Missional Campus Ministry 2 (RJS)

We opened this series with a look as Campus ministry as mission.  This is a theme that is repeated and elaborated by Benson Hines in his blog and book.

Hines spent a year touring College and University campuses and talking with campus ministers and others. In 2007-2008 he spent 370 days and visited 181 campuses in 44 states, Canada and the District of Columbia. He has self-published an e-book (free on his site) Reaching the Campus Tribes describing his observations and some of his conclusions and vision. He visited Vintage Church in Santa Cruz (p. 29), North Park University (with good words p. 44) and the University of Michigan (p. 52) among many many others.

campustribes p44 crop ds.JPG

Among the interesting features of Hines’s book are his observations on Campus ministry as mission.  This follows nicely on the post from Tuesday. Campus ministries should be approached with much the same concern and planning as any mission endeavor. He puts his hypothesis like this:

The practice of college ministry is far more like Missions than like Christian Education.

So ministering to a college campus is in many ways more like Missions in Mozambique than it is even like Youth Ministry.

Obviously, that’s not the way most Christian pastors, church members, parents, or opinion leaders think about college ministry yet. Even college ministers themselves don’t always realize that their work really is a form of missions. But in some places this idea – of missiological college ministry – is already clarifying and fueling college ministry practice. Hopefully this book can spread the idea even further. (p. 8)

Ben Hines has visited many campuses to try to get a vision for missional campus ministry, but it is still only a sparse view – even of what is going on at many of the individual campuses. A short visit can hardly see all.  And communication between groups is spotty.

Here is a great question posed by a reader: Who is enjoying wild success on college campuses and what are they doing?

As you ponder this question – I will highlight a bit of the discussion in Reaching the Campus Tribes. When Hines suggests that we need to see campus ministry as mission he is thinking of the following nine attributes: (Ch. 4 pp. 41-60)

Missions means contextualization – every campus is different, every situation is different. There is no one-size fits all approach to campus ministry.  The mission must adapt to the local environment – and this means preparation.

Missions means difficulty – there are obstacles to overcome. Hines cites “difficult school administrations, disinterested students, uncommitted students, moral failures, lack of resources, lack of help, a short time frame in which to impact students, weariness among ministers, slow growth, unhealthy ministries, other religions and cults, difficulty raising awareness of the ministry, and so on.” (p. 44)  Campus ministry is not a walk in the park, it is work – kingdom work.

Missions means strategy – effort needs to be put into studying the situation, “learning the language,” prayerfully plotting a course.

Missions means patience – many good campus ministries will take time to grow yet fast growth and large numbers are often expected, with jobs on the line.

The assumption is often that a good ministry attempt will begin to draw people immediately. But understanding college ministry as missions means recognizing that a strong mission to a campus will probably take time to develop and bear obvious fruit. Expecting quick growth – including numerical growth – is a big (but common) error. (p. 49)

Hines suggests that a good campus ministry will require at least 2 to 3 years to make connections and form an identity and workable strategy.  He also finds that many college ministries don’t make it this far – the plug is pulled before a base is formed.

Missions means aggressive progress – campus ministries should always consider how they can increase effectiveness, engage better, reach new groups (even faculty!), improve discipleship and so on.

Missions means aiming for longevity – a ministry built to last will be able build on success, reputation, and relationships.  Such a ministry has the opportunity to impact not just the transient students (important I admit) but the institution itself.

Missions means investment (for the kingdom) – usually churches staff positions as a need arises, a mission however preloads staff and resource to reach a people group.  How many churches though are willing to invest in this transient and somewhat ephemeral group? After all they are unlikely to enjoy the fruits of their labors as students graduate and move on and the financial cost involved will not be recouped from the students or their parent.  They are not “ours.” Yet for the good of the church, country and Kingdom campus ministries need support and resource.

Missions means specialization those in college ministry need to be trained and equipped for the job.  They need to learn to appreciate the university and its culture, they need intellectual rigor in their theology and understanding, and they need to approach their job as professionals.

Missions means cooperation – no one form of ministry will be all things to all people.  We need church-based ministries, parachurch ministries and multiple denominations and views.

