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You may be at the part of your season when you’re already pencilling in plans for the next school year. But are your student leaders involved in those?

And how involved will students be in decision-making this summer?

From small tweaks to large changes to regularly-scheduled decisions (like teaching topics), staff is making a lot of decisions for their ministries. But if you’ve got student “owners” – and hopefully you’ve got a lot – then they might desire to help with ministry direction, and they might have a lot to offer too.

How could you loop them in – not to rubber-stamp why you’ve already decided, but to help even before decisions are pencilled in?

When your college ministry’s students change majors, do they discuss that decision beforehand with their small group leader or their college minister? When they’re considering studying abroad, do they bring that up before they’ve made the decision? What about when they plan to drop a class, or they choose between a few internship options, or they want to date someone?

It’s a clear assessment of a college ministry – whether or not students have relationships and trust enough that they seek wisdom from within the ministry. I don’t mean “permission,” like some collegiate cults have encouraged in exerting uncalled-for authority. But Christians should be looking to other Christians to help provide counsel – so shouldn’t college ministries be creating the type of community that allows for that counsel-sharing?

It makes sense that most “new school year” planning takes place in the summer, when college ministers have the chance to breathe a little.

But one big aspect of your strategy shouldn’t wait: ideation. Why generate ideas at a time when most of your best idea engines (your students) are no longer immersed in the ministry… and may not even be local?

I’d encourage you to put some brainstorming sessions on the calendar now. It could pay off in spades when you do strategize later on.

I’ve seen college ministers pay too much attention to the ideas or opinions of singular, noisy students.

But I also think there are plenty of “well-oiled machines” out there, college ministries that have run well – and haven’t changed much – for awhile now.

In that case, it would be easy never to evaluate ideas from students who aren’t connected to the right people, extroverted, well-known enough, or otherwise less visible.

But this (college ministry) is training ground for ministry. And that means student – any student who cares enough – should have the chance to flex ministry muscles, including trying to make your efforts better. Yes, there will be students who try too hard come up with way too many ideas, or don’t ultimately merit a whole lot of time – not every idea deserves an hour of evaluation, of course. But we can’t let that potential messiness – of needing to disciple the overeager idea factories – keep us from providing avenues for all students to share their ideas.

Otherwise, you’re just frustrating people who have committed to your mission, and who care enough to share their thoughts.

One big focus on this blog is encouraging you to have the kind of college ministry that your campus looks to for help in times of crisis.

But whether or not you’ve ever gotten that call, you have even more control over whether or not your ministry and your students have chosen to serve.

What if you – and your students (that’s vital) – spent the next few months looking for ways to serve in crisis? It may be crisis at the campus level, maybe at the organization level, or maybe just one of the many personal crises that will hit students on your campus.

But crisis will happen.

You can respond.

It’ll make an impact.

College ministers are around young adult ministry (or general “singles ministry”) enough to hear the occasional exhortation that singles see their current season as a gift – and make use of their singleness to accomplish ministry and adventures that they wouldn’t/won’t in marriage.

But I’m not sure if that teaching begins in the college years often enough.

Even twenty years ago, when it was more common for folks to jump from college to marriage (and thus have only a brief season of “expendable time”), I don’t remember hearing the “use this wide open season” line often (if at all). Nowadays there may be (for many) a greater number of years to “use their singleness,” but it still makes sense for college students to comprehend that time maximization begins today.

Exit Q: As your students’ primary shepherd, are you comfortable being held accountable for how they currently steward their “free time” – both hours one week and months (Christmas, summer) in the year?

As I noted yesterday, pastor-scholar-blogger James Emery White spent some time with our church staff yesterday. Among the many Q&A topics that came up was what he sees as one of the biggest hills today’s senior pastors aren’t courageous enough to climb.

Not particularly surprisingly (at least for us who are connected to the field of college ministry), he continues to see many pastors unwilling to make the changes needed to reach younger unchurched individuals. Pastors know what they would need to do, he said, in regards to style and structure, but also believe the changes would be too unsettling for their current congregations – and particularly to those who provide the financial backbone for the church.

Like I said, we who already fight for younger generations might easily agree. But college ministers aren’t off the hook in this concern when it comes to what you do: verily, verily, you should be asking the same question of yourself and your ministry.

Are YOU making the changes in style and structure that it takes to best reach today’s unreached students?

And not only does that mean considering the unchurched, but age often still plays a factor. Freshmen might need something different than upperclassmen, members of Generation Z (or whatever we end up calling it) aren’t the same as the Millennials, and you may even have financial supporters or overseers lurking in the background who are very much outside the demographic of the current, unreached collegian.

So the situation – and temptation – for college ministers isn’t quite as different from that of senior pastors around the country as we might have first assumed. Right? Who’s courageous enough to make changes when changes are called for (while loving and shepherding both older students and the merry band of stakeholders outside the college scene)?

I was telling someone this week about an experience in college. My pastor – of our church, not the college ministry – spent a good amount of time with students. For instance, I fondly remember a Wednesday night Bible study walking through one of his favorite books, The Green Letters. He also invited a handful of guys who were planning on “vocational ministry” (or just considering it, as I was) for early morning donuts and discussion about that sort of calling.

This morning, our church staff gets a visit from James Emery White, to hear from him in a smallish setting before heading out on our annual staff retreat.

They’re the same kind of opportunity – though I’m far from collegiate myself these days. But it’s something all college ministers should consider: How can I get my students around senior pastors and other leaders? Even if it’s casual, or feels “off topic” to whatever else you’re doing, or it’s not someone famous, or it’s awkward for the leader or the students or both.

For some, it will be memorable. It might just mean something 20 years later, in fact.

Have you ever considered what a radical shift might look like?

I’m all for longevity – of individual ministries AND their missions and basic methodologies. Once a college ministry has become as missiological as possible, then consistent improvement through tweaking – not reinventing – should be the norm.

But great missionaries also recognize that reinvention sometimes IS the need.

The church college ministry here recently made that kind of shift, going from a one-campus setup that looked (externally) like Cru or another parachurch approach… to folding into the church’s huge Young Adult ministry for Large Group Meeting but fostering small groups on multiple campuses.

If your ministry had to radically reinvent itself, what would it look like? What COULD it look like?

A ministry pal is coming to town today, and though I couldn’t make the gathering he invited to, I asked if he wanted to drop by and chat. Plus, there’s a coworker I’d hope to connect him with.

It got me thinking about how often speakers, authors, and other influencers “come to town” where you are. The campus alone likely draws folks. Churches might have special preachers or other speakers. Non-profits hold fundraisers with known “celebrities.” Even businesses might call on outside experts for various functions.

But how often would those people be willing to meet with some collegians?

I bet more than we think.

I asked my buddy to hang out even though I knew his schedule here in Dallas would be packed. And lo and behold, he’s got some time, he’s excited to maximize his time here, and I get to connect two folks who need to know each other.

I know most folks “coming into town” won’t know you personally. But they’re still people, and maybe a student or two would be impacted by a connection.

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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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