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A Fridea from a long ways back that would be worth considering this summer…

 

In most college ministry settings, summertime means fewer students. But those who are around likely have more time – so it’s a bummer to miss out on the opportunity to foster spiritual growth, relationships, and ministry. Here’s one potential way to help this happen with students in your town, and build your “critical mass” at the same time. It won’t fit every ministry, but the Frideas rarely do.

Combine forces with other local college ministries.

Could InterVarsity, Campus Crusade, and Chi Alpha get together for weekly or monthly large group meetings over the summer? Sure they could.

Could First Baptist’s college ministry and RUF go to some baseball games together? Absolutely.

Could Christian University’s spiritual life department coordinate some small group Bible studies with Community Church’s college ministry and any other students who happen to be home for the summer? Sure!

Could a mission trip, road trip, service project, Bible study, or disciplemaking system provide something worth gathering around in unison? It could indeed!

The point is asking what would serve collegians in your ministry and collegians in your town the best. Whether in a few things or even one big combo, it’s worth considering if this method fits your goals.

It’s crazy, but with student shortages and staff shortages and calendar randomness, it could be the perfect way to keep students abiding in Jesus and catalyze them for an outstanding Fall 2017.

I was pondering a good Fridea for a week where I’ve written about a college ministry’s “back door” (here, here, and here). And while it would be easy to promote an exit survey or other means of measurement, I realized one notion has to come before others:

Get a good “list” of who’s involved in your ministry. Then review it occasionally.

Some college ministries could print out their “involved” list right now. But for most, I think the list of involved students – not just leaders, not just small group members, but students who would simply call the ministry “home” – isn’t so clear. But it can be.

Maybe you push a ministry-wide survey, and you ask the kinds of questions that let you know who’s a “regular.” Maybe you just pick a point in the semester (like one month into every semester) and just write out a list, with the help of student leaders. Method depends on how big the ministry is.

You might set your “involved” bar higher or lower – it could just include those in small groups, or it could be anyone who’s ever shown up at all. But for the purposes of examining the Back Door, I’d vote for the middle-ground – students who have been regular enough that their absence would indeed indicate a change.

If you did have such a list, it wouldn’t be so tough to run through it twice a semester… and I bet between you and your leaders, you’d be able to remember where 90% of them had gone. (And with a little research or reaching-out, you could get even closer to 100%.)

That sort of analysis is the beginning of measuring this well, and measuring this well would teach you a lot about your college ministry.

What if the next time you got together with other college ministers on your campus (or even just grabbed coffee or lunch with one other), you purposely limited yourselves to the discussion of ONE topic?

General questions/discussions can be great: “What’s new in your ministry?” “What are you seeing in students this year?” “Tell me about your biggest changes this year.” But if you really want to improve in an area that two (or more) college ministers share, spend some time digging deeper, not wider.

Thirty minutes chatting about How We Do Small Groups can be far more valuable than 3 minutes talking about 10 topics. Or go even “smaller”: Small Group Curriculum (What We Use and How We Choose). I recently watched a bunch of ministries go for an hour on Tracking Volunteers… not recruiting, but simply tracking and connecting with them.

By limiting the questions to, well, one, it forces everyone involved to think beyond their normal spiel, whatever’s top-of-mind, or the paragraph they wrote in the most recent supporter letter. And don’t worry about filling the time: New sub-topics produce new questions, producing new lines of inquiry and edifying rabbit-trails in turn.

Happy Good Friday Eve.

I’ve been blogging a few discipleship principles this week (here and here) – and especially discipling students toward self-discipleship. So I thought I’d cap it off (while taking a break for Good Friday) with a related Fridea.

