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You’ve got access to vaults of wisdom for your students – people with “the wisdom of years,” most of whom have been exactly where your students are.

It’s your alumni list.

While (if you’re in certain branches of college ministry) you may request funds from these folks (and from plenty of other supporters), when’s the last time you sought wisdom, on behalf of your students?

Asking, “What advice would you give to the student who’s thinking about joining a fraternity or sorority?” or “How did you balance spiritual life and your studies and everything else?” could provide you with awesome quotes to share with your students. And yet it also connects your alumni back to what you’re doing, allowing them a direct piece of the discipleship rather than only the indirect portion provided through fundraising.

Does recruiting students to your events and activities feel too “icky” to see it as a ministry? I hope not. While there are all sorts of icky methods in recruiting – whether we’re talking about drawing students within your ministry’s ranks already, or recruiting students from the larger campus – the act itself is far from evil. When you’re helping students connect the dots from what they need/want to what your ministry offers (and beyond that, what God offers through your ministry), you’re impacting them. You’re discipling them.

So that means: As with any ministry area, this ground is ripe for raising up students.Leading to today’s

Leading to today’s Fridea…

Create a student-led “awareness team” to help draw students to ministry activities – either with current students, the campus as a whole, or both.

You’ve likely got students whose majors prepare them for this role! And you’ll help those students develop their understanding of “Marketing to the Glory of God,” etc., leading them to navigate now what it means to raise awareness, recruit, advertise, and so on… in non-icky, people-serving, God-glorifying ways. They’ll have a better vocational discipleship if they do this.

And even if Awareness Team members aren’t all in relevant majors, students will have wisdom for drawing their fellow students that you simply don’t have. Why not let them help?

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.

This is an old Fridea that hasn’t lost its steam – with a month to prepare…

October 31st is “celebrated” differently campus-to-campus, and many schools may not see much when it comes to the nearby weekend or the night of Halloween (this year it’s on a Tuesday, FYI). But other schools see quite a bit of Halloween-inspired activity – it may be the moment when everybody drinks, or when the costumes come out (and not unto holiness), or when debauchery is otherwise at its worst.

So my Fridea and encouragement this week is to respond as God leads you and your ministry. Five ways you could do just that:

  1. View what takes place, like a missionary would/should. Let it break your heart. Let it open your eyes and your students’ – and especially your student leaders’ – eyes. Let God use what’s actually happening – not just what you assume is happening – to provide ministry ideas for the weeks to come. (I’ve spent some time praying while I drive through the “scene” in a campus area before, and it definitely broke my heart.)
  2. Serve students. Like Spring Break mission trips or finals week, your campus might respond well to free midnight pancakes or van rides. Maybe you need to create an “alternative Halloween” that’s a blast… without the debauchery. Yes, you’ll need to think through what’s best (and what’s in fact “enabling”), but it’s worth considering how you can serve – and build relational bridges to – students.
  3. Think long and hard about how you can best serve, impact, and encounter your campus at the Halloweens to come. This means getting students together to brainstorm, talking to other college ministers, asking advice from your overseers, etc.
  4. Pray. Pray for your campus, even that very weekend or Halloween night. This might be a night for all-night prayer, or it might be something you intercede about regularly, leading up to Halloween.
  5. Teach. The issues raised by Halloween – and not just the occult issues, though those are real, too – are worth discipling students about, right? Why shouldn’t a girl “dress to impress”? Why wouldn’t a college student drink to excess occasionally? What’s so wrong with a night or weekend of debauchery? How can students serve their peers when they’re wrapped up in these things? Have you taught your students about all those issues that will come up during this one season?

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 “weather.tamu.edu” – 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.

In my visit awhile back to Texas A&M Corpus Christi, I got the chance to chat with Clint Hill, the local Church of Christ college minister. One of the things he pointed out about their ministry is their effort to participate in a bunch of the activities organized by the Student Organizations and administration of the school.

Is the campus holding a dodge ball tournament? Then Christians in Action will field a team for that. Have they organized freshman move-in? Then CIA will be out there, serving. All. Day. Long.

And so on.

I’ve certainly heard other college ministers espouse this same “doctrine”: that there is great value in plugging in to what the campus as a whole is doing. Some of the whys:

  • Connections with the lost and other non-involved students
  • Participation as valuable members of the campus community
  • Endearing ourselves to the administration
  • Serving the campus by helping it thrive
  • Serving students tangibly in ways we might not imagine on our own
  • Recruitment to the ministry

So the Fridea, in a nutshell: Find out what the campus is already doing… and show up!

