

If you’re a support-raising college minister, this seems like a no-brainer for a specific “special ask” – either a one-time request, or an ongoing line item allowing you to continue to build out the library for years and years. Even reaching out to current students or alumni – even if you don’t usually ask for gifts – might bring in some donations (or books).

(A well-constructed Amazon Wish List can be a beautiful thing.)

Another option is to “go in” with other college ministers, building something that can be used by students from any college ministry on campus. On a few campuses out there, this idea is wrapped up in a Christian Study Center of some sort (which is a fantastic approach). But all you need is space (and see below on that).

Of course, plenty of college ministers don’t have buildings available, or even if they do, they’re not readily accessible to most students on a regular basis. Never fear – there are a couple of options even if this is the case:

  • Work to ensure your school’s library has available, Evangelical commentaries. If they don’t, ask about getting some donated. Not only would that impact your students, it would be a cool way to be a great member of the campus community.
  • This may be one of the better ways Unity gets practical. If you don’t have a building but one college ministry does, is this something you could build together?

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.

How often do you establish requirements for students who wish to participate in certain ministry activities?

Clearly, most of what a college ministry offers – from “front doors” like Large Group Meetings to most forms of small groups to campus events – wouldn’t draw lines on who can or can’t participate. On the other hand, many have leadership opportunities that do indeed necessitate an application process or at least a few qualifications.

But there’s an in-between category that might too quickly get lumped in with the former group (requiring nothing but “just showing up”), without enough consideration given to potential requirements. In the end, one college minister might land differently than another here, but I’d argue it’s worth considering.

Two common activities spring to mind here, and they can serve as examples to weigh other activities:

  • Participation in a mission trip
  • Serving on a ministry team within the college ministry

In both of these cases, I’m specifically referring to participants, not leaders. (In the case of leaders, you’d likely – hopefully – have some expectations/qualifications already.) In both cases, though, these activities differ from most “entry level” opportunities because

  • They require a level of commitment to work best (for the mission and the people involved)
  • They are greatly aided by a level of maturity – because of the team dynamic and the mission

Sure, some ministries will treat either of these chances as great opportunities to involve people who, before this point, have stayed around the edges of a ministry. And that may indeed be best for your situation and your students. But I’m simply arguing that it’s worth considering turning these activities – or others like them – into more selective opportunities. Hopefully you can see the upside to that approach, in regards to team dynamics, commitment-keeping, impact through these endeavors, and even raising the interest level among your students.

And there may still room in some such activities to add an “entry level” component. In ministry teams, for instance, you might end up establishing the ongoing “Team” but also offer a much more open door for “Volunteers” who serve alongside the Team.

This week and next, I have the privilege to attend two conferences that have the potential to be outstanding. The first, put on by the Chalmers Center, will explore serving and “doing missions” in ways that help best – with particular contextualization for us in Dallas-Fort Worth. The second is a “summit” on all things connecting faith with the workplace, presented by the Center for Faith & Work.

(Both topics are enormously important for college ministers, but that’s actually not today’s point.)

I’m sure I’ll find some great blog fodder at the two conferences. But it also connects with an old, brief post that I wanted to re-suggest…

I have the chance today to hang out at something called Greater Dallas Movement Day, a gathering of ministry, church, and lay leaders who are focused on impacting various causes. More than anything else, it seems designed simply to get people devoted to the same cause in the room together.

That gets me thinking: How are Christian students on your campus doing the same thing? Surely your ministry alone (even if it’s large) can’t tackle every topic that might be on your students’ hearts. Is someone dedicated to fighting sex trafficking? To promoting purity? To apologetics? Are there any venues where they can connect with students in other campus ministries that are interested in the same causes?

I keep harping on it, but it continues to be true: You won’t have another teachable moment – in the subject of politics, government, etc. – as strong as this one, with these college students. They’ll be gone by 2020.

That’s the point of my haranguing. Not that we need to be all politics all the time, but that we should take the teachable moments as they come.

But you know your own campus – maybe students aren’t talking about the election. Or maybe your students aren’t talking about it. (Although if the campus is abuzz but your own students are apathetic, that might be reason to talk about it all the more.) This is even the sort of thing that a well-planned campus-wide discussion could address; I’d be so excited to hear that numerous college ministries were holding “Does God Care about Elections?” events.

And one more thing: Can you imagine having future elections provide more topics than this one?

You’ve got a gold mine here. I urge you to mine it.

As you know, Dallas faced a tragedy last week when five police officers were killed in Downtown Thursday night. Since that time, I’ve seen our church and other churches step up to respond in some really great ways. In some cases, the opportunity presented itself because of an event that had been planned long ago, and we thank God for His providence. But sometimes quick planning had to be done, too.

If something happened on your campus that Christian ministries could/should respond to, what would your ministry’s “rapid response team” look like? Are there students, volunteers, staff, local pastors, staff of other ministries, etc., whom you would immediately pull in to get working?

Hopefully this wouldn’t all fall on the shoulders of one person in your ministry (like the lead college minister). Even if that person does have several of the skills or attributes needed – event planning, (quick) project management, pastoral skill, connections with campus leaders – it may be that he or she needs to continue leading the ministry as a whole, not running as primary lead on a public response like an event.

