Category Archives: Discipleship

Off and Running in the Fall.

Most of these tips over the last several weeks have been about ending the Spring semester well, wrapping up the year, preparing for summer ministry, and getting set to hit the ground running in the fall.

Today’s tip is typically my last one of the year. But after a two week break, I will do a summer series on some of the habits of leaders.

Today’s focus is on the importance of a strong start in August, planning ahead, being intentional about our efforts, and maximizing the single most critical week of the campus year. Not everything applies in our missional context, but this article speaks to the urgency of the first week on campus and the reality of how quickly a student determines allegiances on campus.

“Every group I’ve studied has followed roughly the same pattern.  In fact, with only two exceptions, I have never seen a campus ministry grow after the first month of the year.”

Off And Running by Mike Woodruff

Three weeks into the Fall quarter finds most students in a rut.  They’ve picked their classes, joined their clubs and scheduled every waking minute between now and Thanksgiving.  Some have carved out time for “significant others,” most will have set aside entire weekends for football, pizza and parties, and a few will even have blocked out an hour or two for class.  But by the end of the first month it’s all in stone.  And if attending your large group meeting isn’t in their schedule by then, there is little hope it will be there come May.

During my 8 years with a church-based campus ministry in Washington State, I watched student involvement at our large group meetings climb from 150 to 700.  With the exception of one small hiccup up, all of that growth occurred in the Fall.  If we ended Spring quarter with 200 students, we started back in September with 350.  That May we’d be down around 300-far from growing, every group seems to lose numbers over the year-but by the next Fall we started with 450.  We grew by starting strong.  Every other group I’ve studied has followed roughly the same pattern.  In fact, with only two exceptions, I have never seen a campus ministry grow after the first month of the year.  And that means that if you’re serious about expanding your influence you need to begin with a shout.  If ever there was a time for a home run, it’s the first meeting of the Fall quarter.

Be Ready: Of course, starting strong is hard to do because first meetings are full of early season mistakes. The worship team is rusty, the microphones are lost and no one can find a three-prong adaptor to plug in the overhead.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Use the summer to jump start the Fall.  Put summer students to work preparing publicity and drama.  Work on your first message during June and July so it’s one of the strongest you give.  Ask the worship team to come back to campus a few days early for a planning and preparation retreat.  Or hire the worship band from a local church to help you begin with a bang.  Hold a dress rehearsal the night before.  Make it a party and buy pizza for the whole team.

Additionally, apply the popular business philosophy of continuous improvement. Keep a separate file folder just for the events that occur during the first few weeks of the Fall quarter, and as those events unfold critique them.  What could we do next year?  How could we have reached out more effectively to freshman?  Should we have started the meeting earlier? Later? Gone shorter? Longer? By continually updating this file-technically called an After Action Report-you can insure that your kick-offs get better and better.

Be Visible:  If you normally meet in a church or a room that is the least bit hard to find move your first meeting.  We picked one of the most visible buildings in the middle of campus even though that meant competing with a back-to-school kick off dance right outside the door. If your school has an activity fair where you can advertise, set up the best booth and offer the most free food. I’d suggest spending up to seventy-five percent of your advertising budget for the entire year on your first couple of meetings-and be creative.  Anybody can do posters.  Try banners, balloons, sandwich boards, flyers, blackboard blitzes and, of course, personal invitations. We sent out letters to all returning students welcoming them back to school and inviting them to our first meeting.  The invitation includes the who, what, where, when, and why of every event we have planned during the first week, and ends with me egging them to invite anyone and everyone they know to our very first meeting.  If they will send me the name of someone they’d like invited, I’ll send them a letter or give them a call.  We also make a special effort to reach freshman by handing out lots of flyers around the freshman dorms and in their registration lines. I know several Christian groups whose members come back to campus early just so they can help freshman move into the dorms.  They find that by being one of the first friendly faces a freshman meets it’s easy to form friendships that might later lead to a chance to share the Gospel or invite someone to a meeting.

