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Yes, the school year ends. Pretty soon, actually.

And while you’ve likely got “finish strong” plans for both your large group teaching and small group curricula, it might be worth considering an add-on (or maybe a replacement).

What if your last few weeks were spent doubling down on all that has been learned this year?

Consider the potential return: Would it be more valuable to help students remember, reconsider, and reflect on several important truths, in such a way that they’ll remember those things through the summer and beyond? Or is it better to share even more new content (even while they’re focused on Finals and the upcoming summer)?

The way I’m asking that question is certainly slanted, but I don’t really believe there’s one right answer. However, I do think it’s worth considering the value of review-remind-reinforce during this season (in large group, small groups, or both), even if you do that in addition to whatever you’ve already got planned.

As I noted earlier this week, I’ve been on a learning trip with our large church team. That meant several great learning “interviews” – not too unlike the hundreds I’ve done with college ministers, only this time with a few other people sitting alongside me in each one.

Of course, my coworkers asked many good questions. But since some of them are newer to their roles than I am to mine, I led the way in several of those conversations. I also knew it was good to show the kind of questions they should ask of other ministers on a regular basis… and even show the kind of great question-asker they should become.

How often do students get to sit in on your learning sessions – whether that’s with other college ministers, campus administration, overseers or supporters, even other students?

Since this is a Fridea, I’ll offer a concrete challenge: Involve students in five learning conversations between now and the end of the school year. You can do that, can’t you? It might even set you – and them – up for a great new school year in the fall.

This Fridea is both early in the week (because tomorrow is Good Friday) and early enough that you could plan for summer.

I’m sure I’ve blogged along these lines in the past, but there’s a simple focus I want to give today: What if your whole ministry went through the same book/devotional/something over the summer?

Whether it’s something your ministry produces or just a great Christian book or sermon series or video series… what if everyone (who opted in, obviously) was doing the same thing? Heck, you could even attack something off the fiction shelf (Chronicles of Narnia comes to mind, but there are plenty of options). Or a handful of books, like one per month.

There are plenty of ways to springboard off this idea, as well as plenty of ways to maximize it (a weekly discussion maybe?). You know your ministry. But whatever you do, knowing that everyone’s doing this at the very least brings your students back more unified than they were before summer break. How often can you say that?

Today’s Fridea is about ideas – specifically, inviting new ideas for new ministry efforts in the new school year.

What if you solicited out-of-the-box ideas for your college ministry, from your students, to be implemented in the next school year?

If you pitched this well, you’d hopefully get a variety of small ideas and big ideas, sane ideas and crazy ideas, suggested changes and suggested additions, off-the-cuff notions and ideas that have percolated within students for months. It’s an activity that would provide a sense of ownership, it could be a lot of fun, and it would get students thinking about the fall.

But even more importantly, you could end up with some fantastic ideas. (And depending on who suggested these ideas, you might have some students already prepared to help lead each effort.)

What “hard numbers” can you use to evaluate your college ministry?

Of course, some college ministers are required to submit “number of spiritual conversations” and other statistics to their bosses. But I’m talking about stats not for external use but for internal use.

But counting – in ministry – can be hard, beyond counting basic numbers like Large Group attendance, Small Group attendance, and number of leaders.

Yet numbers help you evaluate – and not just by saying “big numbers are better.” For instance, if more freshmen visit the ministry this August than they did last year, I’d love to try to discover why, not just celebrate the visits. (And even tracking number of visitors – versus overall attendance – might be a step better for some campus ministries.)

Likewise, both obvious and non-obvious stats could help you learn about your ministry – including examining changes over time. Here are a very few ideas:

  • Number of students who did a service project this school year
  • How many students spent spring break at home / in town / on mission / etc.
  • Where your students live on campus (or off)
  • Average number of times students attend their small group per month
  • Which majors you’ve been drawing students from
  • Average age of students / number per class
  • Number of students who came to school “churched” vs. “unchurched”
  • Number of students involved in a local church now
  • How many years students tend to stay committed to your college ministry
  • How many students are members of a local church one year after graduating college

I could go on forever. These are just random ideas I had over about 10 minutes. You don’t need to come up with fifty numbers, but five to ten could provide you some excellent learnings… especially, as I’ve said, if you keep tracking them over time.

Holding your own “Bracket Challenge” is really a no-brainer for most college ministries. Not only does it help with community and culture like any competition, but it could also set you up for ministry gatherings over the three tournament weeks.

(In case you’re wondering, brackets will come out Sunday, March 11th, with most bracket systems requiring entry by early AM Thursday the 15th.)

But besides the usual, college ministry-wide challenge, perhaps with some simple prize, here are some ideas for expanding – in your goals and your effort. Enjoy!

  • Offer a prize for the winner that creates buzz
  • Better yet, offer a “prize”/dare/penalty for the loser that creates buzz (that’s what we do here at our church)
  • Open it up to the whole campus
  • Have winners/losers along the way (at the end of each round, or weekly)
  • Put a spiritual twist on it: pray for the schools and college ministry there (at least the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight schools)
  • Connect with college ministers in your organization/denomination (or not in your organization/denomination) at some of the schools in the tournament
  • Wear T-shirts from as many of the sixty-eight campuses as you can (oh wait, that’s what I do)
  • Plan a road trip… to whatever school wins. Or plan a road trip to the closest school of the Elite Eight teams, and leave the morning after that’s settled (the Elite Eight will be “set” the night of Friday, March 23rd). If you won’t do it, I bet a bunch of your students would…

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.

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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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