Monday, September 28, 2015

How to START Working with Alumni

I am on record as being super strong on the need to work with alumni. I believe this relates to both church and campus based, but more strongly to campus based. I have had campus based College Ministers tell me they are in a situation where no one has worked with alums before, so there is no list and so, there is no way to do it.

Ok; somebody has to start somewhere. Will the next person in your job find it better than you found it? Here are different thoughts and ideas on building an Alumni list or beginning to connect with alums of your ministry.

1. First, it could be an "Alumni and Friends List". You know of people who are interested in your ministry even though they are not products of your ministry.

2. It could be a "Friends and Parents List". Yes; some ministries work at connecting to parents. They feel the parents will encourage their student and yes; some parents even give financially to the ministry.

There are many different ways to get Alumni names and addresses to begin a list.

1. Many ministries have scrap books, pictures, or even framed event pictures from past years. Get all the names from these sources. Some of these you will be able to get addresses for as you will recognize them from your church, etc.

2. Search for people on Facebook from the names you have. When you connect, ask them if they would like to be on an alumni list to receive updates on past friends and current happenings with the ministry. Some will and some won't. That's ok.

3. Send a letter with a return envelope to alums you have addresses for asking them to send you names and addresses of friends they have contact with who were involved in the ministry.

4. If you are an alum of the college where you serve, you can often buy an alumni directory with alums names and

5. Some college Alumni offices will supply you with addresses, if you tell them they were involved in your ministry and you are trying to re-connect. Some Alumni offices even have asked alums what organizations they were involved in and can give you a list of yours....if they are kind hearted and trust you.

6. Send out a newsletter with lots of alumni news and some ministry news....more people news. Don't just ask for
money. In fact, I would encourage you not to ask for money at the beginning. Ask for their current updates for family, work, ministry, etc.

7. Ask alums to send you their "Christmas Letter". These can then be used to do up-dates for your next newsletter. Or, send out a letter with a return envelope asking for news for a first Alumni Newsletter. Obviously, you can also do this by Facebook.

8. It is Homecoming season. Have a Drop-In for Alums and Parents. Some churches do special events and recognitions on the Sunday of Homecoming Weekend.

9. Host an Alumni and Parents Tailgate event.

10. Never, ever send out a Bulk mailing to alums without asking for "Address Correction Requested" on the envelope. The Postal service will charge you for each one you get back, BUT, it is money well spent.

11. Remember, not all alums are on Facebook and some of the age categories most interested in connecting do not do least on any regular basis.

If you find yourself wishing someone before you had done some alumni work, what will the person who follows you y think of what you have done? Someone has to start it!

By the way, I know a ministry where one alum regularly gives $50,000 to the ministry.

Friday, September 25, 2015

You Should Be Fired if You Don't Work with Alumni

A College Minister always has more to do than can get done. I get that. But, I strongly believe a College Minister that is not working with alums is not doing his or her job.

Three Reasons College Ministers Need to work with Alums:

1. You have been a mentor to them during college days.
You can still be a positive influence or help in their lives. It may be at a distance or perhaps just at certain times in their lives. Sometimes your alums will be in leadership roles in their church and need outside resources or just good advice. You are a touchpoint for many who have made significant spiritual decisions during college years. Many College Ministers fuss about Youth Ministers who seem to wash their hands of youth after they graduate from high school. Aren't we doing the same thing if we do not stay connected to alums?

2. Alums can be a powerful voice for College Ministry.
All of us continue to be dismayed by the number of cuts being made in College Ministry. At the same time, we are inundated with articles expressing concern about the loss of Millenials to the church, we are seeing deep cuts in College Ministry. Sometimes, these cuts are made because there are hard financial decisions to be made and there is no one in key roles speaking up for College Ministry. Simply put, often cuts are made where leadership will get the least flak. If all the alums of College Ministries are aware and make their voices known, it can have a very positive effect in decisions that are made. Do your alums know of the positive things that continue to happen in your ministry? When someone says, "College Ministries are just not getting it done.", would your alums have information to respond? Their being aware of current happenings in your ministry is a plus and just being aware of the financial changes affecting ministry to college campuses is huge.

