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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.

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.

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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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