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Your student leaders would gain a lot by watching what you do all week. Even if you don’t have a special viewing room with a two-way mirror.

How often do you bring them along for what you’re doing? I’m talking about just about everything, like:

  • Planning a message
  • Spending time on campus / “ministry of presence”
  • Planning out the semester or summer
  • Budgeting
  • Chatting with other student leaders or ministry teams
  • Sharing your fundraising appeal
  • Discussing the ministry with your boss
  • Editing a video
  • Preparing announcements
  • Meeting with your staff or adult volunteers
  • Visiting another college minister (on your campus or otherwise)

Any more options? I’m sure there are. The point is, you’ve got the chance to bring students along for all of it. Sometimes – sure – you shouldn’t. But more often, you should be asking yourself, Why not?

Two ways to build community and culture are so simple (and so effective) they almost feel cliche:

  • honoring examples of the culture you’re trying to build
  • self-deprecation

While these two avenues seem worlds apart, they can share a common mode, one method that can accomplish either (or even both): a “best of” ceremony. Whether you’re awarding people humorously (offering “awards” for funny mistakes and goofball moments) or seriously (awarding people for greatness), each avenue presents an opportunity. Either you’re doubling down on what you want… or you’re building community by helping everyone not take your ministry (and each other) too seriously.

Examples of the humorous route: Each year at our staff-wide retreat, a few staff members present an “Oscars”-style awards show… which is basically a “roast” of various staff members. No one’s exempt; top leaders are just as likely (or probably more likely) to “win” as admins or new staffers are. Another example is the weekly wrap-up on a sports radio station I listen to, when three “bloopers” from the week are presented and then voted on by listeners.

Examples of the straightforward route: On the other hand, awards for things like “Volunteer of the Year” can go a long way toward highlighting what you want to see more of. You might not have to chain yourself to a particular category, either – instead offering something vague like the “Ministry Innovation” award once in awhile. (I used to have a team member who would hand out little “Great Job” tickets for various successes she noticed. It meant a lot!)

Whichever route you go, the point is to think about publicly building culture. Could an award ceremony (or an “award” ceremony) be just what you need?

Of course the Winter Olympics provide opportunities for your college ministry: with students in your ministry, with the larger campus, even with supporters/overseers.

If you want a boost in figuring out how, here are a couple of posts where we’ve chatted about it:

…and a bonus, where the Olympics are mentioned, to get you imagining taking your ministry to Tokyo, Beijing, or Paris:

I don’t know what your campus ministry is doing for the Super Bowl. Maybe it’s an opportunity to bring people together; maybe it’s a chance to draw new students in. But like I said, I don’t know what you’re doing in particular.

But let me ask you: Do YOU know what OTHER organizations are doing this Sunday?

That leads us to this week’s Fridea: Find ways to discover what other organizations do. (…not just for the Super Bowl, but year-round.)

When I put it like that, this idea feels a little obvious – and a little boring. But the truth is, college ministers can easily keep their heads down with all the activity that takes place within their own ministry. Yet… you’re in an ecosystem likely filled with other organizations. And while most don’t have spiritual aims, their recruiting/retention/fun goals probably look similar to yours sometimes. Others may seek to serve the campus or the city, as well, and many seek to raise up leaders, equip their members, and so on. In other words, lots that you could identify with.

All that to say, they’re worth learning from – whether you directly “steal”/borrow their methods, or use their methods as a springboard to new ideas for your college ministry. Regardless of how creative you see yourself, you’ve got plenty of idea factories and clever “ingredients” around you to observe.

But you’ll need to develop ways to observe what those orgs are up to. Whether that means you regularly walk through campus reading fliers, check out other orgs’ web pages often, or (my favorite) commission some students to do these very things, it takes effort to observe strategically what the clubs/fraternities/leadership orgs are doing on your campus.

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.

This is a repost from yesteryear, but incredibly timely.

I’ve heard Tim Elmore encourage college ministers not only to work in their college ministries but also on their college ministries.

At this point in the semester, one of the most valuable “Frideas” I can offer is this:

Audit. Everything.

I remember once sitting across from a couple of college ministers – one with a detail-oriented personality and one with an outgoing, “action”-oriented personality. I suggested that they make an enormous list of every facet of their college ministry and evaluate how well each facet was really doing its job. (Their ministry really did need it.)

And I remember how crestfallen the second guy was. Walk through every portion of our ministry, little and big, to make sure it’s accomplishing what we want it to? That certainly didn’t sound like a lot of fun to him – or very “productive,” I’m sure.

But it’s vital.

When’s the last time you injected this level of quality control? Would you be okay knowing that 50% of your ministry’s activity was only 50% effective? I wouldn’t be.

I’m pretty regularly amazed at how much we undervalue careful (even tedious) evaluation of our own ministries, and how often college ministers can be satisfied simply with the generally positive reviews they get from the students most like themselves (and maybe their spouses!).

As I’ve said before, I believe one of the lines separating “okay” campus ministries and great ones is right here: Time and effort spent working on campus ministries, not simply in them. A careful audit is a necessary part of that process.

Have you considered issuing a Growth Challenge for your students across Christmas break?

