Posted by: naccm | May 12, 2010

5 Things We Would Do Again (And 5 Things We Would Not) in the First 5 Years of Planting a Campus Ministry

In 2005, we moved to Boston to start SojournCollegiateMinistry, and had little idea what we were doing (I’d say we’re still figuring it out).  But, five years in seems like a good time to reflect/share a few lessons from that experience.

Greater-Boston has unique challenges:  50+ campuses, 250,000 students, most of whom depend on public transportation to travel.

Having said that, every campus has its unique challenges and opportunities…and we are still learning how to do campus ministry in this context.  What I hope to offer here are reflections that I would take with me if I were to go do this again…anywhere.

1. Inviting a Board of Directors/Management Team

This actually has two parts:  We incorporated locally and chose a diverse board of directors that really served (and continue to serve) as more of a management team.  Incorporating locally (rather than under a larger organization) allowed for broader regional connection and ownership.  Many of the churches that support us financially have a voice in our direction via the board of directors.

The original board of directors were people from supporting churches, experienced campus ministers, and experienced managers…including a member with little ministry experience.  Those first three years, this group really protected us, our family…encouraged us, and steered us clear of major organizational stumbling blocks.

Each member was asked to serve three years.  The original board served to protect us and get us on our feet.  Our second wave of directors have served to push us, challenge us, and move us forward in specific areas (teaching, small groups, branding, justice, etc).  This has been invaluable.

2.  Partnering with a church plant

This is a question of philosophy of ministry, and many would disagree…many people I respect and think are doing great work.  For us, we did not want to build an ecclesiology for campus separated from the local church.  We also wanted to created “mini-movements” (see below) instead of a gathering.  However, it is great for mini-movements to be anchored together, to be part of a larger movement.

Starting with a church plant, we have been able to work forward together about how to incorporate students into the church without negating the missional impulse to the campus.  This is much easier to do from the beginning than something already established an in motion.

The partnership has many advantages for a campus ministry plant:

  • students can integrate their local church and campus culture
  • students see a healthy institutional church relationship
  • the campus ministry can focus on discipleship of students without the time, energy and effort of creating alternative “worship gathering” experiences.

The partnership also has some benefits for the church plant:

  • Partnership provides the church plant with additional trained/skilled volunteer ministry staff
  • assists the church in developing an inter-generational gathering without focusing most of their effort on students/becoming a “collegiate church”
  • Campus ministries generally have a better system for “sending”/tracking alumni.  This “sending” impulse of college ministry culture alongside a church-plant (especially a church-planting church) and alumni tracking of campus ministry could/should help rally church-planting teams around the world.

3.  Embedded in the Community

We wanted to begin by engaging in the local needs-based ministries of the community.  In the first year, while we were setting our foundation, all of our staff were involved in serving in the same non-profit weekly.  We do believe the gospel has a unique voice to offer compassion and justice ministries, consequently, it didn’t matter if it was a “church-based” ministry or not, but we wanted our staff to be able to live out compassion from the gospel they believe in.

In so doing, it became important to us to embed ourselves in one or two places for the long haul.  This led us to partner with local missional churches in under-resourced neighborhoods to build embedded (living) connections for long-term involvement.

Rather than service projects, we want students to engage the city as a long-term model for personal involvement informed by their understanding of the gospel.  This has led to numerous students and alumni living and working together in those neighborhoods.  Because we believe the gospel is good news…that the resurrection of Jesus fundamentally reorients how people understand their past and informs their future…following Jesus breaks into every decision that disciples make.  Moving into an under-resourced neighborhood is not the only way this happens, but it is a visible example of how the gospel impacts how we choose to invest our lives.  Especially for students who are “future” oriented, to engage “today” is an issue of discipleship.

4.  Building A Network of “Mini-Movements”

We hold to the idea that “small is the new big“.  Rather than create a large group gathering we chose to multiply “mini-movements” – community/small groups that meet to provide places of community/hospitality and facilitate asking questions about faith in Jesus, that are intentional about pursuing God together, and learning/practicing theology in real-time.

Students have far more missional impulse at the ground level and can react spontaneously in ways that we could never plan.  Our prayer has been to provide enough discipleship, teaching, encouragement and examples to inspire students to discover and act together.  This has resulted in some beautiful expressions and stories.

I was talking with a friend of mine recently in a large church that is re-framing it’s small group ministry to reflect a missional component.  He told me the greatest challenge of missional communities is growth, that most missional communities rarely grow above 200 people.  The challenge is to provide a tie to a larger movement and structure without losing the organic expression…something we continue to work through and hold in tension.

5.  Working Into Full-time Ministry

Only one of our 4 (now 5) staff members started off full-time.  Everyone else worked part-time jobs (how many church/campus ministry pastors has Starbucks funded (and fuled), by the way?!).  This really connected our staff to non-Christian students and conversations.

Secondarily, this has given our staff a chance see if they can make ministry work.  Because we are small group/missional community based, each of our staff has to develop a group, develop a discipleship community and develop a leadership/multiplication plan.  In essence, none of our staff positions exist without a component of discipleship of 12-18 students.  A volunteer can handle a small/community group without working in ministry full-time (thus part-time staff works great), but once a group grows to 12-18 and multiplies to two groups or becomes a campus expression it is impossible to feel like you can do the job effectively part-time.  This has significant impact on desire for fundraising.

Secondarily, it is possible that within two-years you have a presence of people who God has brought your way to disciple and for them to pour back into your staff’s work for students who follow-them.  If one of our staff has had a impact in a student’s life, it is likely they will support them financially in some way.  This helps build a more sustainable, staff and campus connected core of support.

Continued next week…5 Things We Wouldn’t Do Again.



  1. Tim,

    What great wisdom! Thanks for sharing this.

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