The Sardine Effect:  During the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy’s advance man picked small high school gymnasiums for their political rallies.  He didn’t want the nicest auditorium to meet in; he wanted a place they could pack.  We’ve done the same. In fact, the room we now use seats 150 fewer students than we expect.  The fire marshal hates us, but the energy we create is incredible.

Pray, pray and pray:  But not right before the meeting.  The last place you want your leaders just before the start of the first meeting is locked up in a room with you.  They should be out inviting friends, greeting early arrivals or picking up newcomers who need a ride.  Hold your prayer meeting earlier in the week or earlier in the day. That frees everyone up to deal with last minute headaches and mingle with people.

Force Fellowship:  Helping freshmen feel welcome is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face; especially since upper-class students all gravitate to friends they haven’t seen in three months.  Place greeters at the door, plead with your Bible study leaders to befriend lost freshmen and end the meeting by asking people to find two people they don’t know and introduce themselves. I also explained that everyone-including our staff-feels like everybody here knows everybody else-except them.  The bigger the group the more of an issue this becomes and the more proactively you need to deal with it.

The Meeting:  First meetings are not for regular attendees.  Serve food, skip inside jokes, explain all terms, don’t sing any songs that you do not have the words for and otherwise bend over backwards to make visitors feel welcome.  Screen all announcements and any drama to be certain they are done well.  Seekers and nominal Christians are more likely to check you out at the beginning of the year-actually, most everyone is there to check out the opposite sex.  This is a point I make during the beginning of my talk because it’s guaranteed to prompt lots of nervous laughter-so adjust worship and your first message. Be light. Be user friendly. Be funny. Be short. Your goal is to get them to sign up for a Bible study and come back next week, not explain the finer points of the hypostatic union.

“… the first 168 hours after a student sets foot on campus represents the most strategic time for them to get plugged into your fellowship.”

Follow Up:  Life long friendships are often formed in the first few days of college, so cram as many opportunities for bonding into that week as you can.  We held a picnic the afternoon after our first meeting and sponsored a social event that weekend. Additionally, our staff worked around the clock placing people in small group Bible studies.  Our goal was that everyone who signed up for a study was contacted within twenty-four hours by his or her study leader.  That means at least one all-nighter for our staff, but it was worth it.  We wanted Bible Study leaders to be able to spend time with the members of their study during the first week.  They could meet with them at the weekend social, walk with them to church that first Sunday and sit with them at the next large group meeting.

Was all of this work easy?  Not hardly.  Trying to jump-start a college ministry is a lot like trying to kick start an aircraft carrier.  At least two or three people will nearly die of exhaustion.  But someone has to do it and without question the first 168 hours after a student sets foot on campus represent the most strategic time for them to get plugged into your fellowship.  Plan now to begin with a bang.

Have a great week summer.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

Keys to establishing new believers.

Many of us are familiar with The God Ask by Steve Shadrach, founder of Student Mobilization, co-founder of The Traveling Team, and currently, Executive Director of Center for Mission Mobilization.

Some time ago, I picked up Shadrach’s first book, The Fuel and The Flame. It’s a handbook on basic campus ministry and highlights the essentials of evangelism, discipleship and movement development.

His chapter “Invest Yourself in Establishing Young Believers” contains five prerequisites that were the very things I learned in the mid-70s as a student at Penn State.

1. Follow Up Is Essential

Every parent can tell you how absolutely helpless a newborn baby is. But, frankly, most parents are not prepared for what will become a life-long task of growing their baby to adulthood. Shadrach says, many of us want the glory and excitement of seeing a person come to faith, but we’re not willing to pay the price of following up with them…We can say we trust God to work in new converts’ lives and turn a blind eye to their needs, but how you pray for them and what you do with them will be critical in their initial development.” Pp. 149-50.

