You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘student characteristics’ category.

Do your encouragements to invite friends leave an impression that longtime members are somehow less than?

It makes all the sense in the world to push students to invite. You should.

But as we’ve all noticed with “too sales-ish” email lists, pushy iPhone apps, and over-eager efforts to fundraise… most of us are turned off by feeling that “I matter because of something I can get you.” If your students hear too often that they need to bring more people – especially if it isn’t explained well – then that impression won’t sit well.

What’s more, we who “recruit” or “mobilize” face two particularly annoying challenges here:

  • Intent doesn’t really matter (in this regard). What we’re talking about here is the impression that’s left with people, not your heart. (And yes, caring about impressions is caring about people.)
  • Plenty can happen subconsciously. This is the scariest to me: People may not even realize that they’re a little irked. But somewhere, in the back of their mind, people may lose a little bit of steam (and ironically be less likely to invite!).

It’s unlikely you have official “membership” in your college ministry, which makes sense. While I can think of some advantages to having something official along those lines, there are disadvantages too.

But one disadvantage to not offering membership is that it’s easier for students to fall through the cracks. If an official list indicated which students, at some point in the past, had gone “all in” with your campus ministry, then you could occasionally identify if they’re still showing up for Large Group or participating in small groups.

But again, you probably don’t have an opt-in “membership” list. But what if you created that sort of list anyway? And what if you actually used it every few months to discover anyone that might have come up missing (or might be involved less than usual). Those students deserve a contact, don’t they? They’ve been all-in with your college ministry; now you can be all-in with them.

I realize there’s some trickiness attached to this (especially figuring out who’s missing if your ministry is sizeable). You may not arrive at a perfect solution. But something intentional will beat the “organic,” we’ll-probably-just-notice-who’s-missing approach nearly every time.

I’ve mentioned this sort of thing before, but now is a great time in the semester to lean into this… especially through your small groups, if that’s a structure you use.

It’s easy for any college student to isolate their spiritual growth and spiritual learnings simply to what takes place in their current city. Certainly, the campus and town are chock-full of spiritual application moments: the classroom, the dorm room, the parties, the ministry experiences, the new friendships, the dates, students’ local job, and students’ chosen church.

But all this means students might consciously or unconsciously leave their families behind. Some are unwilling to “go there” because home wasn’t great. Others simply don’t think about it, with the hubbub of this exciting collegiate context.

So while students may learn to communicate better with their suitemates, they might still go home this winter and undertake screaming matches with their parents. Students may learn to witness to classmates they’ve never met… but stay mum with a nonbelieving sibling back home. Students may make great strides in learning to stand up for orthodoxy in the face of culture wars – but feel quite lost in dealing with sinful lifestyles or opinions back home.Or this may simply show up in students’ willingness to grow by “moving forward” (whatever that means), but not

Or this may simply show up in students’ preference to grow by “moving forward” (whatever that means), without dealing with the pain/hurt/anxieties/sin they faced (or sometimes caused) in their families. (Do your small groups and other disciplemaking structures dive in to students’ home lives and pasts?)

God may use students’ time away at college to help in regards to home. But small group leaders, college ministers, and others will need to lean into this question to make that happen. Right?

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.

Among the very first things I would encourage you to share with freshmen – even before they walk through the doors of your ministry – is to beware jumping into a bunch of commitments right off the bat. A student joining a college ministry and the spelunking club and the intramural ultimate frisbee team and the Freshman Leadership Council will find herself in a very different situation than she might think.

I’ve penned this previously:

Have you already warned your students – especially any freshmen you get around – to “guard their signature” in these early days of school?

