Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Does 100 = 500 in College Ministry Numbers?

Does 100 = 500 in College Ministry numbers sounds like a question on a math test. I was never good in Math classes. My mom had great fears about me spending my life in eighth grade math....for good reason. But, I am on record as one who counts at Collegiate meetings for which I am responsible. I keep charts that compare the same week to previous years. But, I believe in honest numbers (yes; some lie about their numbers.)AND I believe in interpreting numbers.

Recently, someone who is responsible for several campus based College Ministries said that they were being criticized for only having about a hundred at some of their large group meetings. I think in many of these situations that is an unfair criticism.

Four Reasons I Think it is Unfair:

1. College Ministry Groups Turn Over Quickly.

I attend a church with normal attendance of 500 to 600. Not many College Ministries have that size attendance at their weekly meetings. However, we have people who have attended our church for 30 and 40 years. When new people come into our church, they join those of us who have been there a long time. So, we grow in our number. Students leave not just after four or five years, but they transfer, etc. A College Ministry group changes totally in six years at the most. A College Ministry with average attendance of 100 will touch way more than that over a five or six year period. Maybe, 100 does equal 500.

2. Students Availability Changes often.

Some of the finest students and leaders I have had in College Ministry were Physical Therapy majors. As they advance in the program, they are assigned different rotations to gain practical experience and insight. These rotations are often in other cities away from the campus. No matter how committed they are to the campus ministry, they just are not available during one of those rotations. This is increasingly true of more and more fields of
study. A new development is "Accelerated Degrees". One Arkansas campus recently announced a new medical related
degree that could be completed in three years in order to meet a growing need. The campus where I served just announced as a part of their new Med School, students can be accepted into the Med School and begin in lieu of their senior year. What ever happened to good old, mature fifth and sixth year seniors? By the way, don't even begin to argue that a med student's availability is the same as an undergrad.

3. People often Compare Grapes and Grapefruits!

It sounds the same....what's the difference? A while back I was visiting with an acquaintance who leads a large
College Ministry with 400-500 at their weekly meetings. His ministry is held up as a model, as it should be. I
asked how many staff he had. The answer was twenty-five (25). Some want to compare a ministry with one or two staffers to his and ask what's wrong with the smaller one? If you divide the attendance by the number of staffers, you may see there is no difference.....OR, the smaller ministry is actually being more effective.

I have another friend who leads a large ministry. It is a model in many ways. He has a strong alumni base who give generously. This ministry receives gifts up to six figures. Most ministries should not be compared against one that receives that kind of financial support. Money alone does not make a ministry, but the budget has a direct result to what can and cannot be done.

4. Campus Based College Ministries never have everyone together at once.

If there is Freshmen Night one night, International Student Conversation Club/Bible Study at another time,
Wednesday Lunch Program, Weekly Worship, Greek Bible Study, etc, etc., there is never one time all these students are together. And, in many instances it would not work for them to be all together. A more accurate number is how many different students were touched in one week.

If you are one responsible for reporting numbers, find a way to have a reasonably
accurate number of how many students are being touched in one week. That tells a more
accurate picture of what you are doing.

Like it or not, fair or not, people compare and look at numbers. Let's just make sure that we are comparing apples to apples. Let's also make sure we are helping our stakeholders have an accurate picture of how many students we are touching.....not just the number that shows up at one meeting.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

How Does a College Minister Act His or Her Age?

"There is a time for everything and a season for every activity." Ecclesiastes 3:1

In my previous Blog I briefly described the Four Seasons of a College Minister. Basic to this whole idea is that there are strengths and weaknesses to every age....lean into the strengths and address the weaknesses.

Some Basic Premises:

1. Your age and experience will and should determine how you do your ministry.

2. You cannot and should not do it the same your whole career.

3. There is no best season.

4. You must be honest about what season you are.....your students realize it.

5. College Ministry is not just for the young. Students need the light of experience outside their own.

Each season has specific tasks to that season. A part of leaning honestly into each season is being aware of and intentional to the inherent tasks of that season.



