Early October isn’t the normal time for a college ministry evaluation survey. Those questions tend to be asked at school year’s end, to tee up summertime tweaks, or possibly at the end of fall semester.

But wouldn’t you want to know where adjustments NOW could improve the rest of the school year? Would you dare to ask students questions like,

  • What one word would you use to describe our college ministry? (Especially interesting from the freshmen…)
  • What themes have been taught so far this year? Write as many as you remember! (Maybe the scariest question of all.)
  • What’s the best thing about our college ministry these days?
  • What is God showing you these days? (A pattern here would be especially notable.)
  • If there was one thing worth changing NOW about our college ministry, what would it be?
  • How many people have you invited to the college ministry since the start of school?
  • What topics do you think our college ministry most needs to discuss this school year?
  • What do our campus and its students need that our college ministry could help provide?

Daring? Yeah, because no one likes the prospect of effort – effort to change – right as things are getting normalized. But every day that passes, the return on that investment gets smaller. But right now, making those changes could take this entire school year from “solid” to “phenomenal.”

How does your ministry (or how do you, as a spiritual leader on your campus) respond when “news breaks” about your school?

In light of the FBI investigation of some NCAA programs, it’s a good time to imagine how you might handle your own campus showing up in newspaper headlines. My fear is that college ministers, by and large, would automatically ignore the issue.

I’m certainly not suggesting every issue should be addressed. Sometimes it would even make a bad situation worse. But we’re called to stand up for justice, integrity, and other ideals at times, too.

So my problem is with the word “automatically.” My fear is that college ministers, by and large, would automatically ignore such issues, relegating them to the “not my problem” pile as a matter of course.

If college ministers don’t even give a thought to addressing larger campus issues (or larger societal issues, like the national anthem-kneeling issue), then they might miss a leadership moment. Sure, it can be tough to stand up to the athletic-industrial complex on campus, or to bring biblical wisdom in the midst of passionate support of various causes (and passionate arguments on opposing sides too). But it’s worth weighing whether God would have us make a response to each issue that arises, because once in awhile these moments might be your ministry’s designated leadership moment, too.

If someone gives announcements at your campus ministry’s Large Group Meeting, do they approach that task with intentionality?

In churches, it seems that worship leaders, perhaps more and more, spend time considering their “worship set” – organizing around a theme, perhaps even building a purposeful flow. (I hope your college ministry’s worship folks are learning that sort of purposefulness as well.)

But I don’t know that announcements – in church or in college ministry – are put under the magnifying glass quite as often. Yet this is key space within a meeting. It shows who you are, communicating to visitors and regulars alike what your ministry actually finds important – and what they have to look forward to. What if you…

  • Tried to reflect a few different core values through the events you chose to announce each week?
  • Considered which announcements should be placed first, last, and otherwise?
  • Pared down announcements so they’re not too long?
  • Pursued thoughtfulness in how announcements are worded?
  • Purposefully appointed a great “emcee” (or rotation of announcement-givers) to deliver the announcements?
  • Let student leaders participate in suggesting announcements and deciding what “makes the cut”?

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?

I hope you have ways – even informal ones – to assess your student leaders (from small group leaders to ministry team leaders to teachers).

Assuming you do, here’s an important eval question: How much time did you spend on your ministry this week?

There isn’t (probably) a definite time requirement here, nor even a clear baseline. But the results of your question might be informative. And they will probably provide the chance to push some leaders to understand the value of preparation, of ongoing improvement, and even of the work of prayer.Meanwhile, some leaders may need to learn about using time more efficiently, or working hard but then trusting God with the results, or balance – even when it comes to this form of ministry.

Meanwhile, some college ministry student leaders may need to learn about using their time more efficiently, or working hard but then trusting God with the results, or balance – even when it comes to this form of ministry.

And once you start asking the question, those student leaders will start thinking about the time they spend. Y’all can wrestle together about what’s best.

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?

Through 2 or 3 different media recently, I’ve heard once again that leaders have to be willing to irk people.

Of course that’s true.

The leader will simply make decisions that bother somebody.

There’s a danger for college ministers to put a finger to the wind a bit too much, or to let individual voices serve as rudders way too often.

And if it’s hard for college ministers to rightly balance collaboration and making difficult choices, how hard is it for college studentsIf you’ve got student leaders, this whole issue can’t be easy for them, and in both directions! For some, they couldn’t care less about others’ feelings. For others, they care far too much.

So how are you teaching about this balance? Are you evaluating your leaders in both directions? Are you evaluating your staff, and yourself?

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.

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.

Is your college ministry already so planned for this semester that it will be nearly impossible to react to new opportunities in the new school year?

I was at a college ministry conference where I heard these two stories:

  • The first came from a college minister who responded to the opportunity of numerous Nepalese students coming to campus. She commented that that opportunity might not persist, but for the moment, they’ve chosen to pursue this niche-based effort.
  • The same college minister (I think) noted that she and her husband had also noticed that a local Christian camp drew lots of collegians to counsel youth during the summers. But very little disciplemaking seemed to be taking place. So their ministry has taken on these college students each summer.

Both of these are examples of taking advantage of surprising opportunities that arise. And here’s the scary truth: Your campus will very likely present new opportunities in the first months of the school year.

So we have to ask ourselves some scary questions. And we have to examine this week’s Fridea seriously: Leave room (mentally, verbally, even structurally) for addressing new opportunities that arise after the year starts.

Opportunity may come very subtly: An article in the school newspaper. A campus rule change that seems small but creates an opportunity. An incoming freshman class that is particularly… smart or rowdy or secular or interested in spiritual things. A “theme” God seems to be stirring on campus that would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. And hard to respond to, if you didn’t have any wiggle room.

Or the opportunity may come very un-subtly: A tragedy. Surprising changes within another college ministry. New campus leaders that dramatically affect things. A scandal.

The opportunity may even happen within your ministry: A student who returns having had an absolutely life-changing summer. Students with ideas you hadn’t considered (and that they hadn’t thought to message you back in July). Multiple guys and gals whom God has been speaking to separately, but in eerily similar ways. Far more students showing interest in your college ministry than you expected.

Is your campus ministry already SO defined, SO planned, and – especially – SO certain that you won’t see the opportunities that arise in the First Weeks?

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.

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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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