3. The financial gifts of alums are a huge factor in many ministries.
Most, if not all of the larger College Ministries I have close contact with, receive significant gifts from alums. One Southern Baptist College Minister told me that in their state they were not allowed to ask individuals for money and therefore, there was no need to work with alums. This goes to the idea that it might take away from cooperative giving through their church. I still point back to my numbers one and two. If you are not forbidden to ask alums for money and you don't have all the resources you need, you are making a huge mistake in not working
with those who have come through your ministry. They know and see the value. Many alums giving small amounts can make a huge difference. Or, one alum can write a check that changes the whole impact of your ministry. In recent years large and modern College Ministry Centers have been built with significant contributions from alums. Or, their influence within their church led to significant church involvement.

HOWEVER, you cannot and should not see your alums as a cash cow! This does not work and should not work.
My call is for you to continue partnership with them. Encourage their continual walk with the Lord and service in His church. This is one of those things you do as you go along and at times that students are away from campus. Darrell Cook, Virginia Tech, who is the prime example of mutual partnership with alums(see his article on this Blog), has a Reunion and Work Weekend where they meet on campus, work on the BCM Center (Remember, most of them are engineers.) and they have fellowship meals together. It is a time everyone looks forward to. He even sends a Virginia Tech BCM onesie to alums who have a baby.

Often, those of us who write articles and blogs use an overstated title to get your attention to get you to read our writings. Let me tell you what my title, "You Should be Fired if You Don't Work with Alumni" should be fired if you don't don't work with alums!! It's that important. You can continue to be a positive influence int their lives. And, the longer you serve in one ministry situation, the more your alumni influence and impact can grow. it is never too late to work on alumni connections. Hey, it's getting to be Homecoming time.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Why I HATE Weekly Large Group Collegiate Events!

I don't....I LOVE weekly large group Collegiate events! My recent blog "Has the Day of Weekly Large Group Worship Events Passed?" was interpreted by some as I was opposed to them. I think they just read the title. My point was everyone has to decide what is best and true for their campus situation.

My key mentor in college ministry was Dr. Tom Logue, who was State BCM Director for Arkansas for many years and hired me. A story is told about Tom where a pastor came to Tom to recommend his Youth Minister to Tom to hire as a BCM Director. He told Tom, "He is great with small groups.". As the story goes Tom responded, "I have lots of Directors who are great with small groups; I need some who are great with large groups!"

An argument for small groups is personal discipleship...not just sit and soak large group events. I get that and agree. BUT, I also believe that large group events provide some things small groups do not. Sometimes....SOMETIMES, large group events don't work well, because the time and effort is not put into them to make them worth attending. One reason they often don't work well is they seem to be a vehicle to promote or put the spotlight on the college is a vanity event. Not everyone that is called to the ministry is equipped to be a spotlight speaker.

A second reason large group events often fail is they are a copy of someone else's event. It is not your event. One of my key beliefs in College Ministry is we must play to our strengths. That is true of our personal strengths AND our ministry's strengths and personality. Every campus has a personality and every ministry has a personality and those all go into what makes a large group event work or fail.

A while back, I heard about a ministry that had Hot Dogs and Root Beer each week before their event. They have a large crowd. That's it...that's the secret....No...that was just part of their doing their event with their personality, doing it their way. Your large group event might contain testimonies, drama sketches, mixers, a brief talk by a guest or one of your leaders and then turn around into discussion groups some weeks. Or, it might have a different guest speaker each week. Students can be the "star" not the College Minister. I know of college ministries who have had one of their students be the regular speaker each week. That's a little scary to me, but it works for them! Doing it differently takes more planning than having thirty minutes of music and then a talk by the College Minister.

But, the time you might spend preparing to speak can be put into planning and asking students to do different things. In many ways we communicate that to be a good Christian is to come, sit, and watch. Are you communicating that? Remember, your event can have students doing lots of things and you speaking. It doesn't have to be a choice. I have always believed that each large group collegiate event should have different parts that might appeal to and speak to different people. I'm ok with a student testimony being the memorable thing at a large group event where I speak. One of the best things we do is equip, enable and train students to be up front.

I don't hate large group collegiate events...I hate poorly done ones! AND, a group does not have to be LARGE to be a working large group event. I have never had as many students at an event as I wanted, but lots of them God worked in and through them.

