Posted by: Justin Wallace | January 22, 2010

It’s all Greek to me?!?!?!?!

This post is simple…

How do we go about reaching the students that are involved with Greek Life?

How do we engage Greek Life?

What have you tried?

What has failed?

What has been successful?

What are some ideas that you’ve had but maybe you’ve been too afraid to try?

What are your thoughts, concerns, worries, fears?

Ready…Set…Discuss!

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Responses

  1. This is an area of college ministry that’s fairly well-established, so it would be a REALLY long discussion. I would encourage you to track down those on your campus (or another campus) who are doing this, at least to get a primer.

    InterVarsity seems to be the group most invested in this niche ministry, but Campus Crusade has specific work here, too. Campus Outreach also makes it a focus – as do plenty of others on various campuses.

    Like many niche ministries, Greek ministry has PHENOMENAL potential for effective impact – and in some ways, it can be more efficient or “easier,” for lack of a better word.

  2. It’s interesting to me that you talk about having niche ministries. I had a conversation with someone who has a lot of experience in college ministry and shared with her that we don’t do a lot with international students because we don’t believe it is our niche. She challenged me on this and asked why I didn’t think we should be reaching out to one of the groups of students that has the potential to make the most difference in our world (post-college). The other group she talked about was greek life. This got me thinking because we don’t target either group. So, Benson, in your opinion is it good to have these niche ministries? Is it more helpful and beneficial? Should the rest of us just, for the lack of a better way to put it, stay out of the way? Should we just tag along when needed or asked?

    Or should we look for opportunities to create? do something different?

    Another question I have about these niche ministries is this…Does this continue to encourage what already is taking place? The separation that takes place between greeks and everyone else? By having these niche ministries are we saying…you can stay over here and not interact with the rest of the student population?

    Is the current way we’re reaching out to this population healthy? Is it bringing the Kingdom of God to campus? (The Kingdom of God being a place where no one is better or greater than the other…that we are all on the same playing level…loved by God and pursuing God in unified community as unique individuals).

    Just some thoughts.

  3. So far my experience working with different college ministries (as an outsider simply observing) is most seem to operate in a specific “niche.”

    I know of an international student college ministry at a major university that serves hundreds of these students every week. That’s their mission. They’re very good at reaching these kids with the hope and love of Christ by sharing the Gospel with them. That’s where their strengths are. All of these leaders have spent time on overseas missions, and have experience in “bridging the gap” between cultures.

    They are not, however, staffed with the right people to successfully “minister” to your (with all due respect) typical fraternity brother.

    Does that make sense?

  4. Good thoughts and questions. I’m not sure I completely understand all the Qs, so let me know if I don’t get to everything.

    I think it’s vital for each ministry to weigh what they need to do. Certainly, not every ministry should participate in every niche. Not all college ministries should make a concerted effort to reach internationals, Greeks, or anybody else. As always, our job is to exegete the situation and be open to groups we’re supposed to be reaching. There would be a TON that would go into that decision.

    It does seem that SOME niches on some campuses will be best reached by college ministries joining together, instead of each having a separate push for that niche. That seems to happen with Internationals more than some of the others. I would argue that’s sometimes a lot better. Other times, not so much.

    I do believe that niche-based college ministry has some really, really big potential. The only “standard” ones I can think of are Internationals, Greeks, Ethnicities, Freshmen, and Athletes. But in some places, there are other niches worth reaching. In fact, some college ministries might ONLY want to be niche-based ministries.

    The main reason anyone would think about niches is if they believe the students involved are going to be better-impacted by focused impact. Are Varsity Athletes better impacted by a ministry (like FCA) that caters to their specific schedules, communities, preferences, and issues? Maybe. The same goes for Gamers, residents of a certain dorm, or Seniors.

    It’s important to notice that it’s the same argument for having college ministry in general. All college ministry is niche-based, but there’s a big spectrum on how much more that’s broken down – including a few ministries that break it down into hundreds of niches per campus. So not only should we all weigh carefully whether we use a niche approach, but also how “nichey” we’re supposed to get.