The busyness of the semester isn’t a calculus curve, nicely sloping its way to gradually-more-busy. It’s got cliffs and chasms, but most everybody starts in a chasm. It feels natural and fun to start signing up, and freshmen especially don’t realize…

  • They’ll feel busier than they’ve ever felt in about 3 weeks
  • Spreading interest and impact across several organizations isn’t very useful at all
  • They should be thinking about four years of impact
  • …so making those decisions slowly isn’t usually a bad idea
  • The Bible is clear: Actual commitments can’t be broken (without the “commitment-holder” releasing you), so be sure you’re clear on what level of commitment is actually being asked for

We’ve talked this week about highlighting basic doctrinal comparisons and basic methodological distinctives, so that student leaders are prepared to welcome new students to your college ministry – or recruit them in the first place.

One other route that would be worth walking with your student leaders – perhaps simply by way of reminder – is the discussion of differences in personality they will encounter.

College students often aren’t quite at that age where they’ve figured out that everyone is different and/or not like themselves. (They often haven’t gotten very far in realizing how distinct they themselves are in personality or giftings, either.)

Simply reminding students to watch for cues as they speak with students (at the recruiting booth, in the classroom, or when they walk through the doors of your ministry) would go a long way. Is this person before me excited? Shy? Thoughtful? Open? Bold? Timid? Curious? Indecisive? Possibly too decisive? Fun-loving? Loud? Quiet?

If your student leaders aren’t tailoring their welcome and their “pitch,” adjusting tone and even content to serve best each student they’re talking to, then that’s on you, O college minister! They may not have arrived equipped to do that, but you can equip them.

I thought I’d write this week about ways to prepare a college ministry’s student leaders for those about to walk on your campus or (especially) walk through the doors of your ministry. With some basic readings, discussions, or other resources, those student leaders can be much more prepared to welcome, connect with, and hopefully shepherd the diverse crowd that’s coming… as well as to avoid any unnecessary early debates before people get to know each other.

First thought: Help students understand the varying theological backgrounds of Christians who will try out your ministry.

It certainly seems more common for college ministries to position themselves as non-denominationally as they can… even when they do, in fact, come from a denominational heritage (or even a specific church). And I don’t mean they’re deceiving or baiting-and-switching; they simply don’t choose to wear those particular theological commitments on their sleeves, and they are happy to welcome students from other traditions. (Some do. But most don’t.)

And even truly non-denominational college ministries generally have theological commitments of some sort, in some stream of Christianity that differs from other streams. If your ministry is “a little more Charismatic” (or less), has a Calvinist bent (or bends the other way), focuses on building a diverse membership (or generally attracts certain types of students), focuses heavily on international missions (or doesn’t), etc. … then you too have some specific commitments.

But welcoming all-comers – and even deeply believing they can be shepherded well in your ministry – doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare well for the welcome. Good disciplers get to know their audience.

So how well will your student leaders interact with someone, say, who grew up in a Pentecostal church? A Fundamentalist Baptist one? A heavily Reformed upbringing? A Church of Christ, a very mainline upbringing, or a King James-Only spot? And how well will they interact with any of these people who bring up their own unique theological commitments, or hope to “vet” your ministry through this lens?

You may not need to set student leaders up for success on all of these types of people… or there may be several others you need to consider. You know who comes to your ministry (I hope). But it’s also not hard to prepare a number of FAQs or – even better for this purpose – Talking Points to help student leaders navigate those conversations – and any differences – well. (In fact, a few theologically-minded students could probably knock out this task for you!)

Ever since I started dating my wife, I’ve grown in my appreciation of fantastic restaurant experiences. It’s one of our hobbies – though we partake less often now that we’ve got two kids under two… But that appreciation is still there.

I was reminded recently of this post from five Augusts back. It’s not just about chefs – that’s just the example – but it’s definitely about college ministry. It’s my hope it would characterize more college ministries every year.

Here’s a question that only gets tougher as you think about it:

If a future chef walks into your college ministry this fall, will he or she be impacted over the next four years in such a way that they actually turn out to be a better chef because of your ministry?