Looking for basics in College Ministry? Check out my brief book, "10 Commandments of College Ministry" that is a Kindle E Book.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

6 Things That Will Make Your Small Groups Better - Linda Halfacre Weir

Fall is one of the most electric times on college campuses. Classes are in full swing. Football is celebrated. The marching band is peppy. Students are in the process of transitioning from dependence to independence, teen to adult. Perhaps there is no greater tool for growth for a college student then being a regular part of a healthy small group.

These 6 things can make your small groups better.

1. On-going Group Recruitment. At all points in the semester, students will recognize their need for life in community, intentional spiritual growth, or both. Talk about the benefits of small groups often. Help your groups be open to new participants all along the way, not just the first few weeks of the school year.

2. Leadership Development. Invest in your small group leaders. Love them, hear them and train them. Make sure they know they don't have to be Bible scholars or Who's Who on campus--although they can be. Small group leaders simply need to be living in Jesus and desiring to lead others spiritually through relationships. Your training for small group leaders should simply focus on this.

3. Balance. Small groups need to be balanced with the spiritual and the fun and the spiritually fun. Jesus is our example for doing life in community. He served his small group of 12. He cooked breakfast for his group. He prayed with them and for them. He taught them. He walked with them. He developed them. Such balance.

4. Accountability. Have an easy system for measuring the health of your small groups throughout the semester. Who's coming? Who's not coming, but is staying connected to the leader? Who won't come back to campus after Thanksgiving? What areas come naturally for your leaders (Bible study, prayer, Care, On-going connections)? What areas are a struggle for your leaders?

5. Exit Ramps. Students are more likely to commit to a small group if they know there is an ending time. If the students know the group ends a week or so prior to exams at the
end of the semester, joining will be less intimidating. Many groups will pick back up second semester. Having an ending point and a chance to reenlist each semester puts the student at ease. Some may find a group Freshman year that lasts until graduation. Some may have a different group each semester. Clear starts and stops give students an appealing freedom.

6. Starting and Stopping Time. Have a set time each week to begin and end each group
meeting. This let's a student know their time is valued.

Linda Halfacre Weir served as Baptist Campus Minister at Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe and Florida State University. She later served as Southern Baptists Leader of College
Ministry at Lifeway Christian Resources. Linda currently serves as Director of Adult
Groups for Pinelake Church, a multi-campus church in Mississippi. She has long been considered an expert in collegiate small groups.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Alumni? Shouldn't I Be Thinking About Freshmen? By Darrell Cook

New students are everywhere. On campuses around the country, churches and collegiate ministries have countless opportunities for faith engagement with students in these critical days of transition. The chances to reach students are there every day for the rest of the year, but these days especially call for a sense of readiness, expectancy, and immeasurable opportunity. All that to say, it definitely feels like if there is ever a season in which I don't have time for alumni, it is now!

Though it seems counter-intuitive to think about alumni this time of year, I need to be thinking about them with gratitude and engagement. As we continue to unlock what it means to reach this campus our alumni cultivate so many areas that make us more effective.

Cultivating Prayer - Since it is such a crucial time, it is wonderful to know that alumni and friends of the ministry are praying during these days of opportunity. We sent our latest alumni newsletter in early August and in it I shared that our opening series for our large group gathering would be in Ephesians. We requested that they would pray Ephesians 2:10 - that students would see that they are God's workmanship and that God had given them some purposeful places in which to walk. It was encouraging to hear back from so many alumni that they were glad to know where we were focusing and especially pleased to be praying for students based on what they were studying.

Cultivating Resources - Because alumni give, it is so much easier to reach out to these new students. Some have given of their time providing food and hospitality for our events or prepping our facilities at our alumni work weekend. Because of alumni that give financially I have staff in place to serve with me, scholarships for retreats, funds for facilities and equipment, and people willing to fill financial needs as new opportunities arise. Our traditional cooperative giving channels are still a huge blessing, but the constantly growing edge of our resourcing these days is through our alumni.