One way to “lift a finger” to help disciples become self-disciplers is by presenting them with easy on-ramps, straightforward “next steps” that provide examples of how a self-discipler takes charge of their own spiritual walk. Before we get lost in that tangled description, here are concrete possibilities:

  • Providing an event calendar of possibilities for growth that aren’t in your ministry. From local seminars or conferences, to various (trusted) churches’ upcoming Membership Classes (if you’re a campus-based college ministry), to on-ramp service opportunities with non-profit ministries in town.
  • Offering “electives” or other optional growth opportunities within your ministry. Whether you’re giving people their choice of small groups for a semester (with differing topics or emphases) or holding “one off” seminars, etc., on occasional weekends, you can put simple growth-choices into the hands of students.
  • Give a “first read” or “first listen” every chance you get. For instance, sharing your suggestion for a first C. S. Lewis book or a first site to visit to learn about Justice or a first podcasted sermon about Missions gives students an action plan. Bonus points if you provide such a list with each Large Group Meeting message. And small groups are ripe for this sort of springboard-suggesting too.

What if you traded student leaders with another college ministry?

That’s this week’s very straightforward Fridea.

This could happen for an evening of your Large Group Meeting (complete with helping you set up and any pre-meeting prayer or prep), during a Student Leader Meeting, for a special event (again, with that adopted leader in the trenches of “running it” with you), or even (if you’re especially brave) in small groups somehow. (Or maybe you can just combine a couple of small groups between ministries for a week? But that’s a Fridea for another week.)

There’s all kinds of value in collaborating with your school’s other college ministers – hopefully you’re well aware of that. But there’s similar value in your student leaders seeing how other campus ministries fulfill the task. Plus for the students, there’s an even greater impact on their unity with other believers, future creativity for your ministry, and a greater understanding of God’s multi-faceted work.

“Adopt-a-student” programs aren’t unusual within church-based college ministries, but even for those guys it’s an idea definitely worth spending a Fridea on… and it’s worth every other branch of college ministry considering how they, too, can connect students with individual families.

The idea, if you’re unfamiliar, is for a church family to “adopt” a student – likely for at least a school year. This means (at least) occasional meals in their home but often can mean service both ways – babysitting by the student, an opportunity for the student to do laundry, etc. This is one of those activities where a little training goes a long way – and it’s wise to train the students as well as the adults.

But it’s the practical beauty that you’ll want to focus on. How awesome it is to get college students around babies and soccer games and family tables! Let alone the impact on the families (though it can be substantial) – imagine the blessing for your students in seeing a strong home in action, driving “home” all that you’ve been teaching about marriage and adulting and career and conflict and probably several other things. These are potential mentors, definite role models, accomplices as you try to draw students outside of their own little worlds.

As best you can, get your students a family!

A very simple Fridea that I first shared eight years ago…

Share purposes with your students.

How often do you relate – explicitly – why certain things take place in your college ministry? Even weekly events or other very basic things? Have you ever shared, “This is why we have our Large Group Meeting,” or “Here’s specifically why we’re planning this retreat”?

Sharing what we hope to accomplish in a ministry – directly– might actually help those goals occur more readily. It also gives participants ownership and the opportunity to serve or lead to make sure those purposes are accomplished. And it holds us accountable, in front of everyone, to keeping our aim steady.

Sharing your purposes also might make your campus ministry more friendly to outsiders, who may legitimately wonder why you meet or why you sing or why you pray in groups or why you have crazy skits or why you play ultimate frisbee each Sunday afternoon. Some types of students will care more than others… but some, at least, will care. And whether they care or not, sharing purposes invites students inside, into the considerations of leadership.

What if every time you held a Large Group Meeting, you shared the purposes in a brief sentence or two (even on the screen)? Or what if for the next fellowship event, you (at least) shared the “method behind the madness” with your student leaders? How else could this methodology function in your ministry? Is it worth trying?

With college ministers, some of your purposes need to remain in your heads (but I hope they’re at least very clear there). But sometimes, student leaders should be privy to those details. And oftentimes, the whole group would benefit from knowing that yours is indeed a purpose-filled ministry, and that there are specific gains you hope to make in every step you take.

It’s probable I’ve mentioned something like this before, though it may not have been in exactly this form.

We all know – and we all hate pondering – that people forget most of what we teach soon after we teach it. So I’m a big fan of finding ways to remind, review, and repackage, giving extended life to teaching we’ve spent so much time on… and that we truly believe is what our people need to hear. (Of course, this only makes sense if you were really purposeful in choosing your topics in the first place!)

