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What happens at your campus during the summer?

Is it “business as usual,” albeit with a bit smaller attendance? While hundreds or thousands of students might indeed be taking classes this summer, even then there’s a good chance some irregular things are taking place, too – from summer camps to campus construction to offices moving to new initiatives getting underway. You’ve got new student orientations, high schoolers visiting with their parents, athletic team practices, and community events or even conferences taking place on a campus that usually doesn’t have room for them. And on and on.

So why bring this up? Two reasons:

  1. College ministers should know these things. If you’re not quite sure what’s taking place on your campus(es) this summer, then that’s an opportunity to get to know your campus better. At the very least, the missionaries to the campus tribes should be vaguely familiar with those tribes’ goings-on, even in “out of season” moments for your college ministry.
  2. You might find opportunities in these activities. Besides new student orientations, it’s easy for college ministers to overlook these particular chances to impact (and I’m not sure Orientation is always utilized, either). This is where brainstorming comes in – but fortunately you’re brainstorming from a list of events. “How could our college ministry connect with visiting high schoolers?,” you might ask. Or, “Could we serve our school somehow as they host cheerleading camps?”

Between ways to serve the school, ways to serve outsiders, and some chances to help future students think about joining a college ministry, you’ve got some pretty obvious possibilities. But you may also have the chance to learn about new campus initiatives, make new relationships with staff or faculty, or even share Christ with those on campus for one reason or another. Your students might staff the welcome desk for an incoming conference, bring snacks to the football team, move boxes for the Psychology Department as it changes offices, or sign up en masse as tour guides.

And on and on. And on and on. You get to brainstorm. But first you have to know what’s happening.

I’m a big believer in a diversity of disciplers, which is a longitudinal application of the “multitude of counselors” exhortation (delivered three times in Proverbs!). Beyond the steady influence of church and their parents, for instance, I hope my own children are discipled by a variety of people as they grow up. They’ll need to be deeply influenced by people other than my wife and me, in hopes that they’ll grow in ways we’re weak in, get to know Jesus through the lens of other personalities and experiences, and so on.

Your students need that, too, even over the course of these four years.

So how have you encouraged them to “get discipled,” say, while they’re home for the summer? Because we all know it’s very likely that many students won’t find any particular level of impact during these three months. And while they may not fall away and may even continue to have dynamic personal time with the Lord, that’s still a bummer, right?

Hopefully your students are being impacted by a variety of people, over time, even during the in-school seasons. But if there’s any time when it could happen most naturally, it’s summertime.

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.

Occasionally I’ve pointed out that Thanksgiving Break serves as an awesome warm-up for the looming Christmas break. Most of your students likely go home for just long enough to remember/realize what they’ll face when they go home for five-ish weeks in December.

But the same is true for Easter. Though not all students likely went home, I bet plenty did. And now, Summer Break is right around the corner.

One of the less-apparent but most valuable roles a college minister (or student leaders) can play this time of year is helping students intentionally prepare for the summer. Specifically…

  • How will they continue to grow in the Lord, not simply coast?
  • How will they respond to and minister to old friends?
  • How will they avoid old temptations?
  • How encouraging or discouraging do their family dynamics tend to be… and how will they respond there?
  • If they have a job, how will they work “as unto the Lord”?

I’m not sure this happened much when I was in college. While I remember offering prayer requests in small group settings, I don”t remember anyone helping me process the summer ahead – identifying the opportunities, identifying the challenges, developing a plan, and organizing mentorship or accountability.

But you can do this for your students. If they’ve just spent time home at Easter, then it’s an easy discussion based on that “experiment.” But regardless, they can recall Christmas break and look ahead to summer. And they can prepare for what the Lord might want to do.

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.

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.)

Some of your students don’t have a “home church” because church wasn’t even on their minds before they came to college. But other students definitely do – with various levels of involvement in their histories – and will be back around this summer (again, with various levels of planned involvement).

This is one venue, though, where college ministers can train collegians in churchmanship – through the “lab” of church involvement during school breaks (and especially summertime). The same is true for those students who get an internship in an unfamiliar city, or who study abroad.

If students haven’t exercised their church-going (and sometimes church-finding) muscles in the midst of college, those muscles won’t be poised for use the day after graduation.

So how are you helping students practice, coach?

Maybe you need to ask this question in a month, but maybe it works now, too:

What should your student leaders or other student volunteers have been working on this summer?

There’s three months of opportunity each summer to move your college ministry forward – more time, more focus, just less proximity. Are there things that you, your staff, or summer students have been doing that could have been developed by students who are home?

Giving students projects over the summer – with some check-ins – keeps them engaged, frees you up, and gives you an easy excuse to connect with them.

So what opportunities did you miss this summer, and what will you change next year?

One really productive – but slightly tricky – assessment for your ministry is asking how your students spent their time when they weren’t surrounded by the accountability and encouragements of your college ministry.

In other words, did they follow Jesus this summer?

If you can figure out a good way to ask this, it will show you a lot about your effectiveness as a college ministry: how well you’re building students’ personal walk, how well you’re preparing them for their post-college spirituality, etc.

But two concerns:

Not shaming. A question like, “How often did you spend time reading the Bible?” (for example) gets to the point effectively. But it might make you uncomfortable because it feels a little heavy-handed (it does to me). Maybe I’d feel differently tomorrow. But it might be more effective to ask open-ended questions (“What did you your spiritual walk look like this summer?”) or self-assessment questions (“On a scale of 1-10, how effectively do you feel like you kept your spiritual walk going this summer?”) – some combination of those might be the best route here.

Get going. Generally, you want to avoid the Observer Effect when you’re surveying. But in this case – if you ask these questions now – it might work in everybody’s favor. What if you polled students mid-summer? Might it help them reflect and adjust this very vital segment of their lives?

It’d be interesting to know a couple of things about your students this summer:

  • How many are communicating with other members of the college ministry this summer?
  • Who in the ministry doesn’t have any in-ministry relationships that they maintain over the summer?

You can see how it’s a pretty interesting assessment, right? Whether or not your college ministry is facilitating friendships is a big deal for students’ lives. And it’ll play an important role in keeping students engaged in your ministry past the summer, too.

There are probably a few ways to measure this, but the one that comes to mind right now is simply asking a question or two as part of a broader survey. You can ask – and this is probably a good point in the summer to do it – a simple, “Have you chatted (online, on the phone, or in-person) with another student in our college ministry so far this summer?” Despite the irregular reasons someone might have or might not have, it’ll give you a good average.

In a smaller ministry, you can have these chats directly. Or you’re likely to come up with a better plan for gauging this with your group. But it’s a good gauge, and it might also give you something to foster when the new school year rolls around!

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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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