Cultivating Perspective - Alumni also remind me that life does not always run by semesters. While I am dealing with freshmen name overload, many alumni are in the middle of discerning what it looks like to follow God through job transitions, marriages, retooling their skill sets, births, grief and loss, and unexpected changes. Life after college is called "the real world" not because college is completely synthetic, but because life after college is so different than the college experience. Thinking of the celebrations and struggles of our alumni makes me a better campus minister as we disciple students for the long haul. And that dovetails right into....

Cultivating Vision - Rhinking of where many of our alumni were when they were freshmen helps me to be patient and trust God to grow our current freshmen and young leaders over the long haul. Thinking of where our many alumni are now gives me hope for the church. It drives me with a sense of what an honor it is to have this calling. It helps me begin with the end in mind and makes me remember the call to grow mature believers with the students in front of me.

Enjoy the fall. Welcome and love the freshmen well. Before you know it, those freshmen will be the alumni who are resourcing and encouraging those reaching out in Jesus' name to the generations after them.

Darrell Cook is the Baptist Campus Minister at Virginia Tech and is widely known for his outstanding work with alumni. He is also known for having the World's best filing system!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Has the Day of Weekly Large Group Worship Events Passed?

Mike Puckett has a great article @CollegiateCollective ("Decentralize or Die") about his decision to go from having a large group worship event to all small groups and why it was the best decision he has made. It is a reminder of the truth that all ministry situations are unique and decisions have to be made with that in mind. No body knows your situation like you do.

There are some today who say the time of large group weekly worship events in College Ministry is gone. I must admit, I'm not in that camp. Some places it is working as well or better than ever. Yet, we have to continually evaluate what we are doing and how we are doing it. Some years back I wrote that one of the negatives of the Passion Conference is that many College Ministries are trying to duplicate a passion session each week. The problem is they don't have a famous worship band and the speaker is not Louie.

One College Minister called recently to talk through his question of whether to drop his weekly large group event. His dilemma is that attendance in recent years was 500 plus and now it is "only 200-300". Was it still worth doing? Some of us would consider an attendance of "only 200-300" the arrival of the kingdom. So, again each situation is unique.

Here are some issues that come into play:

-Do you have an adequate meeting speace that is regularly or always available to you? For some not having such a space makes the decision.

-It is my experience that large group worship can be the front door to your ministry and take students to your small groups or be the only event they will attend. Many students are afraid of small groups for fear of what they might be asked to share or that their ignorance of the Bible will be embarrassing. A large group experience offers an annoninimity that some prefer.

-For some the selling point or the downfall is whether or not the College Minister is a great speaker. First, the main event does not have to be a speaker each week. Some use testimonies, guest speakers, guided prayer times,
while others have a different type event each week. One of the larger campus based ministries with which I'm
familiar uses a different guest speaker each week. The continuity is the worship band, student testimonies, etc.

-One driving factor for some in going away from a weekly large group worship event is the reality for them of losing Recognized Student Organization status. They no longer can schedule rooms for their meetings. Others fear this happening down the road, so they are changing their format for that potential eventuality. I must admit I
don't share the view of changing something that is working for you with the "possibility" you may not be able to do it in the future. Plus, if you have your own meeting space
this is likely not a factor.

-If you have a supervisor or work for a church or other organization, I would not cancel my large group event without their involvement in the decision.

For some ministries a weekly large group worship event is not the best idea and for others it works great. You must decide what is best for your ministry. And, part of that decision involves how many is an acceptable number for you and a positive vibe for the students.....even if it is "only 200-300".

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The End of the Beginning......Now What?

For many years our Back-2-School Retreat fell about the third weekend of school. I called it the end of the beginning. The first three weeks are so crucial in making contacts, holding new student events, and just all the craziness that goes with starting up. During those first three weeks there is no regular schedule; you simply are plunging on to "what's next". It's about maximizing every moment and just getting done what has to be done and trying to remember the name of a student you see coming down the walk that you met two weeks ago.

So, if the beginning has ended, what now? The answer is to set an intentional schedule. Since the first few weeks call for a flexibility that has no set schedule, it is easy to continue to operate that way. It is easy....but, wrong!

Here are some things I would suggest need to be scheduled.