For some of you, this might be as easy as taking the Campus Events calendar and making its entries a major part of your calendar, too. For others, it might involve choosing 4-5 important events this semester and attending them as a group – and purposefully. Sometimes it might simply involve encouraging, pushing, and helping students to be present and active within their campus, and to know how to do that with Jesus-purposes in mind.

In any case, I’m not sure it’s best practice for our ministries to be “islands” within (but not really with) the larger collegiate community. And I’m happy to have been reminded of that fact by a guy who just happens to serve among the Islanders tribe at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

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.

Is your college ministry already so planned for this semester that it will be nearly impossible to react to new opportunities in the new school year?

I was at a college ministry conference where I heard these two stories:

  • The first came from a college minister who responded to the opportunity of numerous Nepalese students coming to campus. She commented that that opportunity might not persist, but for the moment, they’ve chosen to pursue this niche-based effort.
  • The same college minister (I think) noted that she and her husband had also noticed that a local Christian camp drew lots of collegians to counsel youth during the summers. But very little disciplemaking seemed to be taking place. So their ministry has taken on these college students each summer.

Both of these are examples of taking advantage of surprising opportunities that arise. And here’s the scary truth: Your campus will very likely present new opportunities in the first months of the school year.

So we have to ask ourselves some scary questions. And we have to examine this week’s Fridea seriously: Leave room (mentally, verbally, even structurally) for addressing new opportunities that arise after the year starts.

Opportunity may come very subtly: An article in the school newspaper. A campus rule change that seems small but creates an opportunity. An incoming freshman class that is particularly… smart or rowdy or secular or interested in spiritual things. A “theme” God seems to be stirring on campus that would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. And hard to respond to, if you didn’t have any wiggle room.

Or the opportunity may come very un-subtly: A tragedy. Surprising changes within another college ministry. New campus leaders that dramatically affect things. A scandal.

The opportunity may even happen within your ministry: A student who returns having had an absolutely life-changing summer. Students with ideas you hadn’t considered (and that they hadn’t thought to message you back in July). Multiple guys and gals whom God has been speaking to separately, but in eerily similar ways. Far more students showing interest in your college ministry than you expected.

Is your campus ministry already SO defined, SO planned, and – especially – SO certain that you won’t see the opportunities that arise in the First Weeks?

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.

Today, a few ideas for questions to ask students as you get to know them – via survey, new student info card, or face-to-face:

1. Ask their passions.

My guess is you get some pretty good info on your students: Class Year, Major, Phone Number, maybe a Birthday or their Hometown.

Have you asked them their passions? (Surprisingly, these may not be the same as their majors…) Have you asked them the ways they really like to serve others, or what they’d do if they had unlimited time and opportunity and resources?

How do they hope to change the world? How do they hope to change their world, and soon?

Might God want to speak to you about the future of your ministry through the passions, strengths, talents, and other characteristics of the students He’s brought you? Or is the format and programming of your ministry far more about your passions, personality, etc., than it is about theirs?

2. Ask how they found you.

I think there are lots of ministries out there – even big ones – that never get a good sense of why people first come.

So what can we do?

Regarding how we draw students: If “exit interviews” for ministry-goers are uncommon, I’m sure “entrance interviews” are uncommon, too. But simply asking visitors “How’d you hear about us?” can go a long way toward developing strategies that double down on those forms of recruitment that are already working.

3. Ask why they’re coming.

“What do you hope to get out of this college ministry?”

Clearly, students will have a variety of reasons for attending – some more noble than others, some more practical than others, and some more actionable than others. But don’t you think knowing this information – for as many students as possible – would help your staff and leaders think better about providing a great experience? Even when a student “just wants to find a girlfriend” or otherwise hasn’t set their hopes high enough, it’s very useful information for discipling him (or her). And plenty of students might surprise you, even leading you to consider new activities or new emphases.

Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t about “meeting customer preferences” to keep people or get new members. I’m talking about discipleship, which should always concern itself with how well forms fit the audience.

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?

What students would lead the way, if a disaster struck close to home?

You serve in the midst of lots and lots of zeal. College students can be mobilized to do something in an instant! But the something they do when tragedy strikes may not correspond with what’s actually needed.

Have you ever thought about developing a disaster response leadership team? Composed of students who actually read books like When Helping Hurts and learn from groups like Samaritan’s Purse and are ready to teach others – and to lead when needed?

This doesn’t have to be a “standing team,” in the sense that it meets weekly. It could even run across multiple college ministries (what an awesome way to unify). But as gunmen and terrorists and hurricanes make headlines, a college ministry can respond… but they’ll only respond well if they’re ready to do so.

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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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