By Rev. Marcus Zill
Do you have a college nearby? Have you ever wanted your church to start a campus ministry there? There are a lot of things to consider when starting a campus ministry from scratch. Here are just a few:
1. Purpose: Prayerful Consideration
Prayerfully consider what you want to begin and why. Do you want to primarily care for Lutheran college students? Witness to unbelievers on campus? Engage students, professors and others who are antagonistic toward the Gospel? Establishing clear goals and objectives will help you target your efforts.
2. Research: Get to Know the College or University
This ministry is difficult if you aren’t spending time on campus. So go there. 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. 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?
Get familiar with the organizational structure. What offices might you need to work with? Is there a campus ministry association? If so, how do you become a part of it? Are there international students? If so, how many? Where are they from? What are their needs?
Investigate other religious student groups on campus. While you don’t necessarily want to duplicate what they teach or offer, you can learn from others.
3. Support: Creating 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 hosting a mission festival and 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.
4. Recruitment: Students and Volunteers
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.
Students will come and go, so you need volunteer help to provide stability and continuity. In addition to the pastor, who else might be on staff who can contribute? Do you have members at church who are faculty or staff on campus? What about alumni?
There might be other interested individuals beyond your congregation who may wish to help.
5. Locatedness: Creating 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.
Turf is important, but you might have to create it. Students, especially freshman, often feel dislocated. Having a common weekly meeting time or place 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.
6. Communication: Getting the Word out!
You have many tools available to 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 fan page for your student group. A web page or blog would also be helpful. If your congregation has its own website, ask to get a prominent link for “college students” from the home page to your group’s Facebook or blog page. This will help link your church to your student group.
7. Recognition: Starting 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 students’ 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 student representative may need to attend an annual meeting. 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.
8. Network: Connect 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 100 Christ on Campus chapters and consider becoming an official chapter so that others can seek to network with you.
Seek opportunities to do activities with other campus ministries, such as retreats or servant events. Students love these opportunities.
The chapter network is also helpful for those who are researching where they might consider going to college. Many students and parents want to know that there will be a faithful church that will care for their son or daughter.
If you have an interest in doing campus outreach, the perfect time to start is now. And we are here to help you. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can help provide additional ideas, support, or resources to help you get started!
Rev. Marcus T. Zill is the Christ on Campus Executive for Higher Things and the campus pastor at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church & Campus Center in Laramie, WY. He is also serving as the chairman for a National Campus Ministry Conference in 2013 through the LCMS Office of National Mission. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.