The 2016-2017 Millennial and the LCMS study found that 95% of congregations have at least one college or university within a 45-minute drive. Yet only a small portion of them deliberately and consistently reach out to those students. Campus ministry is incredibly a valuable area of ministry which connects with young people at a critical time in their lives.
Perhaps you have thought about campus ministry but are unsure how to get started. There is so much to consider! Here are ten steps to help your congregation prepare and start a ministry to the colleges and universities near you.
Don’t just jump in! Prayerfully consider what you want to begin and why. Do you want to primarily care for the Lutheran college students? Do you want to witness to unbelievers on campus? Do you want to engage professors, staff and leadership who may have a variety of beliefs? Do you want to reach out to international students who are studying far from home? Do you have members who are students or staff who you want to empower in their vocations? Hopefully, you want to do many of these, but all of them require commitment. Begin and continue with prayers of many in your congregation. Take time to establish clear goals and objectives which will help you target your efforts.
Get to know your college or university.
Campus ministry is difficult if you aren’t spending time on campus. So, get acquainted with the campus. Take a tour. Spend time in the student union. Read the school newspaper. Notice where students congregate and what they are doing. Eat in the school cafeteria. Read. Drink coffee. Observe. Drink more coffee. Take notes.
Find out who goes to school there. Where are they from? Which academic disciplines are most important? Do most students live on campus or commute? What makes the college unique? What is its personality? Are there international students? If so, how many? Where are they from? What are their needs?
Get familiar with the schools’ organizational structure. What offices might you need to work with? This is a great time to make initial introductions to staff and faculty that you meet. You can set up meetings with leaders and ask them questions. Get to know them and their insights into what’s happening on campus.
It’s also good to assess what other churches and para-church organizations are active on campus as well. Is there a campus ministry association? Who are they? When do they meet? What do they do? While you don’t necessarily want to duplicate what they teach or offer, you can from learn from them.
Create Congregational Awareness.
While not everybody at your church will be directly involved, you will need support, encouragement and perhaps some financial assistance. Find opportunities to share the vision for campus outreach and results of the research that you have done so that the congregation can see the possibilities.
Explore what help your District or other church auxiliaries can offer. You might consider inviting a seasoned campus pastor or worker to teach your congregation about the challenges, opportunities and joys of campus ministry. Most people involved in campus ministry would love to highlight what they are doing. Invite them and ask them to get familiar with your situation. It never hurts to pick the brains of those who are already doing what you would like to do.
Create your Core.
Survey your student situation. Finding, and/or developing, a core of 3-5 students will be essential. Gather them together and seek their ideas early on. They are the ones who will be most invested and the more they are involved the more ownership they will take.
However, students will come and go. You also need core of volunteers to help provide stability and continuity. In addition to the pastor or other staff, do you have members at church who are faculty or staff on campus? What about alumni? Don’t forget that there might be other interested individuals and alumni beyond just your congregation who may wish to help.
Let Students Know You Care.
If you want students to reach out as they come onto campus, you must make sure they know you are there. Fill out information on the LCMS website to be an LCMS U Chapter to make sure your congregation’s name and contact information come up when students and parents search. Let your district know your plans since some will have ways of communicating that information to students and other congregations as well. Be prepared to warmly welcome students who visit your congregation and consider how you can follow up. Get to know students and parents who visit, make them feel comfortable, and invite them back.
Create a Campus Presence.
Students are more likely to attend activities they can walk to. Obviously, if your church is close to the campus, it will be easier for students to find you, but don’t let distance deter you. Having a consistent space is important, and it can be created in a number of ways. Having a common weekly meeting time at a location near campus or place you can reserve on campus is helpful. This creates a sense of locatedness, consistency, and familiarity. When you can establish a presence on campus, then you will hopefully be able to draw them out toward your church.
We want college students no only to connect with activities on and directly off campus, but with worship and activities with the greater congregation. In order to do that, you may need to set up transportation. Collect names and cell numbers of those who could pick up a college student regularly and share those. Help provide coordination and gas money for students who bring groups. This can be a huge barrier that is easy to overcome.
Get the Word Out!
You have many tools available to advertise and communicate with college students and most of them are free. Flyers and newsletters are nice, but they may not be the best use of your time and resources. Take advantage of the social media available to you. For starters, create a Facebook and Instagram page for your student group and keep it updated. On your congregation’s website, ask for a prominent link for “college students” on the home page since most students will search here first when looking for churches/campus ministries in the area. This will help link your church to your student group.
Start a Student Club or Organization.
Registration on campus as an official organization is extremely important. Of course, every school is different. Check the dean of student’s office (sometimes called Student Life or Campus Life) to find out the guidelines for becoming an official student club or organization. This will necessitate student help. Typically, you will need to have 8-10 college student signatures and a few designated student representatives. A constitution is usually required and often a faculty or staff advisor is needed.
Recognized student groups usually receive space for activities and can use school channels for publicizing their activities. Setting up tables at official events and student orientation fairs is paramount in establishing a presence and introducing your campus group to students. Recognition creates trust, builds relationships, provides great opportunities to network, and opens doors to serve the greater campus community. Over time you can ask what needs there might be on campus. Often this will give you opportunities to do things like assist with move in, provide snacks, or other helpful connections to students.
Network with other Campus Ministries.
Building relationships with others beyond your campus ministry is also important for mutual collaboration and support. Please check out our growing network of over 200 LCMS U chapters throughout the LCMS. Seek opportunities to do activities with other campus ministries such as retreats or servant events. Check out district opportunities as well as LCMS Servant Events that can be done with other campus ministries. Students love to road trip, serve, and meet other students from other places.
If you have an interest in doing campus ministry, don’t wait to start. We know that access to a campus ministry makes a difference. The 2017 Millennial and the LCMS study found that those who grew up and were retained in the LCMS into young adulthood were more likely to have connected with an LCMS Campus Ministry than those who left for other church bodies or left the church altogether.
While doing things according to an academic cycle is great the perfect time to start is now. All it takes is initiative, rooted in the love of the Gospel and a sincere love for young people.
Find out more about LCMS Campus Ministry here.
Edited from a 2016 blog post by Rev. Marcus Zill (Find the original posts here.)