    However, the question you posed about WHETHER we should separate groups out like that is a big question for our field. I know I’ve heard debated whether individual ethnicities should be reached as niches. I assume those debates could equally apply to other niches. And they’re really, really important debates to have.

    On some of your questions, there might be a touch of False Dilemmas. Oftentimes niche ministries do interact largely with the main group – or even almost entirely. There’s a spectrum there.

    So those are my thoughts. Hope that’s helpful.

  5. I am very interested in the sub-topic of niche going on right now.

    I tend to see a difficulty in focus or quality if you remove the niche mentality.

    Though we are specifically honing in on ministry to the college/university “niche”, as Benson noted, universities have an ample amount of niches within themselves.

    I wonder a couple things: If you aren’t focusing down on a particular niche, are you stretching your influence too thin? (the classic focusing all the things you do ‘well’ to do few things with ‘excellence’)

    OR

    Is the niche possibility the capacity to reach the most by pouring into the two or three most influential niches?

  6. I would like to respond to a couple of things.

    First, I am still interested to hear how different ministries minister to the Greeks. That is not an area where we are particularly strong, and I am curious as to how that looks for others.

    In saying that, I can say that one or two ministries on our campus have made it their niche to minister to/within the fraternities and sororities. They obviously do a great job and seem very effective at what they do, but I do believe their niche-ness raises a couple of flags.

    First, I think these ministries are so focused on one thing that they forget about the whole. There seems to be no other area of campus worth reaching, and students have told me (taken with a grain of salt of course) that these ministries feel exclusive or for the “cool kids.”

    So, I think a question is: Should niche ministry be the end or the means to an end? Does ministry stop with the niche? Or should we be always seeking to challenge ourselves in other areas? I am inclined to believe that healthy growth should lead us to challenge ourselves (which I see as different from stretching yourself too thin).

    Secondly, because of the niche of these ministries, I believe it perpetuates the divisions already present on campus. My campus is in the deep south, where distinct lines still exist for social and racial divides, as well as the other groups and subcultures that exist on campus. If a ministry concentrates on a particular group, does that concentration then reinforce these lines? Should not the work of our ministries be to represent the full body – full meaning that not everyone looks the same or has the same interests? Should not the work of ministry challenge the predominant campus culture instead of being led by it?

    Lastly, I am concerned when I hear other ministers talk about how to have greater “impact” and “influence”? I’m sure these are used in the sincerest of ways, but the church of the west has found itself in quite a mess because it gave way to wanting more influence. I’m all for being strategic in campus ministry, but maybe we should not think in terms of influential ministry; let’s think in terms of incarnational ministry.

    Incarnational ministry makes itself at home among those they seek to serve. It is a place where the divine and human come together to fulfill God’s purposes.

    It is often a place that is being neglected, where no clear influence can be seen, and where there may be more ridicule than recognition.

    You could say that Jesus had his niche (Jews), but that did not stop him from going through Samaria, healing Jairus’ daughter, eating with tax collectors, or hearing the final words of a common thief.

    Incarnational ministry always has a greater end in mind. (or should I say THE greatEST end)

    Please don’t receive this as a rant from a frustrated, marginalized campus minister, but the heart of one who seeks to be truly faithful on a difficult campus setting. We will very soon be targeting a specific group on campus ourselves. I guess you can call it a niche, but I prefer to think of it as the next faithful step in our call “to establish genuine Christian community through cultivating relationships and creating opportunities for spiritual growth.” (A mission statement my leaders just drafted.)

    I am open to other thoughts, as I consider myself a perpetual student of campus ministry.

  7. @ D
    Not sure what the concern is with “niche ministry.” I can see it being problematic if someone uses “we’re trying to reach Emergent Eskimo Albinos” as an excuse to cop-out on the rest of the campus.

    But if campus ministry is a form of missions, aren’t we always talking about people-groups? And Greeks are hardly a small niche. They are often the movers-and-the-shakers.