1. Look at different ministries to see the different philosophies and how and why they work....or don't work.

2. Discover by trial, error and honest evaluation what your particular strengths and gifts are.

3. Listen to and learn from experienced colleagues. Have a teachable spirit.

4. Find a mentor to teach, develop and nurture you in your growth.


1. Begin to develop a network of colleagues in College Ministry for learning and support. Too many College Ministers leave because they feel alone.

2. Draw on your developing experience and philosophy to see how to take your ministry to the next level. It can now become more than a ministry built around students who like you or are drawn to your personality.

3. Find a ministry you can settle into long term that fits your gifts and strengths.

4. Develop a healthy balance of family and or personal life that will allow you to stay for a whole career.


1. Work at staying tuned to students viewpoint and perspective. Your age causes you to think differently than they do.

2. Build and develop the ministry support base by using some of the capital developed from your tenure,
experience and peer relationships (pastors/staff, university administrators, alums, etc).

3. Begin to mentor and invest in younger College Ministers. Share your wisdom.

4. Develop a ministry that is larger than your personal ministry. Draw on all your opportunities. Teach and train others more.


1. Strengthen the structure of the ministry with your experience and insight.

2. Avoid bitterness and anger about church, your network, or denominational politics that poisons your spirit and ministry.

3. Build the financial support base of the ministry that will outlast you. Some are in position to build a new or enlarged ministry center that will be a blessing for years to come. Provide for your successors!

4. Use your wisdom, experience, and earned respect to be a spokesperson for College Ministry. Be active statewide and nationally. Be a benefit to College Ministry as a whole.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Act Your Age!

When I was a child, my mom often told me to act my age. I think my wife has said that to me a time or two. But, those that most need to hear it are.....College Ministers. It is my deeply held belief that every age can be a plus in College Ministry. Each age has both strengths and weaknesses in our ministry to college students. I do not believe the "Golden Age of College Ministry" is young. In fact, I'm embarrassed about many things I did and did not do when I was young in College Ministry.

It is my belief that each age category has it's particular strengths which we must recognize and lean into. Conversely, each age category has it's weaknesses which must be acknowledged and then can be addressed. Here is a quick description of each of what I call "The 4 Seasons of College Ministry".

THE BEGINNER OR NEAR PEER - It is easy to mix and mingle in the student world and connect to students on their level. They have a joyous optimism. The obvious weaknesses are that the ministry is often limited to those who respond to that individual personality and the lack of overall experience to draw on. a plus is the optimism or can-do spirit that goes with this age.

THE COOL ADULT/THE ROLE MODEL - This is the real world functioning single or one with a spouse and possibly children. An obvious strength is being able to model the next step in life. Plus, there is now some experience to draw on. But, a challenge, particularly at this point, is learning to balance both personal life and ministry...particularly those with young children. It's easy to be unfair to one or both. This often is a quitting point for some.

THE RESPECTED VETERAN/THE PRO - This College Minister has a strong background of experience and relationships on which to draw. It is much easier to relate to college administrators and pastors/church staff as a peer. This opens lots of doors. They have a developed philosophy which benefits the ministry. A weakness of this season can be the temptation to get into a rut of just doing the same old same old at the same time each year. There is no vitality or freshness. Plus, it is easy to become rigid and unwilling to change or adapt. But, the huge pluses are there.

THE STATESMAN/THE BUILDER - This College Minister has done it, seen it done, and knows the how's and why's. They have an even larger network of alums, friends, administrators and peers that can benefit the ministry. Lots of resources are available to them. They often can have a very positive parental style relationship to students who need it. Their age and experience draws respect. But, It can be easy to just become an administrator or fall into the trap of "preaching at" students. It is also an opportunity to build for successors and leave the ministry stronger than they found it. Those in this season are great team leaders and mentors.