What do you think – is Campus Ministry missions? And have you seen  (or been a part of) any particularly effective church-based or campus-based approaches at missional campus ministry? What makes them shine?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

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  • Scot McKnight

    Thanks for this post, and the link to Benson Hines’ book is worth chasing down. The whole thing free. Nice touch on his part.
    He does give some neon lights on NPU. While we do have the typical features, like chapel (voluntary) and student led worship on Sunday evening and Bible studies etc, one of the most important elements of our student ministries and the vibrancy of Christian life on campus is the missional dimension. Our students are encouraged to take it to the streets, to see the big picture, to go on mission trips, etc., and I believe one of the most helpful growing “devices” for the college students is hands-on missional work (we have a magazine at NPU called “Hands-On”). Anyway, encouraging students to get involved missionally is effective in stimulating growth.

  • Travis Greene

    As always, mustn’t we define “success” first?

  • I’d love to check out this book. I’m part of a tiny, not-heard-of network focused primarily on planting churches on public universities with a missional approach (www.gcmweb.org). I was trained to think in contextualization, that this is not youth ministry, etc.
    Be interesting to know more of what Hines says on Contextualization. I think a key part of the success on campus is not knowing the “campus”–too big–even as much as knowing the sub-cultures on the campus. The all-women’s dorm is very different than parts of the grad engineering school or the wheelchair-basketball team or frats.
    At the University of Illinois where I was a campus minister for about 8 years, friends brought friends, and friends were often similar to each other. I had a woman from the UofI golf team and suddenly that year had 3 women on it come to follow Jesus, and 5 more hanging around curious.
    I think it’s hard, even for the younger missionary/staffers to be as incarnational as you want/need to be to reach a certain segment. So key student leaders/influencers become central to contextualizing mission.

  • Travis, great question.
    I believe one reason that Benson’s eBook emphasizes mission is because we need to make mission a greater part of how we define success.
    Churches/Ministries that regard campus ministry as adult ed. or extended youth group, and do not equip & mobilize students for mission, are perpetuating an inadequate discipleship model. Students from these ministries often don’t connect with the church after college, and don’t remain actively engaged in their faith (the retention rate for highly involved campus ministry kids, post-college, is tragically low, even for ‘good’ ministries).
    Success in campus ministry has typically been defined like much of the larger church: nickels and noses, (minus the nickels of course). Numbers. We’re happy if people show up. We keep quotas and stats on all kinds of behavioral metrics. And if we can put some conversion notches in the belt, we’re even happier (though the vast majority of campus ministries around the country have between only 1-5 conversions/year). But numbers can’t tell us a whole lot. Jesus sent away the 5000+ with hard teachings because they were there for the wrong reasons. How many campus ministries do that?
    Redefining success must include mobilizing students for mission to their campus, biblical rootedness, thinking Christianly about every aspect of academic life, sustainable ministry, effective practices in engaging (not retreating from) the campus, and long-term faithfulness well beyond the college years.
    These are harder to gauge and not as sexy to write about in a newsletter to your supporters, but are much closer to the kind of fruitfulness Jesus promised (John 15:16).

  • I agree wholeheartedly with Steve! I work in young adult and campus ministry and the biggest frustration is the “program” model. My call from Christ was not to make sure we had programs for young people. I’m called to bring them to the Truth and Light of Christ. That’s not always telling them what they want to hear, especially on a college campus.
    I worked at a university for 6 years, and it took my own deeper conversion to realize how wrong we had it. As much as some churches would like to think it is all about helping students continue to live their faith, the university campus is more like a faith battleground. We are most definitely in mission territory. It is difficult sometimes to get people out of the “maintenance” mode of retaining numbers to “mission” mode of empowering them in Christ.
    Any suggestions would be most helpful…and thank you for the book recommendation!

  • Wistful

    This is an excellent article, with imp’t observations and points. Intention & approach seem to be the message. May I also consider the thought of all the variables at hand, along with long-term intention. Also the students, what is their intention and age I must accept the views of this article and consider the campus ministry as a compelling career. I will head over and read the ebook, keep my vision high, and know with all the variables a long drawn out career decision can be made quickly.

