Starting a college ministry is arguably the best way to reach people for Christ.
Think about it.
Colleges are one of the remaining institutions in the United States where a large group of people gathers together on a regular basis throughout the year. From classes to clubs to fraternities, college students spend most of their time on or around campus.
Know what else?
Many college students are asking tough questions about faith. They’re being introduced to new ideas, and they want to know what they believe and why they believe it. This is an ideal time to share the gospel and make disciples.
Even though colleges boast a potential huge harvest (Matt 9:35–38), starting a college ministry isn’t easy. It takes faith, prayer, and a whole lot of time.
If you’re not discouraged, hang tight.
In this post, I’m going to share with you 6 steps you can take to launch a college ministry, build relationships with students, and make new disciples.
Let’s dive in!
#1 – Do your research
Starting a college ministry isn’t like starting another ministry in your church.
It’s not a Bible study.
It’s not a small group.
It’s not just another hangout.
Will your college ministry include some of these components?
But that’s missing the point.
Here’s what I want to stress:
A college ministry is primarily an outreach ministry.
Starting a college ministry is not only about creating a program for the college students in your church to join—it’s about launching your church into the life of the college or university in your town.
Possessing a missionary mindset is crucial to whether you can successfully launch a college ministry. Starting a college ministry without a missionary mindset would be like starting a cross-country road trip with a half a tank of gas—you’re not going to make it.
As a missionary to a college or university, there are two main things you need to do:
- Know the college
- Know the students
Before moving forward, you need to know who you’re going to reach before you can know what you need to do to reach them. Also, during this process, you’ll be better able to explore your calling to know if God is leading your church to start a college ministry.
The first thing you need to do is to get to know the college or university.
To get to know the college you want to reach, you’ll need to gather some basic information.
- What is the strength of the school?
- What majors are popular?
- Does the school draw male and female students?
- What nationalities are represented?
- Are sports popular? What teams?
- Do students live in dorms or off campus?
- Are fraternities and sororities present?
- What events or student organizations are popular?
- Where do students spend their time outside of class?
- What Christian organizations or churches are on campus?
A lot of this information you can gather online or by checking out the college on social media.
But you’ll be able to learn so much more when you explore the campus.
Plan on spending time on campus.
Take more than one day to walk around, observe, and ask questions. If possible, connect with professors or staff members of the college or university to get their input.
While you’re getting to know the school, you’ll also want to get to know the students.
Getting to know what types of students attend the college or university in general, as well as meeting students in person will help you to clarify how to best reach them with the gospel.
Here are some questions you can ask:
- What is their gender?
- How old are they?
- Where do they live (e.g., on campus, off campus)?
- Do they attend sporting events?
- Are they involved in fraternities or sororities?
- Do they participate in student groups?
- What are their values and beliefs?
- What does their day-to-day life look like?
- Where do they spend time online?
As with the school, you can get a good idea about most of this information online. But you’ll receive so much more clarity and insight, and get a better feel for the overall vibe of the school and students by being physically present on the campus.
While you’re gathering intel, start to think through what objections to the gospel you’ll encounter or ways you can best connect with students on campus. Keeping a running log of this information will help you create an outreach plan, if you believe the Lord is calling you to start a college ministry.
#2 – Build a team
Like any ministry in your church, college ministry isn’t something you want to do alone.
You must build a leadership team from the beginning.
The team you build should include two key ingredients:
- College students
- Church Members
Before exploring these two groups in detail, I encourage you to think through the size of your leadership team. To get started, you don’t need a huge number of people. Gathering 3–5 college students and 3–5 church members should be sufficient to create a solid core team.
Reaching a college without the help of college students is really … difficult.
As you prepare to launch a college ministry, I’d strongly advise you to include your church’s college students from the get-go. The college students in your church have relationships with other students, access to the campus and school events, and they will be a tremendous blessing to your ministry.
Do you have a few dozen college students in your church?
Well, I hate to break it to you, but not every one of them can be on your leadership team. That’s way too many cooks in the kitchen.
Before narrowing down who you’d like to invite onto the leadership team of the college ministry, pray and observe who are natural leaders. If college students are already serving in your church, then that’s a good indication they’re open to taking on more responsibility.
Here’s another idea:
Host a night for all of the college students to meet and talk about the college ministry.
Give them an opportunity to dream. Hear their hearts. Listen to the ideas they have to share.
Also, during this evening, see if anyone comes forward as a clear leader of the group. Pay attention to what everyone has to say and see if there are individuals in the group whose peers naturally gravitate toward as a leader.
One last word of advice:
Don’t treat the students on your team like … students. Said another way, don’t give them a voice and then not really count their vote or opinion (you know what I’m talking about). God can work through every single member of your leadership team—including your college students.
The second group of people you want to include on your college ministry leadership team are church members. From this group, be sure to include individual adults and couples.
Your church members can provide support, host students and events, and take part in whatever tactics you put together. Like any other ministry in your church, be sure the church members you invite express an interest and have a calling for this type of ministry.
Recruiting your team
Ready to recruit your leadership team?
There are two things you should do to make it easier:
- Clarify expectations
- Set a date
For anyone serving on your leadership team, make sure to clarify their expectations. Let them know what they should focus on. Give them a handful of things they’ll be responsible for.
Letting your volunteer leaders know up-front what’s expected will help them to make better decisions.
What is more, set a date for how long you’d like for them to commit. For example, do you want them to commit for the fall and spring semester, and maybe one event over the summer?