Surely our walk with the Lord should touch every aspect of our lives – including our habits, our decisions, our effort, our faithfulness. And these things, for college students, are much of what makes them become everything God meant for them to be. So does an increasing understanding – over our college years and beyond – of how spirituality connects with our chosen field, whether that field is Culinary Arts or Restaurant Management or Waitressing… or Structural Engineering or Creative Writing or the dozens or hundreds of vocations your recent grads have chosen. Glorifying God in the kitchen, boardroom, workshop, or classroom isn’t just about evangelism. It’s about excellence and ethics and great leadership and producing great food and even producing art – all things God created people to reflect His image through.

Will your ministry help produce better chefs? Or will it – as I’m afraid is often the case – help each student grow in basic spiritual disciplines without helping Jesus be Lord of (and immensely glorified within) their vocation?

How many “great chefs” are you sending out each May?

Yesterday I wrote about the value of a basic “journey map” for college students. What’s the “path” that a student tends to experience as they hear about, join, and go deeper in your college ministry? What are the pain points along the way? Where is the journey smoothest?

But “customer experience” journey maps work best when we consider the journeys of various kinds of people. And that, I believe, is one of the more common failings among college ministries: neglecting various sheep who don’t follow the standard involvement path.

Journey mapping for those “other” kinds of students can radically increase leaders’ empathy. So you, your staff, and even your student leaders should contemplate the journey of students who might not fit the norm for your campus ministry.

How would these students hear about your ministry? What would they experience at their first event, and what would they understand or not understand? What next steps would they hear about? What next steps could they take immediately? What next steps would they be likely to take? How would they find a small group, a service opportunity, or a leadership opportunity? How might they find help, or recovery, or friends, or someone to disciple them, or someone to tell them about Jesus? How would they get help plugging in to a church?

Start with these, and then come up with your own!

  • A freshman who starts attending in February
  • A transfer student who comes right when all the new students do
  • Someone who’s never been exposed to Christianity at all
  • A student from China
  • Someone who was leading in a college ministry at their previous campus, or at their church
  • A graduate student
  • Anyone who starts attending now but will graduate in 2 years or less
  • A student who’s already very involved/leading in their local church’s ministry (if you’re a campus-based ministry), or who’s already very involved/leading in a ministry on campus (if you’re a church-based ministry)
  • A student who lives wherever most of your students don’t (with their parents, an apartment, fraternity house, etc.)

In the Customer Experience world, something called “journey mapping” is apparently a big deal.

A customer journey map tells the story of the customer’s experience: from initial contact, through the process of engagement and into a long-term relationship. It may focus on a particular part of the story or give an overview of the entire experience. (from here)

What’s more, journey mapping can be applied to different types of customers – not simply those following the “usual” funnel, but also those who might connect with an organization in a less-than-usual way (or sometimes a less-than-ideal way – like when they have a problem and need customer support).

For college ministers, the journey mapping process offers a whole lot of value for improving “member experience.” But I fear that many college ministers aren’t all that studied in the usual pathway for students in their organization, let alone for all the students who might come into contact with the ministry outside that normal pathway. When I interviewed 300-ish college ministers on my yearlong road trip, the “usual student pathway” question was one I asked regularly – inquiring about the road students tended to travel from first contact through the ministry’s various opportunities for assimilation, community, service, and leadership. It was rare for a college minister to clearly enunciate that common pathway, which certainly didn’t mean they were ignorant on the issue – but did mean it probably wasn’t something they thought about often.

But my point in asking that question was a little different than the point of journey mapping. The former (knowing students’ “usual pathway”) allows collegiate ministry leadership to tinker with helping students go deeper, and also to express best the hopes/expectations/opportunities for students in the ministry. The latter, journey mapping, more pointedly allows for empathy for what students experience… and with it, improvements in various parts of the “journey.”

I’ll chat more about journey mapping for college ministry this week, but hopefully this gets you started thinking. How clearly can you express what various students experience in trying to “navigate” your campus ministry? What do they experience as they try to gain the “hopes” I discussed yesterday?

Enter your email address to get new posts by email.

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.

Categories

Twitter

Posts from the Past