Insights into Planting at Community Colleges

This post is the fifth post in a nine-part series reflecting on InterVarsity's Ambition conference. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage (Series: An Ambition for Mission)

One of the main reasons Amy and I moved from Virginia is because we wanted to be a part of what God was doing to reach community college students. I've written previously about community college ministry here (3 Reasons We Avoid Community Colleges and Why Those Reasons Don't Matter).

So, when I had the chance to go to a conference focused on planting new ministry, I wanted to find other people with a similar passion. Kurt Thiel and Natalia Kohn hosted two seminars on this topic and Kurt was kind enough to let me pick his brain for 2 hours during the break (Natalia's a good friend and I've been picking her brain for years).

Here are some of the ideas that came up ...

Outreach is a paradigm for ministry

In standard campus ministry practice, there are intense seasons of outreach at the beginning of each new school year, helping students connect with your campus ministry as soon as they step on campus. The idea is that you want to connect with them before their calendars fill up.

The standard practice is to transition from outreach to program as quick as possible. Once you connect with people, you pay attention to them. And this makes sense.

But at a community college this doesn't work.

Students' calendars are already full when they first step on campus. They move quickly to class and then leave. You can't catch them in just one week of outreach. They are in and out all the time. At a community college, if you're not visible, you don't exist.

So a thriving community college plant will be engaging in outreach all year round. The doors never close. We are always working to welcome new students.

And outreach is our environment for discipleship. Once students connect with us, they start reaching out too. They develop boldness. They learn how to talk about their faith. No spectators.

Prayer is going to be your main thing

Natalia Kohn brought this to our attention powerfully during the conference. At other schools, Staff can make discipling their main thing (or Small Groups or preaching or Proxe Stations). But at a community college ... things are so up in the air ... prayer is a wise activity to make your main activity.

For many of us, prayer becomes our opening and closing thing or our fall-back thing. We don't know what it looks like to make prayer our main thing.

But it's worth exploring. Praying for the campus and for students. Praying with students. Teaching students to pray. Prayer is an activity that doesn't require large numbers or lots of money or consistent attenders. No matter what happens with us or with our ministry, we can always pray.

Momentum matters momentously

Kurt shared this simple, strategic insight. At everything we do, we need to be ready to invite students to whatever's next. This is how we build momentum on campus.

Meet someone at an outreach, invite them to lunch. If a student comes to a Bible Study, invite them to an outreach. Connect with someone randomly on campus, invite them to a Bible Study. Always be prepared to invite to whatever's next.

In some campus ministry situations, you can see students really connected to one point in a program, but to nothing else. They may go to Large Group but not Small Groups. They may enjoy being discipled, but not have any connection to on-campus evangelism.

At a community college, the connection is a communal connection. Students don't link in to programs. They link in with other people. With Staff. With professors. With other students. That's part of what makes our ministry special. That's the irony of the community college. Community college students hunger for community. And, for us, community creates its own momentum.

Missional community combats club mindset

The deadly plague of community college ministry is the club mindset. It's a spill-over from high school. Titles and elections. Campaign promises and doing the minimum. Getting things done, not knowing and being known. These all kill campus ministry.

But if you can build a missional community at a community college, if students are interested in serving their campus or their city or the world, if the gospel doesn't end with with "I'm saved" but goes on to "We're sent out to heal" ... if all this happens, you don't have to worry about the club mindset.

A community on mission will never be confused for a club on campus.

Kurt also had some brilliant ideas about connecting established chapters to community colleges and about the idea of training interns at community colleges. I'd share them here, but I'm still trying to wrap my brain around them. :) 

I realize that the posts in this series are long, being published slowly. Thanks for your patience in reading them. This is so helpful for me as I process this conference.

The next post in this series will reflect on Kim Hammond's talk about equipping everybody for God's mission. We weren't meant to be bystanders. We're supposed to be in the game. I'll post a link here as soon as the post publishes.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff Steve (and Kurt and Natalia). This is really helpful as I think and pray about establishing IV at Santa Fe College.