The first few weeks on campus offer a unique opportunity that will not be duplicated during any other time during the school year. The harvest is never more plentiful than it is during the opening weeks of school as a fresh crop of incoming students are all looking to get plugged into something.
What makes things doubly busy is that your focus is divided. You are trying to attract and get new students involved with the ministry while at the same time you are trying to reconnect with students who were involved last year.
The bottom line is that with all the busyness not everything that needs to be accomplished in the first couple weeks will get done. This article, however, will elaborate on those things that simply must not be allowed to fall through the cracks. What is done and what is left undone in these first few weeks can set the trajectory of ministry for the entire school year.
THE FIRST TWO WEEKS ON CAMPUS
All weeks on campus are not equal. The first two weeks offer a unique opportunity that will not be duplicated during any other time during the school year. The harvest is never more plentiful than it is during the opening weeks of school. You have the potential to get more good, quality contacts now than at any other time of the school year. The weather is warm, students are standing around in registration lines. The atmosphere is almost festive. Studies have shown that students are more responsive to the gospel in September than they are in May. During the first couple of weeks on campus, students are looking for friendships. Peer groups and schedules are formed in these critical first few weeks. Christian students come to campus looking for a place to plug in and grow.
It takes a tremendous amount of energy to begin the school year. It is no wonder that you feel exhausted at the end of the first week. Sixteen hour days are not uncommon. You may hear some or all of the following from students. “I’m not sure how much I’m going to be involved in Cru this year.” “I think I’ll be phasing out of Cru this year.” “I think I could be more effective for Christ without the Cru stigma.” “I’m planning on being more involved in God’s instrument, the local church, this semester.” If these don’t sound familiar, they soon will.
Your team need to know that this is not a “business as usual” time. Life will probably not be very balanced during this time. You will be building and flying the airplane at the same time. “Thriving on Chaos” will probably be your theme. This isn’t the time to schedule your vacation. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.
THE LEADERSHIP RETREAT
To ask your leadership students to return a few days before the beginning of school is essential to a strong start. They need to be involved in the thinking and planning of the school year if they are really to own the goals and methods of the ministry. Don’t assume that they are on board and aligned with what you are doing. They need to be remotivated and rechallenged. A weekend leadership retreat, right before school begins is very helpful for renewing vision and hearts for reaching students. This also gives you time to delegate responsibilities for the opening weeks on campus. You must also organize who will be taking surveys, sitting at tables, etc. and for how long.
Visibility is the art of making the movement known on campus. Being visible on the campus says “What we’re involved in is significant.” The goal of visibility is that everyone on campus knows that you exist. Much of what we do visibly during the first two weeks will determine what kind of students we will attract to the movement. If we want to attract bold students, we need to be doing bold, visible things. The best way to galvanize returning students is to throw them to the lions during the first week--get involved in evangelism and follow-up of new contacts.
Posters and flyers are great, but there is no substitute for people to people contact. You have no doubt found that people become involved in Cru through social contacts--friends and roommates. Students want to see identifiable faces behind the publicity. They are asking, “Are these the kind of people I want to be involved with?” Hand out flyers and use them for extending personal invitations. Printed publicity simply lends credibility to the personal invitation. Whatever publicity you have printed should be representative of who you are. Make it sharp! A few more dollars spent here will well be worth it.
SUGGESTIONS FOR VISIBILITY
Set up several Cru tables around the entrances to the campus. Have a place for Bible study sign-up, surveys to fill out, a Cru brochure/calendar, the Fall Conference Brochure, and an assortment of Cru literature.
You may want to offer free refreshments at each table. Posters need to be placed in every living area--especially in the target audiences you will be focusing on. Two types of posters are helpful. One is for your weekly meeting, the second is for a Bible studies in that particular living group.
First day of school picnics are a great way to socially start the year. This is something that Cru students can invite someone to immediately. Charge a couple of dollars and barbecue some burgers, set up a volleyball net and soccer field and let the good times begin. Other campuses have an all-campus party or Freshman volleyball tournaments to kick the year off.
GATHERING CHRISTIANS, REACHING NON-CHRISTIANS...OR BOTH?
The first two weeks of school are essential for getting evangelistic contacts as well as locating Christians who are interested in growing and reaching others. An effective ministry includes existing Christians who are “found, trained, and mobilized” as well as non-Christians who are to be “won, built, and sent.” For instance, Keith Davy at the University of Nebraska designated the first two weeks on campus as “Christian rush.” He and his team purposefully targeted the believers since they will be the source of manpower for the movement. Their reasoning is that since few other groups are actively sharing their faith, the non-believers won’t be going anywhere. However, remember this...if you target the unbelievers, the believers will come along. If you target the believers, you probably will not attract one non-Christian.
The easiest way to contact students is through a brief four or five question survey designed to give you quality contacts. On the first day of school most students are conditioned to filling out forms. To take 30 seconds to fill out a brief questionnaire seems like the most natural thing in the world to do. Design your survey so it will be easy to determine two things:
This way you can have a large pool of contacts with which to begin the year. Naturally you will want to have their school address, phone number and their year in school. This is particularly helpful in reaching affinity groups, target audiences or the Freshman class. Leave your survey open-ended enough so as not to obligate yourselves to call everybody if you do not have the resources to do so. Take your surveys in and around the areas or target audiences you will be reaching this year. Because Freshmen are so strategic, take your surveys outside of the Freshman dorms, during Freshman orientation, or in predominately Freshman classes. Do you need someone to lead your music? Target the music school.