Unfortunately, too many quit College Ministry because they think they have aged out....when in reality, they may have just learned enough to be really effective. What's the "Golden Age of College Ministry"? It's simple....it is the one you are....IF you recognize the strengths, lean into them....AND, acknowledge the weaknesses and address them. Plus, look forward to the next season that just might be even better! Act your age and God will use it!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Your Ministry of Presence

When I first started in College Ministry, there was a minister assigned to the campus where I served. He was paid jointly by a small church to serve as pastor and by his denomination to serve as a College Minister. He was widely known and liked on campus. He held no events or scheduled programs. You could often find him in the Student Center drinking coffee. He told me he practiced "a ministry of presence". To be totally honest, I was not impressed with a ministry of presence alone.

But, over the years I have come to have a somewhat different view. I could never be on a campus and just be there, if anybody needs me. That's not my personality or what I think is the most effective way to do College Ministry. However, I have come to believe in and see the value in how our presence can be important and God used.

Several, several years ago, I visited the Lunch Program at Mississippi State BSU to see how they did it. They were known as the best at doing it. And, I have always believed you can see and learn things in visiting something done with excellence that can't be learned otherwise. While students were coming in for Lunch, I saw an older man in a suit and tie enter. He was speaking to students as though he knew them and some of them came up and hugged him. I asked someone who it was.....was he the speaker that day? No they said; "He is the pastor at First Baptist Church and he comes every week.". His presence was an encouragement to the BSU staff and was obviously a positive to many of the students.

A couple of years ago I went back as Acting Director to the ministry I had led at Arkansas State. I was there for six months and there were no full time staffers as there normally had been. Yet, due to a high level functioning Student Leadership Team, things went reasonably well. But, it was crazy shorthanded on our Lunch Program days with a large crowd of students. Two of our local Church College Ministers would come each week. Sometimes, one would take up money and another would just greet and visit with students arriving, etc.

These things helped.....BUT, the thing that helped me the most was....their presence. I knew whatever needed doing, I wasn't the only one there. I was not alone. That was huge in my mind.

Where can your presence be an encouragement? Where could you just show up occasionally that would bless someone?
Where would your presence just remind someone they are not alone? I fear that in College Ministy sometimes it is easy for us to just isolate in our own thing. Any College Minister worth his or her salt has more to do than they can do.....BUT, sometimes you can just go be present for a few minutes. God may use it more than you realize.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Even More Books Recommended by College Ministers

I continue to hear from College Ministers sharing books that have been meaningful and helpful to them. I will continue to share them periodically.

Ryan Brooks, College Minister at Taylors First Baptist Church, recommends:
Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer
Reason for God, Keller
College Ministry 101, Bomar
Made to Stick, Heath

Miriam Ncm at Portland State University recommends, The Painful Side of Leadership by Jeff Iorg.
I recently read this book and thought it was terrific also. Another Iorg book I have mentioned in the past, Is God Calling Me, is a super book to give to students who are struggling with this question, or to help them in clarifying their call to ministry.

Keep those cards and letters coming. Thanks.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Jesus Likes My College Ministry More?

Over the last couple of years, I have been distressed to see some College Ministers not only touting their view of how to do College Ministry, but seemingly putting down other views.

In the the last four years it has been my privilege to be on different campuses and to be in meetings with a wide variety of church and campus based College Ministers. A strong conclusion I have come to is, there is more than one way to do it right and well! That doesn't mean I don't still have my view of the best way to do it. But, I have always maintained that philosophy must always be partly tied to individual gifts and the campus or church situation.

Some tout their method or philosophy as being correct, because they have big numbers. Yet, almost always these situations have large multiple staffs that are compared against ministries with one or two staff members. I have continually been amazed to see that in campus based ministries and collegiate churches when you divide the number of staff into the large number, it usually comes out to about 50 students each.

After a large event, someone asked me if we had the number of students I had hoped to have. My response was, "I have never had as many students as I hoped to have.". I have confessed before that I'm a numbers guy who counts. But, I do not believe that numbers ever tell the whole story. And, I believe we never know all the circumstances affecting someone's situation somewhere else.

I also know that in some places a campus based College Minister has certain restrictions placed on him or her so as to not in any way compete with local churches. Then, in some of those situations, the ones who benefit from those restrictions are critical of the campus based ministry.

