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What happens at your campus during the summer?

Is it “business as usual,” albeit with a bit smaller attendance? While hundreds or thousands of students might indeed be taking classes this summer, even then there’s a good chance some irregular things are taking place, too – from summer camps to campus construction to offices moving to new initiatives getting underway. You’ve got new student orientations, high schoolers visiting with their parents, athletic team practices, and community events or even conferences taking place on a campus that usually doesn’t have room for them. And on and on.

So why bring this up? Two reasons:

  1. College ministers should know these things. If you’re not quite sure what’s taking place on your campus(es) this summer, then that’s an opportunity to get to know your campus better. At the very least, the missionaries to the campus tribes should be vaguely familiar with those tribes’ goings-on, even in “out of season” moments for your college ministry.
  2. You might find opportunities in these activities. Besides new student orientations, it’s easy for college ministers to overlook these particular chances to impact (and I’m not sure Orientation is always utilized, either). This is where brainstorming comes in – but fortunately you’re brainstorming from a list of events. “How could our college ministry connect with visiting high schoolers?,” you might ask. Or, “Could we serve our school somehow as they host cheerleading camps?”

Between ways to serve the school, ways to serve outsiders, and some chances to help future students think about joining a college ministry, you’ve got some pretty obvious possibilities. But you may also have the chance to learn about new campus initiatives, make new relationships with staff or faculty, or even share Christ with those on campus for one reason or another. Your students might staff the welcome desk for an incoming conference, bring snacks to the football team, move boxes for the Psychology Department as it changes offices, or sign up en masse as tour guides.

And on and on. And on and on. You get to brainstorm. But first you have to know what’s happening.

Here’s an interesting student leader role to consider for the new school year:

What if you set up a guest experience evaluator?

I was listening to a podcast recently that highlighted this role at a church. While that was a staff role overseeing the church’s various hospitality efforts around worship services, there could be a lot more to it in a college ministry than that. For all the recognition of college students who “fall through the cracks” in a given year, this position might just help a lot.

I realize this person wouldn’t have to be a manager. They could simply be a “quality-control” specialist, watching month after month for gaps in a campus ministry’s touchpoints with students (and especially new students).

I’m thinking an upperclassman marketing major, business major, even sociology or psychology major might just devour this opportunity. You could easily do a short first-run effort the August and September and see what feedback you glean.

(You could easily do a short first-run effort the August and September and see what feedback you glean.)

I hope you’ve got students who participate in campus activities with a large part of their motivation to build relationships with nonbelievers, to influence the campus for the common good, or to see a segment influenced for Christ.

(Of course, there’s something to be said for participation with other motives, too. But if students are ONLY padding a resume, acting on ambition, or “just having fun,” then that’s not what you’re probably seeking.)

What if you helped them think about opportunities?

What if you examined the list of student organizations, got a list of student government positions, even talked to administration about places they could use student help? What if you publicized these potential roles with your students this summer, encouraging them to look at their present commitments and weigh whether they could intentionally do something else.

This may mean stepping away from something else. It may not. It may only be a thinking exercise, without a lot of active fruit (yet). Whatever the case, it’s a bold way to remind students that their time on campus is (1) limited and (2) a huge opportunity. Teach them to number their days… and give them great ideas for investing here and now.

This week I’ve been contemplating some basics about the “back door” of a college ministry – how and why students exit. (Read here and here.)

But it’s important to remember that the old principle, “What wins them, keeps them,” applies here. Many students drift away from a college ministry because of the “entryway” experience… but there are a few facets to that:

1. There’s a difference between convincing students to try and convincing them to stay. New students may eventually check out a college ministry because of a big event, an intriguing poster, or simply because they’re trying out several. But it’s the next step that matters most: What convinces them to stay? If they’re “won” by elements that aren’t static or easily change, your back door will likely be crowded soon enough.

2. You have the chance to teach students how to pick their time investments. How often do you address “Why you should be a part of our college ministry”? Or better yet, “How you should choose an organization to join”? Of course, you might address this in different ways with believers and non-believers, and other groups may need different approaches too. But if you’re not discipling students about how to choose, then – and this is a bold statement – you may start with some students who really shouldn’t have joined in the first place.

3. You can design your entryway to be a “taste” of life in the house. It would be weird to walk into a home’s entryway that’s filled with dainty fixtures and a traditional feel… then find that the living room is quite modern. But college ministries may be tempted to have “first experiences” and “deeper experiences” that feel completely detached. While these don’t have to be the same, it can be very useful and kind to include elements that purposely point to the deeper experience available in the ministry. After all, the actual problem with “bait and switch” isn’t the “bait” – if you’ll pardon that term – but the “switch.”

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.

Here’s a question for you:

If someone new visits your college ministry this week, how likely are they to become regulars? Are they more or less likely than if they’d visited last September? That assessment is this week’s Fridea!

There are plenty of variables here, but it might be useful to think about each one: Is this theoretical visitor a freshman, or older? Did they come with a friend, or not? These two variables alone greatly affect their likelihood of returning. (And I’m sure you can run this scenario with a few other variables, too.)

