The Question Behind all Questions

"Who has the time to do this?" This gravity well question echoes in my brain at every moment of every planning meeting I attend and in my role, I attend quite a few strategy smack downs. In the last three years  I have consumed about 10,000 gallons of coffee meeting with churches to discuss how to start Chi Alpha outreaches on the colleges and universities near their congregations. In every one the "time" query haunts the air around us.


Almost every church is initially motivated to improve their twenty something outreach, but once the brain storming dust settles, very few actually end up getting students mobilized on campus. Their biggest problem is not talent or heart but time.

It is usually the very busy youth pastor or even busier young adult pastor (after all he/she is also the media pastor, small group pastor and landscaper) who must find time to develop these efforts on campus. Herding this scattered age group with their multiple low-end jobs and community college schedules, can quickly become a time warping schedule killer. Getting them in one room anywhere, let alone on campus, can seem as impossible as stopping time itself.

I spent last Thursday, Friday and Saturday (9/25-27/08) in Minneapolis meeting with five other veteran leaders who have proven results facilitating church-based campus ministry. We came together to see if we could  come with a plan to help churches. We asked a lot of question but behind them all lurked the issue of time.

To start, we decided to pool our experience and make a list of all of the examples of great church based campus ministries to see what we could learn about how they do it. We quickly discovered that there are some great examples of churches that have figured out how to make this work.

From these success stories we formed a question to guide our plan. How can I invest 10 hours a week and get a return of at least 100 engaged students?

Ok – hold on. I hear all of you campus missionaries and young adult leaders laughing at me right now but give me a minute to explain.

First of all we figure that unless we empower students to do the ministry it will not work even if we have all the time and money in the world. The point is that limiting our time may actually help if we do it right. The focus of having only ten hours a week forces us to invest in student ownership almost exclusively. Furthermore, the reality on the ground for most churches is that finding a leader who can give 10 hours is already a stretch. In most settings, if that youth pastor, church planter or young adult leader can’t do it in 10, it probably can’t be done at all.

Finally, as everyone who has visited youtube knows, viral growth always out performs artificially orchestrated growth. It is not unnatural laborious plans that produce great campus ministry. Lasting results come from cultivating environments (especially in the genesis of the ministry) that seed reproducing viral growth.

Here’s what we came up with in terms how to pull of this 10 hour viral based investment:

1 Diagnostic Survey. The leader with limited time must learn his/her missionfield backwards and forwards first. This alone will save an enormous amount of time by learning about hidden pitfalls and avoiding specific strategies that waste time because they will not work in your mission field.

2. Nucleus Selection: Jesus took an entire night to pray about who should be a disciple and who should become an apostle. Before any on campus presence is established praying through and recruiting a small core group (3-5) of highly committed leaders should become the exclusive focus of our time. Getting this step right may take more than a few weeks but if we do get it right we will save tons of time down the road.

3. DNA Strengthening: Once we have recruited a core, that group does the same for their friends. This DNA strand of 20 or so sets the genetic direction for the future of the group. A weekend retreat, road trip or missions adventure is essential here, not only to bond the group relationally but for strengthening core values from the start. I confess this will probably take you more than 10 hours if you do it correctly but you can always make up the time invested here during later (like during finals week).

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4. Culture Self-Perpetuation: Now comes the fun part. Notice we have not talked about models or strategy or launch dates at all yet. That is because your job is to make them come up with the strategy. This is essential both for saving time and for increasing their ownership. An ok idea that is owned by students will always work better than a great idea that you came up with. If you spend your 10 hours a week as an idea mediator and plan encourager not only will you free up you calendar but you will see greater fruit on campus.

5. Provide Holistic Supervision: This is the "repeat as needed" stage. Once you have the patten of selecting and enabling students to do the ministry then, your job becomes providing oversight. Helping student balance worship and fellowship, or discipleship and witness, while they perform the actually ministry is the goal.

This is still very much only an outline of an outline. Our group hopes to pull in more church based campus ministry leaders to leverage resources for each stage, develop effective start up model plans, and help with the recruiting of these core supervising leaders. In all of this the specific plans, models, small group and large group meetings will vary from situation to situation greatly but the need to develop students to own the ministry will not.

You might be thinking about now "Curt, this sounds like it would work even if I am full time on campus (or planting a church, youth ministry etc. etc.)." You got us. It’s true. This is not a new creative plan (in fact read Coleman’s Master Plan for the best discussion of this method) it is just the plan we must use if we are very busy.

The truth is that the time and challenges of ministering to twenty somethings on campus force us to focus on this ownership development pattern. Because time is the question behind all questions for church based campus ministry we are forces to select, train, release and supervise to maximize our time.

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