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This is one of those posts where it will be impossible for me to provide enough examples, since I don’t know the particular context of your school. So I’m not going to put too much effort into that. If this is a useful notion to you – and I think it could be if you’ve got a few minutes to brainstorm – great! And if not, hopefully the next post will be more useful.

As a guy who’s paid to think about “mobilization” (which means “volunteer recruiting” a lot of the time), I’ve come to learn the value of “outside the box” efforts in helping move people to their best next step. Sure, a college ministry needs to place a lot of its energy into obvious wins like organizational fairs, big events, facilitating word-of-mouth, fliers in certain places, or whatever you’ve seen work for your college ministry. (You are tracking how students hear about you, right?)

Yet it’s worth holding some “chips” back to spend in experimental ventures, especially experiments with a lot of potential benefits and not a huge investment requirement. Who knows if dressing up an engaging student in a cow costume might draw more people to your kick-off event? Who knows if fliers in an apartment complex – instead of just the dorms – might work? Who knows if a parent-oriented booth during New Student Orientation could pay off? Who knows if sometimes advertising only one part of your ministry – instead of the whole thing – might bring a bunch of students interested in that niche? Who knows if advertising in a venue outside of your denomination or organization might expose you to students/parents/leaders who otherwise would overlook you completely?

And it’s even better when an effort could reveal a type of advertising that might work for the future. Maybe the costume thing only works okay, but you realize having people out-and-about (perhaps in T-shirts next time?) seems valuable. And so on.

The point is: Could you give a little thinking time to advertising outside of your normal venues? What might you learn… and who might actually respond?

When first-timers show up to your Large Group Meeting (assuming you have a Large Group Meeting, and assuming you have first-timers…), what do they experience?

Is it any different than what the regulars experience?

While visitors should certainly feel at home, get a taste of what the ministry is like, and not feel singled out, it’s worth considering an opportunity to meet them, greet them, or give them an idea of what your ministry offers. A “five-minute party” (like I’ve seen some churches do)? A separate orientation from the small groups that meet afterward (if you’re a ministry that combines those into one night)? A great conversation with the college minister?

It doesn’t have to be big. It just needs to be different. And it might just be a win.

Tying into our series on college ministries “Taking Recruiting Seriously,” here’s a Fridea from former times. Not only does it practically take recruiting seriously by providing tools, it also emphasizes to students how important this opportunity is.

We all know that word-of-mouth is generally the best way to advertise your college ministry.

So one of the best investments you can make is catalyzing word-of-mouth for your students. You can help them do this. And providing them something to hand out is one of the easiest ways.

What if your ministry’s “members” were equipped with something – like a small card – that makes it easy to spread the word? Whether it’s about your regular Large Group Meeting or (even better) your parties, service projects, or other events, a little info card could go a long way.

There may be other great ways to do this – so be creative! But with cards in their pocket, students will be more likely to strike up conversations to that end… and then they’ll have something easy to offer at conversation’s end.

Another key part of taking campus ministry recruiting seriously is being prepared to give reasons someone should participate!

Sure, many student-to-student invitations begin casually. A reason isn’t expected – just an invite. But very quickly reasons become important: Why should this person check out the college ministry? Why would they decide to jump in long-term?

But those reasons won’t be forthcoming from your students (or your staff) if they haven’t been considered before those conversations – whether invitations happen in class, in a residence hall, from the stage (encouraging visitors to stick around), at an organization fair, or somewhere else.

Meanwhile, thinking through reasons for participation also requires something important: thinking about our audience. If I have to back up my basic invitation with a couple of “benefits,” I’m suddenly going to be much more attentive to the Whom that I’m inviting. And my invitation nearly automatically becomes more “tailored,” doesn’t it, honoring the person across from me by tying my invitation to their wants, needs, and concerns.

And caring about our audience? That’s a vital part of taking recruiting seriously.

This week I’m exploring ways to help students take seriously the opportunity to invite others into your college ministry.

“Recruiting” (or whatever we call it) is clearly a major part of just about any college ministry. And it should be: You have the chance to intersect with students’ testimonies (like I discussed yesterday). And while you’ll have up years and down years when it comes to attendance, drawing new people is a constant need when students leave after only a handful of years. People fuel the ministry, allowing you to reach more people.

With that importance in mind, though, another key to taking recruiting seriously is this:

As staff and students recruit, the top goal must remain impacting individual lives, followed by building the impactful ministry.

A danger exists here. College students (and their leaders) can easily slip into focusing MORE on the “volume” side of recruiting than on the potential for impact of the very person I’m talking to right now, or who’s reading our advertisement, or who has shown up on this night. And it’s all the more difficult because hoping to draw a “critical mass” of students isn’t a bad goal. It just can’t be the aspect that catches imaginations the very most, or receives most of the attention, when it comes down to it.