You could, of course, share ONE challenge with everyone – there’s value in unified movement. But there can be value in options, too – and in the varied stories that come out.

So if you’re looking for a list to present to students, here’s a start. (Where possible, though, I’d include a heavy dose of items that either reinforce learnings from this semester or prepare for upcoming messages/efforts/growth.)

  • Meet with a mentor for four weeks
  • Read a Christian leadership book (or give them a specific book, or book list)
  • Read a book of the Bible each week
  • Read a book of the Bible each day
  • Have a spiritual conversation with an unsaved high school friend
  • Have a spiritual conversation with a parent (whether they’re a believer or not)
  • Visit three places in your hometown where “God did something” (even if you weren’t a believer at the time)
  • Memorize your testimony
  • Memorize a basic gospel presentation
  • Pray for a full 30-minute stretch, at least once a week
  • Fast for at least one day
  • Take a 24-hour “time alone with the Lord”
  • Have lunch with / have a phone conversation with at least 3 members of your small group
  • Revisit (through notes, audio, Bible passages, whatever) the Large Group Meeting messages from first semester
  • Pray for five roommates/dormmates/classmates/professors that seem far from the Lord each day (the same five people all break long)
  • Pray about any volunteer or leadership role you should take next semester

I’ve used this Fridea before, but it’s a favorite. It’s a good one for the first day of December, though less applicable around here in Texas than where some of you serve.

Has your campus ministry developed a “Snow Day Capitalization Plan”? (I wanted something fancier than “Snow Day Plan” and something less awkward than “Snow Day Exploitation Plan,” but you can call it whatever you want.)

If your school ever experiences inclement weather days (or other unplanned class cancellations), I bet there are indeed plenty of ways to capitalize on the opportunity that arises. Think about the semi-chaotic canvas that presents itself:

  • There are students in your ministry who by definition don’t have other plans
  • You’ve got students all across campus who might be a little bored
  • Quasi-confinement to the campus grounds and buildings
  • A general feeling of campus “community”
  • A generally excited attitude
  • Real needs by the school itself (everything from increasing safety to reporting on schedule changes to keeping students happy)
  • Real needs from students
  • Killer opportunities simply to have a blast
  • Perhaps the best of all possible days for ministry via conversations and “presence” on campus

So what do you do? It will take the locality of your unique situation to really get the brainstorming going. What if you put a team of students on this task, praying and thinking through some awesome, purposeful ways to use the next surprise “open” day? (I’d talk to the administration, too – you never know what real needs they might have on days like this.)

*Bonus: Think about off-campus, too, especially if you’re thinking about service opportunities. Weather days on campus mean difficulties elsewhere, too.

Whether via service, community, or some of both, I bet your school’s Snow Days could turn out to be some of the best memories of your campus ministry.

The picture: I’ve never seen larger snowflakes than I did at Gonzaga University… one April…

[Everybody has a second snow day today, which is even rarer.]

As I’ve often talked about (and I’m sure you already know), you cultivate what you honor.

So if your college ministry prioritizes disciplemaking/mentoring (whether one-on-one or small group), then here’s a particular and peculiar way to honor that – and to cast a vision for value in the process.

What if you recognized those whose impact has traveled generation-to-generation through your college ministry? Surely (if you’ve been prioritizing these forms of discipleship) you can trace “lineages” of disciplemakers-and-disciplees: That senior whose small group from two years ago spawned a few small group leaders. That one-on-one gal who (just as you encouraged) raised up ladies who discipled other ladies… who in turn discipled other ladies (a la II Tim. 2).

Maybe you’d even recognize (in-person or in-picture) alumni whose legacy is one of impact. Depending on the history of your ministry, it’s very possible that some of your current leaders can (with your assistance and some major research) trace their “disciplemaking genealogy” back to some who’s in their 40s now (or older). How awesome would it be to come up with ways to recognize that heritage?

On the far end of this idea there are likely concerns to watch out for: competition, hero-worship, shame for those whose lineages are “broken,” etc. But we shouldn’t avoid possibilities because of potential, avoidable problems. And again, we’ll all cultivate what we honor, so if this isn’t how your campus ministry energizes and rewards multi-generational discipleship, what is?

The husbands in my church small group meet weekly at Panera Bread, connecting with each other to chat about spiritual life, marriage, etc. But I’ve noticed we’re not alone… near our “chosen table” sits another group of men, who also seem to be engaged in biblical discussion of some sort or another.

So this week, I finally met them. Turns out they indeed attend another local church and are there at Panera for the same purposes we are.

I think they were a little surprised I approached them, which bums me out a little bit. (Why wouldn’t Christians want to connect with other believers?) But more importantly, the whole thing got me thinking about college ministry small groups.

While you may already think about “mixers” between your own college ministry’s small groups, what if you also decided to facilitate connections between your small groups and those of another campus ministry?

So often ministries strive for unity at the large-group level, but I’m pretty sure that’s often the least effective mechanism for unity. Smaller works better! On the one hand, college ministry leaders hanging out together and getting to know each other can be a HUGE win in this regard. And on the other end, at the grassroots level, I bet connecting small groups of your students with small groups of “theirs” might accomplish the same sort of semi-organic unity growth.

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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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