One way to do this in a college ministry is to engineer review opportunities for the natural breaks between semesters – Christmas break and summertime.

What if there was a way for students to get re-immersed in ministry-wide teaching from the previous semester (or year)? Or what if their small group learning content was “repackaged” into something that could impact them over the break? Meditating on truths a second time around could dramatically increase their retention – and application!

It’s easy to think students won’t want to relearn content they’ve been exposed to. But this is where the whole “they’ve forgotten it already” reality comes in handy, especially because you can repackage in a format that isn’t exactly what they experienced before. And you may not even need to do a lot of repackaging.

Some examples of ways this could play out, to get you thinking:

  • Create a summertime devotional (or suggest a book they can buy on Amazon) that teaches the same book of the Bible or theological topic you studied this spring.
  • Challenge students to re-listen to the Large Group Meeting messages once a week over the break, and provide new study questions they can do on their own.
  • Offer an online forum that will discuss various themes from the earlier semester more deeply, while allowing students to connect even though they’re in various cities.
  • Offer a study, a book of the Bible, etc., that is different from ones you studied this year but that hits a lot of the same themes.
  • Let students create a lot of this for you – for instance, for each of the past school year’s teaching themes, find a student who was impacted by that topic. Have them write a testimony and new devotional on that theme.

I realize that most college ministry “structures” with leaders – small groups, ministry teams, volunteer teams, etc. – are based around the daily work of either pastoring or producing some sort of effect. Small group leaders certainly might have a general curriculum for the semester, but their “work” centers on the sheep in their fold (as it should). Large Group Meeting Team (which in most cases has a far more engaging name) focuses primarily on getting Tuesday nights “pulled off” with excellence and impact every week (as they should). Hospitality Team, meanwhile, stays hard at work making sure people feel welcomed (a vital task indeed).

But in the interests of presenting a stretchy possibility (the stuff of the weekly Frideas), let’s consider this: What if the leaders of these teams prepared “strategic plans” for their semester? All this would mean is offering goals – with how-to-get-theres and potentially even deadlines. And ideally, these goals would involve improvement, a moving-forward, something that might even outlast their tenure in this leadership role or at least describes where they hope to take the people under their care.

So a small group leader might outline the ground they feel their group should take in various measures – from Bible study methods to gaining humility. Evangelism Team leaders might identify a group on campus that seems underreached, and outline ideas for reaching those students. Your Events Team head may see room to involve more of your ministry’s students, or simply to cut costs.

College students aren’t regularly pushed to think about “plans” like an employee (including many ministers) might be. But why shouldn’t they be? This is one mechanism that might be worth playing around with, to see what fruit might come from asking your student leaders to focus both on the daily work and long-term growth.

A Spring Break-related post from a couple of years ago, with an added twist or two.

You might have students (maybe much of your group) heading out for a mission trip at Spring Break. Other students may be “mission-ing” this summer overseas or in the states, and still others may have their own mission at a Christian camp, etc.. You may have some graduates participate in a longer mission experience after graduation, too.

(Others should see their experience as missions, too – interning, studying abroad, even going back home. While this Fridea is easiest to apply to the above crews, applying it to these would be an awesome tool indeed.)

In all these opportunities, how are your other students following the mission?

So that’s this week’s Fridea: Encourage and facilitate “reports from the field” via blog, email, or other avenues.

Not only is it good for those back at home to hear from their friends on mission, it’s also great for the “missionaries” to include others in their work. The “senders” back home get to feel like they’re truly sending their friend, and they get to be part of the experience and get exhorted from afar. They’re also more likely to do something like that in the future.

And for the participant, this is a form of debrief, encouraging them to process what they’re learning. It also reminds them that even by stepping out, they’re leading – for many, they might feel that burden more when they know their friends are joining in.

(There’s always the option to highlight a few students – doing a few different activities – that you know will provide awesome testimonies… and will write well.)

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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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