-Prep Time: If you speak for your weekly event or speak in churches on the weekend, you must have a set time for your preparation. There was a time I found myself preparing on Sunday afternoons to speak on campus on Monday night. That wasn't fair to my family and it certainly is not what Sabbath is to be about. Or, I can remember inviting students to come to an event where I was speaking.....but didn't have a clue what I was going to say.

-Leader Meeting Time: One of the most crucial things we do is meet with our student leaders on a regular basis. This is for their development and for the benefit of the ministry. In my opinion, this is a must. These meetings need to be in your weekly schedule. I also suggest that they be scheduled in such a way that they do not keep you from being other places you need to be.

-Eating Where students eat: At least once a week schedule a time where you eat where students eat in a cafeteria, food court, etc. I find this to be a huge outreach time as students you already know introduce you to other students.

-Walking across campus: One of my personal rules is "Walk through the Student Center EVERY day.". But, there are times that traffic on campus is at a peak. It is a good time to be out there. I've stood at a campus crosswalk lots of times visiting with students who came by.

-Free night at home: It is easy to have something every night and never be at home for dinner or a family night. We ate dinner lots of night at weird times so I could go back to campus and yet all eat together. But, later on Tuesday nights became "no campus night". You and your family need that.

-Paper Work Time: When do you respond to letters, do reports, etc? Find a time in the week when things are quiet that is set for paper work or administrative tasks. Some never get to them and some let these keep them from students. Have a set time and do them then. Don't worry about it other times. Talk to students then.

-Follow-up Time: This is the time that you follow up on students who came to your large group event or in some way filled out an Info Card. For me, Wednesday afternoon was follow-up to our Wednesday Lunch Program and Friday morning was follow-up to Thursday night worship. Whether you do follow-ups personally or assign them, make sure it is done in a timely manner. Some experience says that the sooner a follow-up is done, the more meaningful or effective it is.

What is your most important task? Do you have it scheduled? What is your most satisfying task? Is it scheduled?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

I Count.....and You Should Too!

Another one of my awkward confessions is that I do count attendance and keep a record of it for all collegiate events for which I'm responsible. It is somewhat fashionable and even considered spiritual not to count. "It's not about nickels and's about people." some say.

First, I have always felt I needed to be able to give some accountability to those who paid my salary. The size of the crowd does not determine the success or failure of the event. Some of the most impactful or serious events will have smaller crowds. A witnessing seminar will never have as many as a session on love, sex, and dating. But, you need both.

A second value I have found to counting and keeping records is that it helped me to see and anticipate the rhythm of the semester. Let me explain. For our weekly events, I kept a chart which showed how many for Week 1, Week 2, etc. And, I could compare the same week to previous years on that same week. I learned that there are certain weeks in the semester when attendance is matter what the Bible study or talk is or what's happening. It just has to do with the rhythm of the semester. Seeing and knowing those trends helped me in planning, evaluation and most of all, my own personal mental health.

But, here is the overwhelming reason you need to be counting. With the money crunch these days and the move in many areas to cut back on College Ministry, we must be able to make the case for the value and effectiveness of our it or not the number of students showing up is a significant factor in that. I attend a church with a long and storied history of College Ministry. We have people who have come through our church serving as foreign missionaries, etc. For a variety of reasons, the last two or three years our College Ministry has not been nearly as large at it used to be. When we recently lost our College Minister, some said, "Do we need a full time College Minister?" They weren't being negative and opposed to College Ministry. They just were thinking about and weighing hard choices.

Let me take it a step further. Do you know how many different students have attended your events in a week? When you say, "We had 75 at worship, 50 at Lunch or Sunday School and 30 at our Freshmen event.". Is that the same 75 students who attended different things and times or is that 125 different students? I would suggest even if it is not done weekly, that you should use sign-in sheets and make a list of the different students who attended. The
number of different students being impacted may be very different than your attendance number. I would even go as far as to say it should be.

Can you say how many different students attended your events last week? Can you say how many different students attended your events in a semester? That gives a more accurate picture of your ministry.

Whether we like it or not, we all have to be able to give an accounting of our ministry. Numbers is ONE of the ways we do it. But, make sure you are giving an accurate picture. It is wrong to lie about your numbers....and
there are those that do that. Another thing I have learned is, students don't do well counting attendance. Someone has said, "Every number represents a person." I've always wanted to reach as many "persons" as possible.