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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…

Your Spring Break plans may include one “pillar” that you’re inviting students to – a ski trip, a mission trip, etc. – or may involve your students pursuing a variety of paths (including things like “Alternative Spring Break” with others on the campus).

Regardless, have you considered facilitating some sort of process to follow those events? (Always a big deal!)

In this case, the question itself is more important than any examples I could give (but don’t worry, I love examples). Simply examine what your students – individually or together – are doing, and ask yourself if any discipleship process might take advantage of those activities. You’ll have your answer.

But I will give a few examples, to note the varieties of “hooks” that might be involved here:

  • Offering four weeks to unpack “God’s heart for the nations” for all the students who went on the mission trip… and maybe others who didn’t get to go, to let them “catch” the impact of the trip too
  • A new leadership study that you advertise first to all those on the ski trip, maximizing the opportunity for them to continue the relationships that develop
  • Inviting everyone who did missions and/or Alternative Spring Break on their own to join for a Debrief Session (or follow-up studies as described above)
  • Hosting an “Impacting Your Family This Summer” class that starts right after Spring Break (since over Spring Break, many students will be primed to think about this topic)
  • Offering a one-time (or even few-week!) session called “Atoning after Spring Break Debauchery” that you offer to the whole campus

I’m not even kidding about that last one – you’d just have to know your campus well (and be brave). Cool evangelism opportunity if you take it.

But again: Note what your students (or all students) are doing over Spring Break, and then go from there: How can you double-down on what’s learned, friendships that are built, or felt needs that are grown?

The many “unreached” and under-reached campus tribes are on my mind this morning.

Is there one near you?

Maybe it’s a community college that feeds into your big state school. A smaller school that’s always overshadowed by ten others in your metropolitan area. A tech school, or art institute. Whatever it is, there’s likely one near you.

It’s not easy, and it’s certainly not a glamorous place to do missions. (But that’s a big part of why it’s under-reached, sadly.) And yet you have a college ministry with students who might just love a mission like that, who might join you as your college ministry “adopts” that campus. Maybe you’re already sending mission trips out, far far away. But why not establish a mission – or help a fledgling mission – nearer to home, and nearer to the type of mission you’re already directing?

Where could you plant a campus mission? This semester?

Long ago when I was attending Texas A&M, a meteorology student had constructed a simple – you might say “elegant” – little site to report that day’s weather on campus. You simply logged on to “” – if I’m remembering correctly – and the cartoon stick figure would be wearing appropriate clothing for the day. Whether he wore a sweater, shorts, poncho, etc., you knew what you faced outside the doors of Aston Hall.

In one sense, that’s no big deal. (Although I hope the student counted their hits and visitors and included this web-venture on their resume.) But in another sense, that was a bigger contribution to the common good of the campus than 95% of A&M’s students made during their time.

All this backstory leads to today’s Fridea: Once a year, challenge your students to design a project or process that will benefit the campus. 

Can you imagine holding a yearly contest each October, then funding and deploying for tthe winning effort? (Maybe even Shark Tank style?) Or maybe an “innovation Saturday” ministry-wide, facilitated brainstorming session would culminate in a powerful idea. Maybe you’d organize a student team each fall to investigate what’s needed or scour the campus for great ideas.

Whatever the case, this is both discipleship and relationship: Teaching students to benefit the world they’re in, and offering yourselves to the campus as active, beneficial citizens. It doesn’t have to be HUGE; think about the random “Donated by the Class of” structures that adorn your campus. All those took was a good idea and a little organization.

What if?

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.

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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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