In years past, I’ve noted that events like the annual Super Bowl do a great job of highly publicizing the opportunity available by ministering to college students. (So, for instance, it’s a great time to remind your fundraisers or overseers of that fact.)

Helpfully, SB Nation has a great article on the college represented in this year’s Super Bowl. The article even notes that the schools themselves are making these connections (even if college ministers don’t!):

Colleges care about this stuff even more than fans do. Take a look at your school’s social media accounts over the next two weeks (and maybe even already), and you’ll see graphics congratulating each alum who’s headed to Minnesota.

Stanford leads the way with 5 players represented on the two teams’ rosters, and it’s no surprise that Florida State, Michigan, Georgia, and other big name, big-sized schools have a few. But other schools illustrate the potential of college ministry to impact leaders even at “lesser known” institutions… like University of Findlay (in Ohio) and Shepherd University (in West Virginia). See them all here.

The students you impact will go on to something, whether it’s a Super Bowl or building great buildings or politics or being fantastic parents. The Super Bowl is just one great reminder of how far your impact will go.

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?

I don’t know what your campus ministry is doing for the Super Bowl. Maybe it’s an opportunity to bring people together; maybe it’s a chance to draw new students in. But like I said, I don’t know what you’re doing in particular.

But let me ask you: Do YOU know what OTHER organizations are doing this Sunday?

That leads us to this week’s Fridea: Find ways to discover what other organizations do. (…not just for the Super Bowl, but year-round.)

When I put it like that, this idea feels a little obvious – and a little boring. But the truth is, college ministers can easily keep their heads down with all the activity that takes place within their own ministry. Yet… you’re in an ecosystem likely filled with other organizations. And while most don’t have spiritual aims, their recruiting/retention/fun goals probably look similar to yours sometimes. Others may seek to serve the campus or the city, as well, and many seek to raise up leaders, equip their members, and so on. In other words, lots that you could identify with.

All that to say, they’re worth learning from – whether you directly “steal”/borrow their methods, or use their methods as a springboard to new ideas for your college ministry. Regardless of how creative you see yourself, you’ve got plenty of idea factories and clever “ingredients” around you to observe.

But you’ll need to develop ways to observe what those orgs are up to. Whether that means you regularly walk through campus reading fliers, check out other orgs’ web pages often, or (my favorite) commission some students to do these very things, it takes effort to observe strategically what the clubs/fraternities/leadership orgs are doing on your campus.

Yesterday I discussed the need to look high and low for potential leaders, regardless of how well it seems the cream is already rising to the top.

In a recent paper I penned for Made to Flourish about mobilizing within the local church, I attacked that notion a bit:

Staff members may assure ourselves that “the cream will rise to the top,” that members with significant skills will be widely known and acknowledged—and thus be obvious when needed. But do we truly have reason to believe that every useful asset, volunteer, or leader will come to light organically? This levitating cream theory may apply fairly well to certain types: strong extroverts, those with easily visible giftings, or people with well-known conversion testimonies. But other members, perhaps just as fitting or even more so, may remain unnoticed and unasked.

So how can you “get to the bottom of” your ministry so that you find potential leaders? Here are some quick ideas:

  • Always offer leadership applications… and broadcast them
  • Regularly hold leadership training classes – a great chance to train for leadership AND assess potential
  • Ask your small group leaders for recommendations… and require them to suggest at least one “dark horse candidate”
  • Allow rolling leadership applications throughout the year or at least several times during the year
  • Advertise your ministry as a place that wants leaders and raises up leaders (if both of those are true!)
  • Make it very clear that “Leadership” is part of the pathway you hope students will walk within the college ministry
  • Ask students to share ways they’re leading outside your campus ministry – even small ways
  • Survey or otherwise look for leadership characteristics that students might not identify as “leadership”-related
  • Create opportunities for a variety of leaders – not just those skilled in small group facilitation, teaching, or manual service
  • Use “asset-based mobilization”: Discover the talents/skills/experiences of your students, and (as you’re able or as themes arise) build ministry teams, efforts, and leadership roles to fit
  • Ask for “peer nominations” for potential leaders
  • Ask every student if they see themselves as a potential leader, and then ask questions (and disciple appropriately) from there

In any college ministry, you’ve got to have ways to tap into unnoticed leadership potential, apart from whom you know well, fellow staff members know well, or student leaders know well. I realize that raising up “leaders who are known” is nearly a mantra, and I’m really not saying that potential leaders shouldn’t face a “proving period” if they haven’t been proven through the normal course already.

But often that mantra gets misapplied to the level of potential future leaders, so that anyone who doesn’t check the right extroversion boxes or meet the right people or have the right schedule that allows for the right attendance record wouldn’t get noticed for several semesters (at best). This is what must be avoided.