If you don’t already have students or others serving in these ways on a weekly or monthly basis – planning events, I mean, or connecting with campus leaders or serving other students pastorally – then this is yet another reason that’s valuable: Because when the moment comes and the campus is looking to you, you’ll be ready to lift up the Lord and help people.

You’re nearing the end of the school year. And it’s likely you’re planning to work through ideas and changes for the next school year… later.

That’s perfectly fine for staff, volunteers, and any student leaders who will be around this summer. But what about the rest of your ministry? What about the student leaders and simply students who you won’t see for awhile – but who are in the very best possible position to think about ideas for the future RIGHT NOW?

So this week’s Fridea has the potential to be something very cool: Hold a facilitated brainstorming day between now and the end of the semester. (Just don’t call it Facilitated Brainstorming Day. That’s super-boring.)

This is perfect for a Saturday, but any night could also work. Potentially even in place of your Large Group Meeting, although this event might make more sense as an standalone – so you get regular members who come by choice, not students who might just be visiting or not care enough to help with the messy task of ideation.

It might be wild to see what students come up with – especially if you let them go wild on the various aspects of your college ministry. As long as you can set expectations reasonably so people don’t expect you to assimilate ALL (or any?) of their ideas, I bet your students can think further out of the box than most of your staff could. You might even take a look at my “better way to brainstorm” – perfect for even those students who wouldn’t say they’re naturally “creative.”

Have fun. This really could produce some amazing ideas for the fall.

Haven’t had a chance to plan something for Spring Break? Or have a bunch of students who don’t have plans yet?

This is a repost from the past, but it’s useful if you’re open! These require little planning but could still have a real impact.

  1. The full-but-unplanned mission trip. If you’ve been reading the blog for a long while, you’ve seen me write about the Mad Libs eBay Road Trip I took students on. If you decide to do this, I might be able to help with explanation / ideas / locations – let me know.
  2. Stay local! Another thought is to have a “mission trip” without the trip! Simply organize as many of the basic “mission trip” elements as you want – service projects, evangelism, devotional times, fellowship, tourist activities, staying in a motel (or people’s houses), etc. But do them all locally. Not only is this easier to plan, it’s less expensive AND helps your students better see the mission field that has been under their noses.
  3. Rethink your purposes. While I know the classic mission trip based on service and/or evangelism is so often our “go-to” for Spring Break, does it have to be? What purposes does God have in mind for your group? Are some of them in other areas – like training/teaching? building community? stretching? something else? A local activity (or even a trip) focused on any of these areas might be exactly what a college group needs… which means it’s no less “spiritual.” But some of those might be simple to plan, too.
  4. Prepare students for their “individual mission trips.” One final idea is to use the fact that you’ve got no “special” Spring Break activity as a teachable moment for your students. (If you do have a trip planned, this still applies for all the students who aren’t going.) Do your students see their own Spring Break activities as a mission trip of their very own? They’ll be among friends or parents or classmates or fellow employees or people back home, right? Except for that last example, those are chances to impact! Are your students heading into Spring Break wide-eyed and watching for what God’s “mission” for them might be?

This one came to me while watching Top Chef, but it reminds me of something my wife and I saw in New England on vacay (in that case, a cooking competition for kids, held to raise money for something or other).

I’ve written before about taking your ministry as a cohort to visit events, like recitals (I called it an “attendance bomb”). This Fridea is like that in reverse.

The Fridea: Host competitions (or other showcases), for students from your campus.

 Could your ministry host an art show? A “sing-off”? A dance-off? Slam poetry? Regular, non-slam poetry? An old-school field day?

Maybe the place to start is wherever you’ve got students who are already into an area that lends itself to competition. (And you might be surprised – there are more ways to compete than you think.)

But whatever the case, what a way to integrate with your campus and bring some new students around. Some missionaries would chomp at the bit to connect with their cities in this way – you, campus missionary, have an easy path to this one.

Oh- and don’t forget some quality prizes.

Starting yesterday, I’ve been applying my “exploring the edges” brainstorming method to Super Bowl parties, both as a specific opportunity as the big game approaches and an exercise in creativity for any events in college ministry (or any method at all, really). Yesterday, we explored the edges along the who-what-when axes. Today, two more.

stretching or shrinking the where

  • Could you hold the party in a BIGGER environment, one suitable for a whole lot of people?
  • Could you scatter the party/ies across several student houses or other locations?
  • Could you hold the party somewhere purposeful – like in a fairly public room on campus, or in a church you’re hoping to connect students to?
  • Could you jump in with someone else’s party – another college ministry, a club on campus, the school itself, etc.?

stretching or shrinking the why

  • Could you make this a purposeful event for inviting unsaved or unconnected friends to?
  • Could you use this event to unify with other college ministries?
  • Could you use this event to get around adults or families (e.g., at a local church)?
  • Could you make this event a “gift to the campus”?
  • Is it alright just to make this a great chance to fellowship within your ministry?
  • Is it okay if this is just a fun, relaxing hangout time?
  • Could you use this as a fundraiser for an upcoming mission trip, service project, or big cause (either a corporate one or connected to an individual in your ministry)?
  • Could this be a cool chance for the guys to serve the ladies?
  • Could this be a cool chance for the ladies to get with older women and serve the guys?
  • Could you use this to provide an additional sort of “kick off” to your semester, or introduce a new series, etc. (just like the TV networks do)?
  • Could your main focus simply be to teach your students how to develop community around gatherings?

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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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