As you look at the way you promote recruiting – especially in August/September, but also year-round – do you present it more as “seeking lost sheep” or as “sowing seed in the field,” so to speak? Both are great, and both are wise. But the former should touch our heart, even while we constantly consider the value of the latter.

I hope your energy toward recruiting students wasn’t all spent in August/September. The dawning of the spring semester is always a great time to be purposeful in this realm. Plenty of students didn’t find their way into a ministry (or into a ministry that fits them well) in the first round, and they shouldn’t have to wait seven months for an invitation to community and impact.

That being said, I thought I’d spend some days on taking recruiting seriously, whenever you’re asking students (and yourself) to participate. And it begins where we might imagine:

We take recruiting seriously by casting a vision for its seriousness.

That notion might feel a little circular, but it doesn’t come naturally: How often have you shared with students the power and possibilities of that simple invitation to your college ministry? Instead, everyone knows it’s “good” and wants to do it if they like the college ministry. So why cast the vision?

But what a vision you could cast! How many spiritual testimonies – not only of collegians, but of sixty-year-olds – contain the line, “A friend invited me to this college ministry meeting…”? (I just heard something like that from James Emery White last week, regarding InterVarsity!) Your students have the chance to intersect with someone’s “destiny” simply by offering this invite.

And on and on.

If the ministry is walking through Romans this semester – what an opportunity ahead for the person who sits next to you in Biology class. Look at the calendar coming up: What fun a student could find, and without drinking or drugs or sex! What a community they might find in these doors! They might begin to see where their natural talents connect with God’s Kingdom, leading to fulfillment as they use their hands in the very ways they were made to do. God might have a spouse in store for them, a disciplemaking relationship in store for them, and a chance to know Jesus for the first time… or to know Him so much better.

Are your students filled with awe at their opportunity to invite people to your college ministry? They should be. It’s serious business.

As I continue placing “pebbles in your shoe,” I’m hoping to bug you – just a little bit – with some brief questions to get you thinking about the new semester. And this one is particularly simple… but potentially profound.

How do your locations – or maybe you only have one – affect your ability to reach the whole of campus? Of course, I’m not talking only about your Large Group Meeting, but any “access points” or front doors you might make available to students, either regularly or occasionally.

Even on a small campus, geography matters, because students’ traffic patterns matter. But certainly on a big campus, a group that meets on the south side may not even be known by north-siders, let alone attended regularly. And the effect is even greater for those ministries that meet entirely off-campus… or conversely, for off-campus students who are asked to come on-campus.

So that’s today’s pebble to get you thinking: How could you expand your access points, help students come from awkward geographies, or otherwise work with the geographical reality?

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?

Do your encouragements to invite friends leave an impression that longtime members are somehow less than?

It makes all the sense in the world to push students to invite. You should.

But as we’ve all noticed with “too sales-ish” email lists, pushy iPhone apps, and over-eager efforts to fundraise… most of us are turned off by feeling that “I matter because of something I can get you.” If your students hear too often that they need to bring more people – especially if it isn’t explained well – then that impression won’t sit well.

What’s more, we who “recruit” or “mobilize” face two particularly annoying challenges here:

  • Intent doesn’t really matter (in this regard). What we’re talking about here is the impression that’s left with people, not your heart. (And yes, caring about impressions is caring about people.)
  • Plenty can happen subconsciously. This is the scariest to me: People may not even realize that they’re a little irked. But somewhere, in the back of their mind, people may lose a little bit of steam (and ironically be less likely to invite!).

I’ve spent the week at a “Big Data and the Church” gathering (which explains my blogging lack), and I heard lots of intriguing things.

It also made me realize that many college ministers have access to many thousands (or millions) of dollars worth of research on their mission fields – because their schools are paying for such research. Who’s doing that for churches?

There may be a variety of rules/strings attached to viewing the data your campus compiles. But there’s just as likely to be access that would surprise you – especially because schools seek student continuation… and participation in campus organizations is a key factor in that.

When’s the last time you at least asked? And what’s more important, when’s the last time you spent time with any data you do have access to – even if it’s on the school’s web site – and brainstormed what that could or might or should mean for your college ministry?

This isn’t about finding something profound or shocking. It’s about using data – whatever it is – to prompt discussion. If your campus has a number of Caribbean students, or Kinesiology majors, or junior college transfers, or National Merit Scholars… does that prompt your wheels to turn? At the very least, it’s a thinking exercise, and those can always lead to something.

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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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