The argument has recently gained fuel as to which is the most effective way to do college ministry....with a campus center or a large staff. Some of the very large college ministries do not have a building of their own and do very well. One campus minister a few years back when asked about it, he said, "I notice that those who say you don't need a building are always asking to borrow mine.". Some who have campus centers recently have questioned if it is the best way to be effective.
First let me state one overwhelming principle I again and again learn the truth of: there is more than one way to do college ministry well. One size/style does not fit all!
Let's get honest. The main thing that is driving the renewal of this discussion is money. It takes money to build, operate and maintain a campus center. If a ministry cannot afford to do that, then that settles the issue. But, don't make it a philosophical discussion....it is a money discussion. However, when money is tight, it is wise and correct to ask, "Is this a wise use of our money?". I did college ministry on two campuses and each with a campus center located either on campus or across the street. I am firmly in the corner of the value of campus centers.
Eight Ways a Campus Center Benefits or Strengthens a College Ministry:
1. It demonstrates the permanency and commitment of that ministry to that campus.
We are here. We have been here and we will be here in the days and years to come. Several years ago there was a non-denominational ministry on our campus with five staff members reaching a large number of students. As they began to decline in numbers, they cut their staff. At one point the staff leader told me, "We would not still be on this campus if it were not for the large amount of money being given by people in this area.". They eventually shut down and left. Our commitment to minister on large flagship university campuses that affect the entire state and even our nation as a whole must be resolute!
2. It is neutral ground for churches to work together.
We found that churches were more willing to cooperate on joint college ministry projects when it took place in our campus center. For example, our International Student Thanksgiving Dinner had lay people from different churches serving and cooking side by side.
3. It fosters partnership events with the administration and other campus groups.
We hosted numerous events (and did not host nearly all we could have) that involved University officials. I never minded having the president or one of the VP's tell me how much they appreciated us and would ask me to come sit with them.
4. A campus center can be a source of pride and focus for alums.
Our ministry could not have done nearly all it did staff and program wise without the generous financial support of alums. The Drop-In at Homecoming was a key connector. When we built our new much larger center, alums and other interested individuals gave a significant amount of the money and or influenced their church to give. They would drop in when they came to town to see their name on the wall and how the building looked.
5. It facilitated our Outreach Lunch Program.
I am a huge fan of outreach lunch programs. A center located on or near campus is almost a must to do this type event. Each week to have 200-300 students hear a Christian speaker and be connected to Christian students is huge. We had student leaders, International students, and a wide variety of students from all across our campus come on a regular basis. It increased our visibility and outreach to the whole campus.
6. It allows a larger and wider variety of ministry events.
International conversation partners met there in groups. Men's and women's events were held there. One year we could not reserve a Retreat Center for our Back-2-School Retreat. We held it at our Center at a much reduced price with a much larger attendance. We never went back to the camp.
7. Our center hosted multi-church Youth and adult training events.
I never thought we did as much of this as we should. But, we had regional youth rallies and some training events for Sunday School teachers.
8. It kept us focused on the campus.
I hear some college ministers say there are days they are not able to get to campus. We walked on campus every day.
1. If your ministry prefers to raise money to have a large staff, there are lots of good reasons to do it that way. Almost all who have a large staff raise money for staff. Perhaps, some need to consider raising money each year to operate their campus center in a first class way.
2. If you have a center, it needs to be kept clean, attractive, and functional. I see some that look
junky and like they have not been cleaned recently....this semester. Fresh paint goes a long way. Have you considered hosting a volunteer work team?
3. Think of it as a tool....how can we use this tool in the most effective way?
Given a perfect world and all my wishes, give me a campus center and three or four Associates or Assistants. One would do Internationsls, one Freshmen Ministry, one Media and one athletes.