No, this is not a post about how to use Snapchat (or any other social media) for growing a college ministry. Let me explain. I had this crazy idea last week to flood all of the college students I know on Snapchat with an informal research question. For those who do not know, I have served as a college/singles pastor at Lenexa Baptist Church in Kansas City and I am currently a New Testament faculty member at Hannibal-LaGrange University. My point is, I know a lot of college students and I am always looking for wisdom on how better to engage in effective ministry towards them. For the record, the number of students may not be statistically significant, but at least it was enough to arrive at some interesting conclusions. So, if you are currently doing college ministry or are pondering how to begin a college ministry, you may find what I am about to share helpful, or at least, insightful. Now, here is the Snapchat question I asked,
What is one Do and one Don’t of college ministry?
I received a variety of response. Allow me to list a few of them for you and then I will draw together some observations/principles for those of us who seek to faithfully minister to this unique generation. Here is a sampling of what they said…
- Do not expect an immediate response when starting your college ministry.
- Form friendships with college students with the intent of sharing the gospel.
- Do not dumb down the gospel.
- Know your audience.
- Do not isolate your students from the larger body of believers.
- Open up your life to your students.
- Do life with them.
- Keep your ministry “missional,” get it outside the four walls of the church.
- Be careful in choosing your leadership.
- Stay relevant.
- Use challenging material that will make them dig deep.
- Do not have too much structure; the ministry should have an organic feel.
- Teach theology to college students.
From these and from my experience in college ministry, here are a few observations/principles that may help you get on the right track.
1. The size of your college ministry is not as important as you think it is.
Very little was said about students wanting to be part of a large college ministry. What was noteworthy is that students appear to value substance over sheer numbers. Unfortunately, in the past and from a pastor’s perspective, we have used numbers to gauge success. From the perspective of students, this conversation is not on their radar. Therefore, you would do well as a college minister to not base your worth on the size of your group. Churches, I exhort you, stop playing the numbers game with your leaders.
2. College students do not want shallow teaching, they long for depth.
Over and over again, from a majority of the students polled, I heard that depth of teaching was a major factor in whether they were attracted to or stayed connected to a college ministry. One student sent me this response,
I once had a Bible study on campus with students through Romans. You would not believe how hungry they were for depth. They had been given Sunday School answers all their life. Students love being part of meaningful conversations. I had one student so shocked that the Jews rejected Jesus, she slammed her fists on the table and yelled, “We need to tell them!”
In other words, put away the games you played in youth group and start digging deep into Jesus.
3. Relationships are more important than structure in college ministry.
Often, we begin with the opposite strategy. We are taught to develop the structure (what we do) and then, when we attract students, the focus shifts to building relationships (who we are). Almost every student responded with something about the importance of relationships. None of them were concerned at all with the format of the ministry. As a caveat, this is not to say that you have zero structure, throwing caution to the wind as you drink coffee with your students in a casual atmosphere. What I am noting is the priority you place on building relationships. In other words, focus more on who you are rather than what you do. As one student boldly declared, build a relationship with me before you lecture me.
4. College students need engagement with the wider body of Christ, not isolation.
Here is a secret worth its ministry weight in gold. College students want to serve in your church. Give them leadership opportunities, however, as one student rightly said, do not allow students to serve if they are living a life of unrepentant sin. Connect students with married couples, senior adults, and above all, find places for them to serve out of the gifts they possess. Just because they are college students does not mean that they share in less of a portion of the Holy Spirit.
5. Patience is a must as you seek to disciple college students.
One of the first “snaps” that I received back read, do not get discouraged when students seem to be living double lives, continue pouring into them. Another remarked, do not make decisions for your students when they come to you for advice. Help them make their own decisions. I have discovered that ministry to college students is often messy, but you know, so is ministry to any other age group. It takes a calm, wise, and patient leader to help guide students into Christ-likeness.
6. You have to be willing to open your life before college students.
I would note, if you are going to do effective, long-term ministry to college students, this principle is non-negotiable. They want to have fun with you as a leader, but they do not want you to act like a college student. They crave examples that they can follow and imitate. They want encouragement, but they value transparency the most. One student wisely said, be willing to just hang out with me – but remember, it doesn’t always have to be about coffee. Some of our deepest relationships have been and continue to be built as we open our home and our lives (for better or for worse) to college students.
7. Food, food, food…
It may seem simplistic, but if you feed them, they will come. One of the replies was telling as it got right to the point; food – it is hard to hear over a grumbling stomach. Remember this well and get this next sentence embedded in your strategy. A home-cooked meal may be the lifeline that a college student is longing for, especially if they eat off of a meal plan in their campus cafeteria, but even more importantly, if they are struggling with homesickness and afraid to tell someone. For many, this is the first time they have been separated from family. Your family could become their family.
Again, this post is a somewhat unscientific assessment on the best practices and common pitfalls of college ministry, the do’s and don’ts. But, I believe what is important to consider is that these principles are drawn from college students themselves. So, if you are doing college ministry or thinking of starting one, heed this practical wisdom. I truly believe that the generation that is in college right now is poised to do significant kingdom work. My prayer is that we see incredible gospel results as we faithfully minister to them.