I rejoice in some new and different things being done very successfully in some places to reach college students for Christ. We need to learn all we can from these situations. But, that does not mean we need to duplicate that everywhere. And, it certainly does not mean we need to do away with very strong and established ministries to try the new thing.

When we throw bricks at each other, it is hard to learn from each other. When we try something new and it works,
let's talk about it and tout it. But, let's be careful to not put down those who are doing it a different way.
If we use derogatory terms to describe another ministry, we are wrong. We can say, "I would do it differently."

Sometimes, we tend to assume that our local perspective is true universally and that may not be the case. I also have seen ministries that I strongly disagreed with some of their philosophy and actions, but I also knew they blessed some students lives. God used them.....even though they didn't do it just like I would. And, everybody knows, Jesus likes my ministry more.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

9 Reasons Student Leaders Sometimes Don't Succeed

I am a huge believer in students serving in leadership roles in a college ministry. One of our key roles is to develop leaders for the future for our churches....and for business and government. You may have read one of my rants in regard to not using all professional musicians for weekly college worship events. In addition to building leaders and future church band members, we are teaching students that faith and church is not a spectator sport. It calls for and requires a personal investment.

A few years back I was asked to write an article about why it was good to have a student president for campus based ministries. There had developed a trend among many campus ministries of not having an over-all student leader. I knew the frustrations that were taking some ministries away from it. But, one of my key reasons for believing very strongly in using student leaders is, God often uses that experience to call students to full time vocational ministry. Much of who I am today personally is the result of having served in student leadership roles. Yes; I'm embarrassed as I think of some of my actions then. Yes; I'm surprised my adult leaders did not disown me.
But, God used those experiences in my life.

BUT, HOWEVER, AND WAIT A MINUTE! If students have very negative experiences, it will not be a positive experience in their life. What are common reasons that student leaders sometimes fail and what can we do to help avoid that?

9 Reasons Student Leaders Sometimes Fail:

1. Right student...Wrong spot
They are a great student who loves the Lord and we just have put them in the wrong place. It is particularly easy to do with one who will do anything we ask them to do. Proper placements by gifts and temperament is huge on our part.

2. We HAD to have someone.
This is closely related to number 1. We have a position and we feel the pressure of having someone there. So, we place them in a position they either just don't fit, or they have the potential for but just are not ready for it. One year I served in the role of our student Lunch Team Leader just because we did not have anyone who fit there.

3. They are overwhelmed with discouragement.
Sometimes, a student does everything that can be done and there just is not the result anyone would desire. That's where we must help them evaluate not on result, but on effort. Praise them for doing what they are doing and helped them see the rsult is not of their doing.

4. They were never taught how to do what they are asked to do.
Some believe the way you teach leadership is to throw someone into a role and let them sink or swim on their own. I believe this is a recipe for disaster. One of the reasons I strongly believe in weekly meetings with student leaders is that it is a continual coaching and teaching time.

5. They wanted a position...not a responsibility.
Everyone wants to be chosen. Everyone wants to be recognized. One of the difficult things in selecting student leaders is discerning if they just want a position or are they really willing and able to accept responsibility. Some people will apply or ask to serve for the position. I will confess to having one role on our Leadership Team for those with great potential, but not much sense of responsibility. Some grew into it and some did not.

6. They were not told clearly what the responsibilities really were.
We must communicate clearly before a students accepts a leadership role what is expected and then we must continually communicate it after they have begun to serve. We are supposed to know more than they do...but we need to communicate it.

7. They function last minute with poor advance planning.
Many students live day to day and moment to moment. Student leaders cannot function effectively that way. That is another function of a weekly meeting with student leaders....we are continually helping them look to the future and stay ahead..not behind.

8. Not knowing WHY they are doing something.
Why does this position matter? Why does this action or event matter? How does it fit into the grand scheme of things? Beleiving in the why gives energy to the how.

9. We ask them to do too much.
We must remember they are not paid staffers; they are volunteers. They are full time students and many are also working a part time job. We must be sensitive to how much load they are carrying. This also varies at different times in the semester.

Building a ministry and building into the lives of our student leaders requires us to take seriously helping them BE successful and FEEL successful.