  • Disclosure: I met Benson Hines on his cross-country journey and consider him a friend.
    Having said that, I agree completely with his thesis. In my own organization, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries (the Assemblies of God outreach to secular colleges and universities), one of the most significant events in our history was being moved from the youth department into the US Missions department. That pivotal change (and the changes that flowed from it) resulted in explosive growth for us nationwide.

  • Amen!

    This ebook is an important and valuable resource for college ministers and young adult ministers– and lay people as well. If we truly wish to see Christ’s name glorified as the cultural shifts make that harder and harder, we really need to be intentional about reaching college students for Christ. And approaching it with thought and purpose. Great post.

  • Benson Hines

    Thanks so much, RJS, for your excellent discussion today. Along with all your great points, you’ve definitely given me some helpful ways to restate my conclusions!
    Scot, thanks for letting college ministry be highlighted on your blog. I certainly have appreciated my visits to NPU… and EVERY time I run into Pastor Judy, Rich, and the others (most recently at a conference this summer), it’s a happy day for me.
    Chris, it’s a shame that any large collegiate church network like yours isn’t better-known, but that fact is a testament to the poor collaboration with our field. It was neat to meet with Tom Mauriello in Orlando during my trip and with other Great Commission planters around the U.S.
    I definitely agree that learning the particular segments (sub-cultures) of a campus tribe is very important. But even that aspect is part of the overall cultural exegesis – because campuses vary in the segments present, the precise identities of those segments, and how they relate to each other and the rest of the school. Further, it may still be vital to gain an overall picture of the campus – including its administration, surrounding community, interplay between segments, etc. – to build the best possible campus mission over time.

  • This is a great thread!
    Strangely enough, I was thinking earlier this morning about the campus as a mission field and the need for the Church and the Campus to see each other more as colleagues and partners, rather than competitors or the enemy. Check out my blog to read more about it.
    Benson, thanks again for your research and work put forth in your ebook! You are doing a lot to advance and advocate for the work that needs to happen on college campuses/ with college-age students.
    We do need to recognize the uniqueness of the campus context, as well as the critical nature of the collegiate years, and support ministries/missions that feel called to reach out to this age-group in this specific context.
    We also need to acknowledge that we ultimately all want the same thing – to see young men and women grow and mature in their faith such that they transform into the men and women that God desires for them to be!
    The collegiate years are some of the most formative years of life and need to be given more time, attention and focus.
    We also need to supply more resources, prayer and critical conversations like this one to grow the awareness of, and respect for, this important field of ministry.
    We are all stewards of the people/souls that God brings into our company… for different seasons… but for the same end goal!
    Grace and peace

  • RJS

    Travis (#2),
    How would you define success?
    I find it tough because the metric is often numbers and customer satisfaction. But I am not convinced this is the best metric. Some will also define success along doctrinal or theological grounds I find troublesome. Perhaps a need to focus narrowly rather than embrace the broad picture of Christian faith will always handcuff many ministries.
    Surely a successful ministry will reach people and disciple them. I think Scot’s point about “hands-on” in the name of Jesus will be an important piece.
    I know of a number of good campus ministries – but none that I would consider wildly successful.

  • Ian

    I first read Benson’s eBook as my organization, NEWCHAPTER, began partnering with campus ministries to develop environments that foster community while providing a sustainable funding source. I wanted to get a better understanding of the challenges campus ministries face on today’s college campuses. Reading “Reaching the Campus Tribes” was the first time I had heard of college ministry as missions. I was later fortunate enough to meet with Ben in person on the University of Illinois’ campus back in June. He’s a tremendous resource for anyone that is passionate about college ministry.

  • Benson –
    Sounds like you’ve been making the rounds! Cool you were at Illinois this summer, and have met Tom M. Tom and I were just on the phone last week.
    With you on knowing your overall campus as well. Just thinking practically on the sg level that, for instance, our annual meeting with the Dean of Students to discuss campus demographics had little impact on real world connection, I think (albeit interesting). The “inside person” was so key, which is why launching campus stuff can be so difficult. We find that once we’re out of a dorm (e.g. no key leaders there/people have graduated) – it’s really hard to be present there again unless we have a “beachhead” – a new group of matur freshman that join us, etc.
    Will look forward to looking over your e-book!