    About “influencing.” Reach the Greeks and you reach the campus. Paul went to the synagogues, the marketplaces, the areopagus, and the courts. How much of Acts is devoted to speaking to the powers-that-be? Frat row is definitely on the campus version of that list.

    Also, the old saying “aim at nothing and you’ll hit it” is true with our field. Shouldn’t we ALWAYS be thinking about who we’re trying to reach?

    I’m eager to hear what is working, because at Penn State, we (collectively) have a long history of not doing particularly well with the Greeks. And in many ways they run our campus.

  8. D., you’ve picked up on some excellent concerns. Here’s my attempt to answer your Qs.

    I’ll start with the “impact” / “influence” one, since that will lay the foundation for the rest of my answer. I think there’s some confusion here about how those words are being used. When I speak of “impact,” “influence,” etc., I mean spiritual impact on individuals. I mean that college students (and perhaps other members of the campus community) should “be different” as a result of college ministries. “Incarnational,” technically, is a method, not a result. What you said even points to that – groups are “incarnational” in hopes that it will best help accomplish God’s purposes, including influencing students toward a deeper relationship with Jesus.

    You are very right to notice one of the down-sides of niche ministry. There are usually real trade-offs in the choices we make – which many college ministers may struggle to see because they haven’t seen “both sides” of those choices. By choosing to focus on particular niches, a group can minimize those students’ opportunities to participate in the greater Kingdom, can turn other students off or – worse – make them feel uncared for, and can help perpetuate divisions on campus.

    But as college ministers, we START with the presupposition that some “targeted” ministry is valuable – and worth choosing despite its negatives. Because we’re in a niche ministry of our own! By serving in college ministry at all, we face the same potential down-sides mentioned above! By building ministry to college students, we draw some lines between them and the Body of Christ as a whole, we exclude (implicitly or explicitly) a whole lot of non-collegians, and we may perpetuate divisions in greater Christendom. Yet we believe that, in this case, being incarnational means serving college students “on their turf” and “on their terms.” And then, if we’re smart, we work hard to overcome the negatives as best we can.

    So if that’s true, then it only stands to reason that one can argue for even more specific “incarnations,” reaching not only a local campus tribe “on its terms” but even a particular segment within that tribe. Because, just as with college ministry as a whole, the up-sides are numerous – too many to try to work through here. Again – all college ministry is niche-based, with the spectrum bordered at one end by combo ministries (involving 16-30-year-olds, for example) and at the other end one-on-one discipleship. So the really important discussion to have is how to decide where to draw the lines – and I’m unaware of those discussions taking place.

    Finally, here’s an important distinction: There are differences between stand-alone niche ministries and those college ministries that just reach niches as part of their work. It’s some of the latter that might have left a bad taste in your mouth – not that it’s a bad approach, it’s just got a few more things to watch out for. When ministries solely focus on a particular niche (like FCA does, or the specific Greek chapters of InterVarsity), they aren’t “excluding” as much as diving deep into one particular segment. They reach those niches and don’t try to branch out further. However, when ministries simply target niches to build their campus-wide work, they need to guard against some of the unhealthy aspects you noted.

    Hopefully this gets at some of what you’re thinking, or at least provides some food for thought! This is definitely a discussion for months and years, not so much minutes or hours. 🙂

    Again, great questions, D.

  9. Benson,
    Thanks for the response. Indeed, there was a gap between how certain words were intended and how I was reading them. My goal was to ask some hard questions and make sure that we are understanding the implications of certain kinds of ministry.

    I am not opposed to niche ministry as long as it is only one part of the whole. I think my comments reflect that in my experience, I have seen ministries make that their entire focus, which seems to not create the kind of Christian community we desire.

    (On a side note, incarnational is a method, but I think it could also be an inner reality. Just something I’m working on in my head and heart…)

    Hope I get to see you this summer…

  10. […] ministry and other collegiate niches: Justin Wallace prompted some great discussion by simply asking about ministry to fraternities, sororities, and other niches. Then Rick Harper (director of one of the largest […]


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