We know those first 24 hours are critical to get back to them with assurance of salvation. We don’t know how many doubts they entertain or the seriousness of their questions after we leave them and they start to mull over the decision they just made. They switched sides in a raging spiritual battle. Their non-believing friends will sow the seeds of doubt that the enemy will seek to cultivate.

It should be a given that we meet with them again the next day with assurance of salvation and answers to any questions they have about sin, forgiveness, prayer, etc. Get them started reading the Gospel of John and ask them to write down any questions they have for the next time.

One more thing: Have them sign up with That content and emails will work reinforce your own nurturing.

2. Each Individual Has Infinite Worth

Shadrach says, “it is so important that you take the lead in helping form their values and convictions—before the cement hardens.” Like wet cement, what is impressed early on will become permanent. “Consistent individual attention is key to helping them begin their new lives right and giving them a healthy long-term perspective of what a New Testament Christian really looks like. Don’t just point new Christians to large meetings or retreats, hoping that somehow they’ll find their way.” P. 154.

3. Major in Building the Basics

You know how important it is to have assurance of salvation, how to know and experience God’s love and forgiveness, how to be filled and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, how to apply the principles of growth, including Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, and putting their faith in action as they tell others about Christ. After almost 45 years of walking with Christ, I keep coming back to these in drawing near to the Lord.

I would commend the work that our R&D Team has done on a new Collaborative Discipleship process. It’s currently undergoing final revisions and is scheduled to go live May 12th on I encourage you to sign up to help test it and give your feedback. I also commend the Thrive Studies.

4. Use Groups to Help Establish Believers

Shadrach says, “Small groups are the backbone of your ministry…Much of Jesus’ discipleship took place in the context of a small group. P. 163. There is something about a learning environment where questions are encouraged and answers discovered together that builds faith. One of the very best things that helped seal my own commitment to Christ was going home the summer after I came to Christ and leading a basic Bible study in my church. It seems too simple to go over the basics listed above. But it is surprising how few Christians can articulate them.

5. Disciples Are Made, Not Born

This point references Walt Henrichsen’s book of the same name. When I read the book as a student, I developed a deep conviction that it isn’t the natural talent that we press into service, “not born,” but God will use us to “make” disciples. We are all in process.

I think we’ve become casual in our ministry about the critical first steps in establishing new believers in the faith. In preparing our students to be on their own for the summer, and as we plan ministry in the fall, let’s be intentional about training disciple-makers.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

Another use for an effective tool.

I don’t know about you, but I can sometimes get in a rut with how I do ministry. I usually see our tools having a single purpose for which they were designed.

Recently, my wife, Chris, was on a coaching call. Rachel graduated three years ago and is seeking to live missionally in her workplace and neighborhood. Rachel leads a study of middle school Christian girls. But their behavior doesn’t always match their profession. Rachel knew they needed to understand the filling the Holy Spirit, but struggled to bring the message home to them.

Now, Chris is very creative. She is great at seeing possibilities where none appear to exist. (Oh, and BTW, I am not trying to earn brownie points here! Just telling it like it is.) Chris suggested taking the Soularium cards and asking the questions we would ask in an evangelistic setting. “What cards best illustrate your life now?” “Why?” “Which cards do you wish would illustrate your life?” “Why?” And from that discussion launch into what God would do with lives completely yielded to Him so that He could work unhindered in them, or what we would commonly say as being filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

When Chris told me about her conversation, she said she knew most of us look at Soularium as an evangelism tool primarily. But sometimes we can be limiting and not see a tools’ versatility. What might God do outside the box?

Perhaps you have discovered a creative way to use one of our tools and have seen God use it. I’d love to hear about it.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016


Summer Survival.

One of the many priorities we have in campus ministry at this time of year is preparing students for the summer.

“Let’s face it. Summers can pose a major challenge to our faith and obedience to Christ.

So begins the first article in the Summer Survival Guide.