  • On a definition of success:
    having done ministry on campus for 12 years now, at 4 different schools, covering 3 different denominations, there has been only 1 overwhelming “measure” of success… and that’s been students who have been changed from the inside by the work of Christ and who’s life now takes on a new shape, purpose and direction.
    It can be hard not to get caught up in the number game (and honestly… there’s something to be learned from low numbers – both good and bad) but the intent of our ministry(ies) needs to be creating a context for students to encounter the risen Lord and be changed! And not numbers…
    What other definitions of success are out there?
    How do you “know” if your ministry is succeeding?

  • Agreed, agreed. It’s good to see college ministry getting the right kind of publicity here. It is strange how so large a mission field and so important a portion of the population gets so little discussion in the evangelical public square. That along with global urbanization and migration are a couple of the elephants in the room when it comes to evangelical mission strategy (though things have been changing, thanks to Lausanne).
    My claim to fame here, I guess, is that I went to college with Benson, though I’m not sure we really met until a couple of months ago at Freebirds in Dallas.
    I’ve worked for the big one, CCC, for the past 6 years, and I have seen growing national effort to push for partnership within and outside of the organization, to approach the campus holistically, and to help make the transition from campus to community smooth and missional. It seems from the posts that it’s happening all around, which I’m not surprised. One blog series or campus ministry conference or campus ministry journal (though wouldn’t it be nice to have one on the scale of something like EMQ or IJFM or the journal of ETS?) won’t be the silver bullet, but every little bit helps. Thanks RJS for being on the lookout, and thanks Scot for helping make it happen.

  • First of all, let me say I was extremely encouraged to see Benson’s book for the first time this past spring. I found out about it when a guy sat down next to me on a flight from Kenya to Amsterdam. He pulled out a 3-ring binder and began reading. My curiosity escalated when I saw the primary words in the title “Campus” and “Tribes.” Of course, a long conversation ensued!
    Since reading the book, I have recommended it to literally hundreds of people. My hope is that churches will soon begin to see the great harvest campus ministry will yield with a little focused effort.
    I spent 4 years in Kenya as a missionary, God then led me into campus ministry. With missions in my background, it was easy to see the similarities between “cross-cultural” work and campus ministry. However, when I tried to explain the connection to existing supporters, I was, except for a couple of exceptions, shut down, and “shut off.” We lost over half of our support because we were no longer “cross-cultural missionaries.”
    Still, underfunded (like 99% of campus ministers across the nation…ok, maybe that is a slight exaggeration…98%), I began doing ministry at Boise State with an eye toward a “missional” approach.
    It’s worked! With God in the lead, we’ve established a cooperative relationship with more than a dozen other campus ministries at BSU. Our student group has grown, both numerically and spiritually. We now enter year five at BSU with the realization that we have to continually “remake” ministry according to the cultural context. I’m very excited to see where we’ll be in another year.
    Benson has started a conversation that is going to continue to build momentum. We need to “put some legs” on his thoughts and begin to cooperatively develop a missional approach to campus ministry, and to work at educating the church on the importance of this “unreached” segment of our nation. I’m going to devote this coming year to documenting our approach to campus ministry as missions. Working together, we’ll see huge successes!
    Great things are in store for campus ministry as we look to a new decade. Well done Benson!

  • Mike

    I have this vague feeling that Benson may have interviewed me a few years ago! 🙂
    Anyway, like so many others, the word “success” is fraught with peril and culturally loaded with abiblical content: I reject its use in my presentations to churches and my mentoring of students.
    Instead, I employ “fruitfulness.” In many ways, no less ambiguous than “success,” but accurately accounts for the desired outcomes of discipleship. Such labels give us some hooks to hang our ministries of spiritual formation, service, justice activities: all of which (and others) give us the occasion to account for the reality of growth.
    For example, when a student starts out coming sporadically to a prayer meeting and moving toward regular praying aloud and moving yet again to a confidence in the Triune God as he prayed: and all of this takes place over the space of 3 to 5 years, then we can authentically describe this process of growth and maturity in spiritual formation. *This description accounts for the service campus ministers offer as well as the elapsed time for fruitfulness.* Of course, we need to practice modesty in how we go about describing the fruitfulness: for this student, his development in prayer was a response to being loved by the Lord.
    So, none of this is “wild success” (sorry unknown reader), but I do enjoy serving Christ on campus.

