College Ministry 101

I’ve been reading up on ministry to college students (College Ministry from Scratch: Equipping Kids for Life after Youth Group, by Chuck Bomar) and want to share a little about what I have learned:

Although college-age people might enjoy having a ministry specifically designed for them, there is a much greater desire to be a part of our churches as a whole.

A ministry to college-age people needs to focus on being a bridge for helping people find relational connection to the life of our churches. The role of college ministry is to move people from relational connections in student life to having relational connections in the adult life of our churches.

We all know that the time in a person’s life between graduating from high school and becoming an independent adult is filled with all sorts of transitions. People move out of their parents’ home and then back again. They go to school, change majors, drop out, transfer schools, graduate, or don’t graduate. They take a job, get promoted, change jobs, get fired, and move to other areas. They date someone with hopes for marriage, break up, begin new relationships, struggle with others, develop friendships, and hurt some people in the process.

My question is, “Who walks with these young adults through all of the changes, challenges, and confusion?” I think it’s the role of the church. And, more specifically, it’s the role of the college-ministry leader to make sure these people are being brought along in the context of relationships and in everyday life. This task requires more than a weekly gathering.

I’ve observed that the college-age people who have someone speaking into their lives in the midst of these changes and transitions are the ones who stay connected to the church. And when they stay connected during the college-age years, the generational gap is naturally closed through relationships.

College ministries tend to focus on getting people to show up versus helping individuals move toward the adult life in our churches.

As leaders of a college ministry, we play a small part in a lifelong process of discipleship. I’ve personally observed five overarching pursuits of college-age people that need to be guided: Identity, Intimacy, Meaning, Pleasure, and Truth.

The most effective way of making sure we’re addressing these age-stage issues, as well as forming deeper connections to the church as a whole, is by helping form natural, mentor-like relationships between college-age students and older, spiritually mature adults. These become people who, through a relationship, use their own God-given experiences to help a college-age person navigate the maturity process.

Here are five simple markers that I believe show a certain quality in relationships between older believers and college-age people:

  1. The frequency and consistency with which the pair meets together one-on-one. If they’re meeting frequently on their own, without any prodding from others, then it shows that each of them sees the value in the relationship. If there isn’t consistency, then it’s paramount that we figure out why. It might be a matter of schedules, or it might be that the two people just don’t click for some reason. Either way, this is when we can step in and help cultivate that relationship.
  2. The college-age person seeks spiritual wisdom from the older adult on her own. If this is the case, it says the younger person sees value in this relationship. It also likely suggests that the older believer feels confident in his or her spiritual direction. If this isn’t happening, then we may need to equip the older believer or perhaps help the younger one to see the value of someone older investing in her spiritual life.
  3. The college-age person knows where the dishes are in the older believer’s kitchen. This shows a particular level of intimacy in the relationship, which takes time to develop, of course.
  4. The college-age person can drop by the home of an older believer uninvited. This again shows an intimacy and comfort level in the relationship that indicates quality.
  5. The college-age person’s pursuit of an older believer’s counsel in everyday life circumstances. College-age people are thinking through all sorts of things. If they’re seeking the advice of the older believer in their life’s direction, educational pursuits, job concerns, or any other daily issues—again, this shows us something about this relationship.

Most college ministry job descriptions include references to weekly gatherings, campus ministry, and discipleship but lack specifics that get to the heart of what’s truly needed in college ministry.

A Job Description Summary:

  1. Learn and understand age-stage issues.
  2. Personally disciple college-age people.
  3. Help cultivate a heart in older believers for younger people.
  4. Create bridges for the building of inter-generational relationships.
  5. Provide direction for mentorships.
  6. Create a gathering point.
  7. Develop self-feeders.
  8. Develop a relationship with campus leaders.

Our biblical command isn’t to run a program; it’s to disciple people. Although a program might be a piece of that, it’s important to make the distinction.

The more you personally help college-age people through their life issues, the more you’ll be able to help other leaders do the same. Your experience is going to be critical for the long-term effectiveness of ministry to college-age people in your church.

So when Jesus told his closest men to go and make disciples, they certainly would not have walked away thinking they needed to have a weekly meeting and go through a book together! Discipleship is a part of the job description, but it is through sharing life, not weekly meetings.

Top 5 Church Growth Principles

Noting that hundreds of church growth principles have been put forth in the last thirty years, Charles Arn responded to a recent question, What are the top five church growth principles? Based on his own study and experience, these are foundational church growth insights that you can take to the bank. Whether you’re in a church of 20 or 20,000, these principles will help to invest the talents God has given to your church, so that when the Master returns you can return more than what you were given (Matthew 25:14-30).

Principle 1: Disciple-making is THE priority. As Arn explains it, A church can do many good things. A church should do a few important things. But there is only one essential thing a church must do: go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life. (Matthew 28:19, The Message)

Principle 2: Social networks are the vehicle. There is a silver bullet’ that any congregation can use to reach more people. Here it is: Non-Christians come to Christ and the church primarily through relationships with Christians. Again, this may seem elementary,’ but I remain amazed at the number of churches and Christians who believe something other than friends reaching friends will somehow create growth.

Principle 3: Felt needs are the connecting point. Arn notes that most unchurched people aren’t nearly so concerned about their eternal destiny as Christians are. Right or wrong, they have on their mind something of immediate interest: their jobs, friends, health, kids, finances, hobbies. If the gospel of Christ is really relevant to all aspects of our lives, we need to show unreached people how it is relevant to their lives, as well. Don’t start with your agenda, start with theirs.

Principle 4: Relationships are the glue. What’s the primary ingredient that keeps people active in church? Friendships. Put simply, if people have friends at church, they stay. If they don’t have friendships, they won’t. According to one study, new members who stay beyond their first year made an average of seven new friends in the church. Those who dropped out made fewer than two. The implication for churches is clear we need to be intentional about creating friendships, not just acquaintances.

Principle 5: Transitions are windows of opportunity. Arn points out that unchurched persons in our community are not equally receptive to becoming Christians and members of our churches. Significant changes in people’s lifestyle move them toward spiritual receptivity. Such changes may be controlled events (marriage, divorce, relocation, retirement) or uncontrolled ones (death of a spouse, medical crisis, job loss). Churches need to encourage members to be aware of these events in the lives of those in their social network. And, churches can develop specialized ministries in response to these transitions.

From The Top Five Church Growth Principles by Charles Arn, president of Church Growth, Inc. REV, July/Aug 2009.

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