Here’s the deal:
When volunteers know there’s a deadline to their commitment, then they’ll feel so much more comfortable accepting your offer.
Need more help developing your leaders?
Take the time to develop a leadership pipeline in your church.
#3 – Pray, pray, and pray
Prayer is so much more than a rote activity.
Prayer is the engine that runs your church.
As you explore starting a college ministry, first commit to praying.
At first, you don’t have to launch a church-wide prayer campaign. The best thing to do as a church leader is to pray yourself, and then invite your church’s leadership and others who may be interested in starting a college ministry to join you.
After you launch a college ministry, the way you approach prayer will change.
You’ll want to continually pray for the college or university, the students (in general and by name), your leadership team, and for your church.
Here are three ways you can incorporate prayer:
- Ask for church-wide prayer
- Build a prayer team
- Use social media
When encouraging your church to pray, be sure to add your college ministry to whatever prayer lists you currently have available. Also, if your church hosts prayer meetings, add time into your meeting to pray for your college ministry.
Another idea to consider is building a prayer team. When it comes to your college ministry, many people may not be able to physically participate in your work. But they may be able and willing to join you in your spiritual work through prayer. Find someone in your church to lead this prayer team, and provide him or her with updates and prayer requests.
At times on social media, share prayer requests or let your social media followers know how they can join you in prayer. One easy way to do this is when you share updates about your ministry.
#4 – Build relationships
As a missionary to a college campus, God calls you to make disciples.
There are many ways you can connect with new college students and share the gospel.
But there’s one thing you can’t afford to miss:
Before thinking through events, programs, and Bible studies, you and your team will need to clarify how you’ll build relationships with college students.
Here’s the deal:
According to one study and confirmed by many others, most college students (64%) feel lonely. But like the vast majority of people, most of these college students will not be open to hearing what you have to say if they don’t know you.
There’s a time or place for hard-hitting evangelistic tactics. But in general, that’s not going to work on a college campus. To reach college students, you have to get to know college students.
Practically speaking, be slow to share the gospel and be quick to build relationships. It’s okay to take your time with this process. In other words, don’t focus on building a program or hosting a one-time event. Instead, focus on building long-term relationships with students.
To be honest, there’s nothing too fancy about this process. All it requires is to be present and patient.
In your college ministry, there’s a good chance that most of your time will be spent hanging out with students, and that’s okay. This tactic may not be looked upon favorably by people who are not involved in your ministry. But building relationships is vital to the livelihood of your college ministry.
Practically speaking, plan on carving out a significant portion of your schedule to be present on campus. It’s also a good idea to empower your leadership team and others to spend time building relationships too.
Now that we’ve settled this point, let’s turn our attention to reaching and discipling students.
#5 – Reach and disciple students
There’s at least one good thing about starting a college ministry:
You have a ready-made calendar to work with.
When launching your organized events, it’s best to work with the school's calendar. For instance, you don't want to launch a big event during spring break—no one is going to be on campus.
As you think through your plans, work your way into the natural rhythms of the school.
There are two ways you can do this:
- By semester
During the week, life at the college or university you want to reach has natural ebbs and flows. In other words, it’s best to swim with the tide instead of launching something that goes against the rhythms already in place. As a missionary, your goal is to work yourself into the life of the campus—not against it.
For example, you’ll have to work around class schedules, time students tend to hang out during the day, or sporting events, programs, or clubs taking place during the week. Instead of competing with popular events or scheduling a Bible study during normal class time, find a way to work whatever you do into the life of the school.
Three additional big items you want to be aware of are fall, spring, and summer semesters.
As you think through your plans, be sure not to launch big events during midterms or finals. Instead, think about providing food and drinks for students or a place to refresh themselves during this time.
When it comes to the different semesters, keep in mind that activities on campus ramp up toward the beginning of the semester, but life on campus tends to die down toward the end.
Finally, during the summer semester or break, consider hosting events or mission trips to encourage college students to stay connected or serve others. Organizing short-term trips can be a great way to build community and maintain your momentum going into the next fall semester.
#6 – Evaluate your college ministry
Your college ministry will never “arrive.”
There’s not a destination you’ll reach when you know your work is done.
As you build a team, pray, and reach college students, you can learn a ton along the way and God may lead you to do something you didn’t originally plan on.
After you start your college ministry, plan on gathering your team together to evaluate how things are going after the fall and spring semester. This doesn’t mean you can’t address things in between these times. But it’s best to set a time to evaluate (and celebrate) your work.
Here are some questions you can ask to evaluate your ministry:
- How does everyone feel about his or her role on the team?
- How many new college students did we meet?
- How many students took next steps?
- Did we accomplish our goals with the events, Bible study, or weekly gathering?
- What can we do differently?
- How well did we keep the prayer team informed?
These questions will help you to get started.
To put together a more thorough evaluation, our team created an evaluation tool you can use. It’s a part of the resource library we created at Church Fuel. This form will help you to evaluate every nook and cranny of your college ministry, and it will also provide you with a list of topics for conversations.
During your evaluations, make it a point to celebrate your wins. From meeting new students to starting a small group, provide everyone on your leadership team an opportunity to share one or more recent wins, as well as how he or she is growing from the experience.
Over to you
If you have a college or university in your town, consider starting a college ministry.
If your church isn’t in a great spot to launch a new ministry, consider partnering with another church in your community or an organization that is already active on campus.
There are countless college students who need to hear the gospel. Pray and see if God is calling you to be the one to share the good news.