  • RJS

    Thanks Mike,
    I think you are right on “successful” being a loaded term – and a misleading term. The phrase “wildly successful” did come from the reader – but in fairness the point of the e-mail I received was that I should pose a direct question, not a philosophy of campus ministry question. (I admit – I do tend toward big picture philosophy questions, I am an academic after all.)
    This reader was interested in concrete ideas – what has worked in places to build a missional campus/college ministry?

  • Mike

    Let me add brief reply to your question regarding identifying campus ministry as missions:
    My answer is a qualified “yes,” as some of my church-based colleagues, much to my amazement, think of their campus-based ministry as church-based. 😕 The explanations fall everywhere, but I’m not sure it does justice nor honor to their faithfulness and perseverance.
    I would simply affirm what others have cited regarding contextualization and the cross-cultural nature of giving witness to the Gospel on campus as well as forming community among students and faculty.
    I will add one more thought here, and perhaps Scot will chime in with a reply: there’s been some work among exegetes and theologians in describing the church as polis: a real, public community that has political character. (I’m sure I’ve given an incomplete description here.) I wonder if an analogous move needs to be made regarding the university as a religious order. The thought has been chasing me around for awhile; when we examine the different departments and administrations of the university and their respective workings, their shaping of and constructions of reality and transcendence, there are some possibilities for exploring the religious character of a university.
    Your thoughts?

  • As I read through your post again today, I was reminded of just how hard it is for present college ministers to see a path from where they are to any sort of more missional / missiological campus ministry. From both my own experience and connecting with so many other ministers, I know how difficult it is, right in the middle of “building a ministry” (with all the expectations – numerical and otherwise – you mentioned), to find time and energy and willingness to shift vision, add long-term strategy, heighten contextualization, etc.
    That’s one reason I argue that as much as we can, we should attend to strategy and contextualization on the front end – again, much like we do in foreign missions. Vision and opportunities will of course change over time. But if every new college ministry – whether church-based or campus-based – spent a year learning their context, coming to love their campus, and begging for God’s brilliance, the college ministry landscape would look quite different.

  • Mike

    Some ministries, e.g., IVCF, are sending ministers to simply do the prayerful learning of campus culture *and* gathering students to do the same with aim of forming communities that witness to the Gospel. Nothing *programmatic*; rather, it appears and sounds as though a rigorous investigation of how the Gospel could be heard through such communities. I agree with you about the “impatience” factor of results: real and imagined.
    This is a great conversation, as it contributes to a new and better vision for campus ministries.

  • mar

    When I was in college, IVCF (which I wasn’t a part of) had a pretty thriving dorm ministry. The majority of our dorms were inhabited by freshmen and the only way upperclassmen could live there was if they actually worked part-time in the dorms as a desk clerk, card swiper, etc. As you can imagine, it’s not really a desirable position, to sacrifice fun apartment life to live with freshmen and have some mindless job. But it was “successful” because freshmen were eager to meet people, especially since dorm life is conducive to delerious late night conversations about life, love, and the afterlife.
    While campus ministers weren’t living in the dorms persay, their work in that ministry reflects a premium for incarnational living. I think it’s really important for missional ministries to consider how they can participate within the campus culture, rather than observing it and reacting against it. And from what I understand, the incarnational living model is also what thrives in overseas missions, with missionaries living in local communities rather than mission compounds.