And the question this week is how likely those students are to keep coming.

In some college ministries, nearly everything is set up for success at the beginning of the year: lots of explanation, easy entry into next steps (like small groups), student leaders and others whose hospitality efforts are turned up to 11, even a system for contacting visitors ASAP. Fliers are abundant, excitement is abundant, directions are abundant.

In others, I’d imagine, it’s far easier to get well-connected later: easier to feel like you know the leadership, less confusing and hubbub-filled, easier to find answers to questions, less likelihood of falling through the cracks – like slipping out un-greeted, and so on. Ten on-their-game leaders for every visitor might just make connections and hospitality inevitable.

Ultimately, you’re looking for ways to make the whole year visitor-welcoming, and you can learn from the strengths of each season.

A double-Fridea that I’ve posted before but gives you something great to consider for the week after students return!

Why not put some extra effort into recruitment in January? I think this is one of our most-missed opportunities to draw students to our college ministries. Plenty of students will be looking for something to do, will have a new schedule, will transfer in, will come back from studying abroad, never got well-connected in the fall…

…and…

Consider holding a Winter Break “reunion” before your first Large Group Meeting. Let your students reconnect with each other early so they can be “outward focused” to welcome guests at the Large Group. Plus, this can be a neat way to debrief with your students about what God did or challenges they faced over the break.

We’re starting to work again on my church’s Church Leaders Conference, which means (among lots else) thinking about advertising. And one element I always try to encourage is raising awareness among those who have already proven to be learners. In our case, those who have already shown an interest are (obviously) some of the most likely to be interested in this chance, too.

This particular type of high-“return on investment” advertising makes a lot of sense. But it’s also surprisingly easy to miss. It seems like most of us are far more likely to think about reach – how many people we can get the word out to – than we are to think about likelihood of response. Both types of advertising are important, but the latter is more efficient. So we certainly don’t want to leave that out.

Where are such people to be found in college ministry? Where is the pump already primed in such a way that students are more likely to check out your collegiate work?

As I sat down to think about some answers, I found myself gravitating toward the students who are already believers, students who come out of another ministry (like a youth group), and/or students who have already begun to pursue spiritual things on campus (like finding a church). If there are ways to identify those students, it would be highly useful – to you and to those students – to hear about what you’re doing.

But are there opportunities beyond that? Maybe it’s worth looking for students who are particularly looking to get involved (which is why organization fairs and ministry fairs are so important). You might also find interested parties in the rolls of transfer students. Otherwise, they may come in other niches you know about on your campus.

Beyond that, you might need to think deeply about your own campus, because much of this would be contextual. Your schedule might affect things, for instance – what if you purposely advertised right where a class lets out on the night of your ministry’s Large Group Meeting? Lots of clever little ideas might come to mind if you thought creatively here.

Right now on college campuses, “freshmen are everything” – or at least that’s what it can seem like.

But as college ministers, it’s really important not to “play favorites” – at least not in a way that causes your hospitality, shepherding, and even “re-recruiting” of former ministry members to take a back seat.

It’s not just about making old members feel alienated – while that’s a danger, it’s probably fairly rare for freshman-philia to extend to a highly noticeable place. But it’s worth examining whether a college ministry’s efforts simply aren’t balanced enough (whether anyone notices or not). Those not in your ministry are certainly worth reaching, and that recruiting is even an act of discipleship. But your “regulars” are your flock, the guys and gals God has given you to shepherd and steward. After they’ve likely spent three months without your direct attention, nobody wants to make them wait another one to dive in.

Part of doing student recruitment as good discipleship is making it easier for students to respond, as I argued last week. Adding to last week’s list, today I hit a couple of others.

Honesty

What is it really like to come to your college ministry? This is one of the ways recruitment that recognizes its disciplemaking role differs the most from that which doesn’t.

Our goal shouldn’t be simply to get as many people into our ministry by any means necessary SO the discipleship can start. From the first moment, we should be discipling – which includes giving people an honest look at what our ministry offers, and what it doesn’t. That doesn’t mean you have to accentuate the negatives – but you can’t claim positives you don’t have, whether that’s friendliness or “lots of fun parties” or a big attendance or “a bunch of service opportunities” or “leadership roles for students.”

Students are making a life-changing decision here; bait-and-switch isn’t right.

Distinctives

Similar to honesty, it’s important for a college ministry to share some of how their ministry is different from other ministries. This too helps students make this big decision.

I’m not encouraging contrasting as much as simply including your distinctives as you tell about your ministry. If your specific denominational theology runs throughout your ministry and its teaching, it should run through your recruitment some, too. If small groups are a key part of your DNA, they should be mentioned early and often. Are the students you draw mostly introverted… or extroverted? You don’t have to chase the other crew away, but it’s worth sharing the atmosphere of your different environments. Is your ministry the biggest (or smallest) on campus? Then it’s good to share the size to give students an accurate expectation.

What methods, characteristics, or philosophies make you different from other college ministries on your campus? Students need to hear about those distinctives.

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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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