Summers can be:

  • a very spiritually isolating time because you are away from the environment and friends that have helped you grow spiritually this past school year.
  • or a great experience as you see your faith tested and increased and take some key steps on your own (1 Peter 1:17)

What makes the difference? The decisions you and your students make now can put them in a position of advantage and strength going into the summer. “As a Christian, we can embrace challenges the summer brings because we recognize the opportunity to trust God in new ways and see our faith grow in ways that we would have never seen otherwise.”

The Summer Survival Guide provides perspective and resources to help make the difference. The introductory article of the survival kit tells about three essentials with practical helps and further resources:

  • self-discipline
  • the right fellowship
  • daily time with God and His Word

Personal growth happens when there is the right combination of personal desire and conducive environment. Both are needed. Many of our students will be going back into less than ideal environments. Let’s do the best job we can to prepare all of our students to grow in Christ this summer.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

The First Two Weeks in the Fall.

Years ago, Eric Swanson wrote the article, “The First Two Weeks on Campus.” We still do much of what he talked about in getting ministry started in the fall. How those first two weeks go, makes a difference in the rest of the year. That’s why it is so important to be thinking now about fall ministry start-up essentials.

Read on for my distilled version of Eric’s thinking, a few thoughts of my own.

Time with key leaders

  • Ask student leaders to return before freshmen arrive on campus. It’s essential to do this before so as to maximize relationship building time with freshmen.
  • Cast vision for the year. You may need to re-align and provide motivation.
  • Involve them in dreaming about and planning for the year.
  • Walk through the key events of the first few weeks.
  • Delegate responsibilities for those events.


  • Visibility communicates that what we are involved in is significant.
  • Goal: That everyone on campus knows we exist.
  • Being attractive to students: Having fun, building relationships, involved in meaningful efforts.
  • Flyers and handouts.
    • What we hand out or post lends credibility to the more critical personal invitation.
    • Does the publicity represent us well?
    • Do students see us as the kind of people they want to be involved with?
  • Tabling
    • Surveys, sign-ups, providing information about first meeting, socials, retreat.
    • Food!
  • Socials
    • First day of school picnic, pizza party, ice cream social, etc.
    • This is your first opportunity to make a body-mode impression.


  • Principle: If you have a non-believer focus—believers will come; if you have a believer focus, non-believers won’t come.
  • Believers may be a great source of manpower. But you are looking to survey large numbers of students to find those most interested as early as you can.
  • Again, the first two weeks are most important all year.
  • Atmosphere: Students don’t feel pressured yet. They have lots of hope for what the year holds in store for them. They are seeking friendships and a place to belong. This window of opportunity will close quickly.

Conserving fruit

  • Set a deadline to follow up contacts. Contacts become cold in two weeks and dead in three.
  • Look for ways to have lots of person-to-person contact.
  • Start large open connection groups quickly. By starting too late, we lose people.
  • We can start discipleship groups later.

Other things to keep in mind

  • Train your students what to do on a first appointment
  • What about returning students?
  • Plan well your first meeting of the year.
  • Plan your first outreach.
  • Plan a movement launch.

Minister to your team

  • Since you as a team are working hard these two weeks, look for ways to affirm that work, celebrate the progress, and refresh.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

Shane Sebastian’s “This Change Is Everything.”

“Imagine growing up without parents…Now imagine, in Old Testament times, you were a woman growing up in a culture that constantly looked down on women…Now also imagine growing up in a culture where you were not only a woman, but also an ethnic minority. You were surrounded by a culture that was very different from yours, perhaps a culture that looked down on you.”

This is how Shane Sebastian, Executive Director–Global Missions, introduces, a “young minority female orphan saving an entire race of people” in his book, This Change Is Everything. Read on for more of Shane’s insight into this incredible story of Esther.

Shane continues.

“Now stop imagining. That really happened.

“The Bible tells the story of a person just like the one above. Esther was a diaspora Jew living in Persia, an Israelite, who advanced God’s mission in another land… [She] was a young, ethnic minority living in a majority culture: the Persian Empire… [This] young woman develops as an influencer throughout the narrative; she grows throughout this story into a strong leader. Esther makes significant decisions and stands by them…

“Towards the end of the story of Esther, as a result of her actions and leadership, many people become followers of the one true God…The leadership of this young woman leads many to believe and practice the faith of the Jewish people. She brings salvation.