CONSERVING THE FRUIT
It is imperative that we see follow-up of contacts as of utmost importance. Divide your contacts by target audiences or living groups. Set a deadline (a commitment) by which all contacts will be contacted--usually around three weeks. After three weeks mail a flyer or activities calendar to all those you couldn’t contact. This puts the responsibility on them to find you--and they will if they are really interested. By doing this you will be setting your agenda for the first two weeks--that of following up on every contact God has given you. Contacts will be “cold” after two weeks and “dead” after three weeks anyway. To have a stack of “dead contacts” on your desk will simply keep you from moving on to your next evangelistic strategy. Your goal is to present the gospel to all who will listen. It should not be unusual to have between 30-40 evangelistic contacts during the first two weeks if all we are doing is evangelism. Be faithful with these and God will give you more.
Bible studies, Discovery Groups, Cell Groups, Connection Groups, etc. should begin no later than the second week on campus so you have something to invite students to immediately. Schedule the times and locations of your Bible studies before the year begins. This way you have something to invite students to immediately. Often we make the mistake of starting groups too late in the semester. You don’t have to wait until you contact everyone, coordinate schedules etc. before you begin. Students can always join in later. Don’t waste your time.
In order to free students up for evangelism during this critical period and in order to conserve the fruit of existing Christians you may want to begin the year with larger open (even coed) Bible studies. Crusade students can invite and bring their friends to these open studies without having to take time to prepare their own groups. Small groups can begin after the Fall Retreat.
THE FIRST APPOINTMENT
Because you will have scores of contacts, it is imperative that your team knows what to do when they sit down with a new contact. Always go in pairs. Often you can simply drop by a dorm room of a contact that you have. Without getting too complicated, you need to share the Four Spiritual Laws with him or her and a brief testimony of how you came to Christ and why you got involved in Cru. Even if you suspect this student is a Christian, he or she will now know what we believe and perhaps for the first time will see someone actually share their faith. You also need to tell them about Cru. A brochure which explains your ministry and opportunities for involvement is very useful at this point. Invite him or her to your Bible study or follow-up appointment.
WHAT ABOUT RETURNING STUDENTS?
Because of their commitment and involvement, some of your students will be candidates for immediate appointments. The best thing to do is not to immediately talk about how tough their summer was but rather to jump in the battle together. You can catch up socially at the leadership retreat, socials or an evening at your house. Now is the time for harvesting so begin immediately sharing your faith together with the contacts you have. This is a great catalyst to walking in the Spirit. It also adds an urgency to what we are doing and demonstrates the need for laborers.
Jesus involved Himself in the work of the Father, invited others to follow Him and occasionally looked over His shoulder to see who was taking the challenge. Go, and do likewise. There are a number of other students who come back expecting to be discipled because they have been around for three years. A mistake many team leaders make is committing to too many people too soon. Don’t over-commit yourself to the wrong people. Pray, pray and pray some more. The principle is this: Spend the maximum time with those who will assume the maximum responsibility for the future of the movement. Our commitment to any student should be a reflection of his faithfulness and commitment to the Lord and to the ministry. We are obligated to follow-up all new or interested Christians, but choose who you will be discipling.
YOUR FIRST MEETING OF THE YEAR
Your first meeting of the year is an statement of who you are and what your purpose is on campus. Are you a nice little club that gathers weekly to sing praise music with your eyes closed, or are you a movement of dynamic, Spirit-filled Christians who know how to enjoy life and are involved in the Great Commission? Gear this meeting to the first-time guest. Remember the questions he or she is asking:
Somehow your first meeting should be directed to answering these questions. Let the meeting speak for itself. Rather than saying, “We like to have fun”--Have some fun! Rather than saying “We believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God”--speak simply and authoritatively from the Word! Make the atmosphere more festive than serious, informative than exhortative. Make it spiritual but not overly pious or religious. Give the students an opportunity to sign up for small groups. Have a great time.
MINISTERING TO YOUR TEAM
It is probably a good idea to meet daily with your team for the first week. Because they are giving so much, it would be very beneficial for you to encourage them daily from the Word and pray together to help recharge their spiritual batteries. Communication and a resolved commitment to walk in the Spirit is essential. No matter how urgent the hour, Jesus’ words still ring true, “...apart from Me you can do nothing.” One additional note: In this job we can’t wait until all the work is done until we have fun. Help your team enjoy the ministry. Take your team out for a 7 am golf game, go to breakfast, watch a video, eat some ice cream--enjoy your team.
Eric Swanson is a former Cru staff member who now serves as a Leadership Community Director for Externally Focused Churches. He received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Bakke Graduate University.
Chip Scivicque, Ron Sanders, and Jay Lorenzen discuss how to build movements characterized by passionate gospel proclamation and compassionate gospel demonstration.
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