I don’t know what that means for your ministry. It may mean asking every single participating student if they’d be interested in leading in the future. Maybe it means that every small group leader is always on the lookout – and is thinking outside the box, not just about those students who speak up the most. It probably means making it very clear that leadership opportunities are available, opening applications widely, and honoring your current leaders – so that those who are interested might be more likely to let you know. It probably also means pushing students who wouldn’t normally think about it, because some great potential leaders wouldn’t fit the category of “interested” at all.

Yes, with a bigger pool to draw from you’ll be saying No more often and running the risk of running people off. But that in itself is a good leadership development opportunity – and a good test of leadership potential.

Whatever the case, you’ve got to get all the way to the bottom of your ministry, allowing potential leaders to be found early and often. It will make all the difference to your ministry, sure, but will change those students’ lives all the more.

When first-timers show up to your Large Group Meeting (assuming you have a Large Group Meeting, and assuming you have first-timers…), what do they experience?

Is it any different than what the regulars experience?

While visitors should certainly feel at home, get a taste of what the ministry is like, and not feel singled out, it’s worth considering an opportunity to meet them, greet them, or give them an idea of what your ministry offers. A “five-minute party” (like I’ve seen some churches do)? A separate orientation from the small groups that meet afterward (if you’re a ministry that combines those into one night)? A great conversation with the college minister?

It doesn’t have to be big. It just needs to be different. And it might just be a win.

A radio station that only recently has become part of my regular rotation celebrated its 24th anniversary this week. Like watching Shark Tank or any other discussion of entrepreneurial endeavors, hearing the hosts reminisce about the early risk, choices, and audience response was fascinating.

And it drew me in all the more. (Like I said, I’m pretty new to this station.)

It reminded me of the power of this sort of “history lesson,” and I wonder how often those in college ministries call attention to their campus mission’s own history. Churches are much better at this, at least at celebrating the “bigger” anniversaries. Of course, college ministries can (and should) think about doing this more often than every five or twenty years.

Have you ever connected the dots, for your students, between the current college ministry and its long (or short) and storied history? The community feel that would develop, the authenticity this would reflect, and the encouragement for the future it could very well inspire… are worth the history lesson, for sure.

The many “unreached” and under-reached campus tribes are on my mind this morning.

Is there one near you?

Maybe it’s a community college that feeds into your big state school. A smaller school that’s always overshadowed by ten others in your metropolitan area. A tech school, or art institute. Whatever it is, there’s likely one near you.

It’s not easy, and it’s certainly not a glamorous place to do missions. (But that’s a big part of why it’s under-reached, sadly.) And yet you have a college ministry with students who might just love a mission like that, who might join you as your college ministry “adopts” that campus. Maybe you’re already sending mission trips out, far far away. But why not establish a mission – or help a fledgling mission – nearer to home, and nearer to the type of mission you’re already directing?

Where could you plant a campus mission? This semester?

Tying into our series on college ministries “Taking Recruiting Seriously,” here’s a Fridea from former times. Not only does it practically take recruiting seriously by providing tools, it also emphasizes to students how important this opportunity is.

We all know that word-of-mouth is generally the best way to advertise your college ministry.

So one of the best investments you can make is catalyzing word-of-mouth for your students. You can help them do this. And providing them something to hand out is one of the easiest ways.

What if your ministry’s “members” were equipped with something – like a small card – that makes it easy to spread the word? Whether it’s about your regular Large Group Meeting or (even better) your parties, service projects, or other events, a little info card could go a long way.

There may be other great ways to do this – so be creative! But with cards in their pocket, students will be more likely to strike up conversations to that end… and then they’ll have something easy to offer at conversation’s end.

Another key part of taking campus ministry recruiting seriously is being prepared to give reasons someone should participate!

Sure, many student-to-student invitations begin casually. A reason isn’t expected – just an invite. But very quickly reasons become important: Why should this person check out the college ministry? Why would they decide to jump in long-term?

But those reasons won’t be forthcoming from your students (or your staff) if they haven’t been considered before those conversations – whether invitations happen in class, in a residence hall, from the stage (encouraging visitors to stick around), at an organization fair, or somewhere else.

Meanwhile, thinking through reasons for participation also requires something important: thinking about our audience. If I have to back up my basic invitation with a couple of “benefits,” I’m suddenly going to be much more attentive to the Whom that I’m inviting. And my invitation nearly automatically becomes more “tailored,” doesn’t it, honoring the person across from me by tying my invitation to their wants, needs, and concerns.

And caring about our audience? That’s a vital part of taking recruiting seriously.

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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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