“Esther advances God’s mission. Esther also saves her people from certain death… [And] in saving her people, paves the way for Jesus Christ, the coming Messiah.”

Shane quotes author Drora Oren, ‘ “Esther, a Jewess, sentenced to die by Persian law, nonetheless shapes conceptions of what it is to be Persian. She not only brings salvation to a people destined for annihilation, but also questions the rigid alignments of Persian identity with male power.” God advances his mission of reaching out to the nations through the leadership and courage of this young, ethnic, orphaned woman.’

An ongoing theme  throughout Shane’s book is how God uses young people to make a difference for the Kingdom. He has laid out a great apologetic for how and why students can be involved in missions. It will be a great encouragement to your students as they consider God’s direction for their lives.

Also, Shane helps to break down the stereotypical things that we think must be in place in order to make an impact for Christ. This example of Esther, young, an ethnic minority, a woman in a man’s world, and even an orphan, without the normal advantages we often associate with influence, shows God’s power to work in spite of organizational, social, and financial disadvantages. Do we believe that God is not limited to only working when the circumstances are favorable?

If you have a copy of “This Change Is Everything”, and haven’t read it, please do so. You will enjoy it. Or you can order it here. It makes a great companion to Dave Dishman’s “Go, following Jesus to the Ends of the Earth”. Each one is visionary, practical, brief, and a great tool that you will want to circulate among your students thinking about what God would have them do for a summer, a year, or for a lifetime.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

25 Ways to Keep the World Before Your Students.

I spent the summer after my first year on staff in the Philippines. It was an incredible time with great highs and a few lows. I saw amazing opportunities for evangelism and movement development. But I contracted amoebic dysentery, laying me out flat for parts of the summer.

I’ve tried to maintain a heart for the world, as I’ve focus on launching and building movements in the US. Though I did not leave the US again for a number of years, I’ve been able to travel more internationally in the last decade and I have a trip to the other side of the world later this Spring. But I wish I had known some ways for keeping a vision for the world.

I’ve shared this list before by Mike Berk, PSW Associate Director for Global Missions. Since many found it helpful, here it is again.

25 Things to keep the World before your students.

  1. Read Missionary biographies with your small group.
  2. Pray for a location regularly with your disciples.
  3. Skype with a missionary during bible study.
  4. Send a care package to a missionary.
  5. Go on a vision trip together.
  6. Go on a summer mission together.
  7. Challenge one another to take a year together reaching students.
  8. Book mark the traveling team website and read the articles together.
  9. Eat ethnic food together.
  10. Go to the international student center and hang out.
  11. Initiate with someone different from you – practice crossing cultures.
  12. Start an international student ministry on your campus.
  13. Take a perspectives class together.
  14. Take a language course.
  15. Go to Cost Plus World Market and find some food or music from a different culture.
  16. Go to and regularly pray.
  17. Get a large world map and keep track of missionaries, trips you or your friends have gone on and parts of the world God is burdening you for.
  18. Read the world section of the newspaper (online).
  19. Do a fund-raiser for an international cause – human trafficking, social injustice, evangelistic missions…
  20. Memorize scripture on God’s heart for the nations.
  21. Read through famous missionary quotes:
  22. Read the book “Go, following Jesus to the Ends of the Earth” by Dave Dishman.
  23. Have your group practice sharing the gospel – practice by doing and practice often!
  24. Download the Jesus film App on your phone. It’s a great tool to have that can help you communicate the gospel to students from just about everywhere.
  25. Read a book about sharing the gospel with people of another faith. Some Recommendations:

Click here to access a pdf of Mike Berk’s entire article on 25 ways to keep the World before your students. And just out is Shane Sebastian’s, “This Change Is Everything“. A great read.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016