  • OK, I confess it. I was the reader who asked RJS who was enjoying “wild success” on their campus. And despite all the great comments, nobody has actually answered the question by pointing to a ministry. People have mentioned what they think “success” is or is not (particularly, it is devotion and not numbers, which I mostly agree with), but no one has pointed to any ministries they find doing even this particularly well.
    I think the most biblical definition of “fruitfulness” (since readers tend to prefer this) would not be “devotion; not numbers”, but rather “devotion in numbers”. In Acts 2:41 and Acts 4:4, Luke reports the “fruitfulness” of the early church in numbers terms, and I think it’s fine to do the same, so long as we don’t make the mistake of glorifying large gatherings that call themselves the Body but do not demonstrate of love of God.
    I’m asking this because I hear a lot of college ministry philosophizers, but nobody is telling stories of campus revival. It’s causing me to scratch my head wondering what good the philosophy is doing. Can anyone point me to a campus where they see something happening that has the energies of revival? I would like to study what is going on in that place.

  • I like your (Mike F) definition of success. But, back to the main topic…
    “Wild success” is the work of the Holy Spirit. I point to the recent book by Everts and Schaupp, “I Once was Lost” ((IVP Books). Their term, “Organic-Mystery” is awesome. God’s work is mysterious (in that we cannot predict it), and it is organic (in that we cannot control it). However, we can prepare for it through proper methods.
    This is where Benson is right on…Campus Ministry must be willing to do the up-front research before jumping into ministry activity. Cultural and spiritual mapping at the outset are critical for true success on campus. Also, campus ministers must be pursuing, modeling, and teaching deep relationship with God. Success isn’t chasing the wave, but riding it.
    Perhaps we’re not seeing “wild success” because we’re not prepared for it?

  • Regarding “most fruitful,” “best,” “wildly successful” ministries around the country:
    One problem with naming those isn’t that BIG things aren’t happening, but that almost nobody has a good view of what’s happening outside their own circles. Even when ministries are in the hundreds or thousands, nearly all college ministers outside of that organization or denomination or region won’t have heard of the ministry (based on what I’ve seen/heard, at least). So I appreciate that people are hesitant to name individual ministries, if they’re not familiar with a large cross-section of the country.
    The 3000-5000 attending the Breakaway Bible study on a weekly basis at Texas A&M still don’t show up on the radar of most college ministers. If most haven’t heard of that (even though it was running those numbers a decade ago), then it’s doubtful they’ll hear of all the other wildly successful ministries. There are also examples of college campuses that have seen lots of Christian impact, but from a multiplicity of ministries.
    On the flip side, even though I have been able to investigate nationwide, I’m slow to name individual ministries because there are so many that might fit your question. Based on the ministries I have interacted with or heard about, I would guess that there are several (a dozen or more?) ministries that have high hundreds or 1000+ attend weekly. I would guess there are a few dozen ministries which are reaching several hundred students weekly. There are probably many dozens of college ministries reaching numbers in the lower-hundreds.
    One day, we’ll be in a position to do hard research in this area and actually wring value from it. But I did name several of those “finds” in my book, and I don’t mind sharing other specifics if anyone needs them.
    I’m most interested in helping people build lasting, truly impactful “campus missions.” Along the lines of what Bill was just saying, success on each campus is going to look very different. So there are some very small ministries out there that have principles that many of us need to learn from, and their are some HUGE ministries that have failed to make “aggressive progress.” If I’m only going to learn from one ministry, I want to learn from the former.

  • Yes Yes Yes. I have worked with youth culture for the last 25 years and now work as the International Youth Consultant for a large mission agency. We work in about 48 countries all around the world and I would have to say that with what I am seeing out there I would totally agree with your comments about needing to be missional in our approach. I am now telling missionaries and partner churches that youth culture is a separate culture and until they get that into their understanding they will not be able to connect into their world and reach them. They keep on seeing youth and students as younger versions of them and it is no longer true – global youth culture has created a generational gap larger than ever before.

  • Gene Parr

    I suspect in campus ministry that quality is the key to quantity. Jesus modeled this with the 12, but in campus ministry, because of the turnover, it is even more evident. And, gratefuly, in campus ministry there is the necessary “leisure” to spend time investing in a few from which to grow an ongoing program. The wild success will show up in our graduates and the impact they make although this is also very evident during their college years. Alumni will tell our story. “In college we make our habits, after college our habits make us.”