Category Archives: Leadership

Off and Running in August

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 I will have one more next week.

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 adapter 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.

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Filling possible leadership holes.

A lot of us are thinking about next year’s leadership.  Graduation may be leaving leadership holes and it might be difficult seeing others stepping up in some of the movements we lead. This may be even more acute on community colleges or where turnover is accelerated.

Here are a few ideas for addressing some of those leadership holes.

  1. If you have a faculty advisor or volunteers involved, see if they might step up. There is a dance that we do with the “long-term indigenous volunteer.” When student leadership is strong, it’s important that they step back to let those students lead. But when student leadership is weak, that’s a great time to have them step up. But help the volunteer think of creative way to give specific responsibilities to others.
  2. Local churches also offer huge potential for leadership. Jeff Grant, Church Partnership Specialist, has seen some churches and Cru work together in a whole range of partnerships. Jeff recently posted a video about a long time partnership with a church that kept ministering to students after the staff at Northern Oklahoma College moved on.
  3. You may also want to talk with former leaders to come up with key churches to visit in order to invite incoming freshmen. Hopefully, some of those first-year students will step into leadership. This might also be a way to find others with a heart for the campus to do some of the more behind the scenes things like fund raising, refreshments at meetings, or sponsorship of events.
  4. To give students a chance to develop in leadership experience over the summer, encourage them to try some Group Talks. These are an excellent way to help give confidence to those quiet and hesitant ones, at least in a small way, to exercise leadership.
  5. Finally, consider taking time in each meeting to pray for leaders to be raised up and for many new students to get involved next year. Here is a great story on how God answered similar prayers.

So while you may not have the natural hand off to the next leader, let’s trust God to work in new and exciting ways. Because, after all, He is more concerned about every student on that campus that we ever will be.

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Summer Growth Options.

Most of us are aware that Greek has two words that are usually translated into our English word “time”.

  • Chronos, χρόνος, is where we get “chronology”. It marks the successive aspect of and measurement of time.
  • Kairos, καιρός, is also translated “time”, but contains a sense of an opportune moment or occasion, such as “make the most of your time”, or “taking advantage of the opportunity”.

I’ve been talking these last few weeks about the many important priorities we have going on at this time of the year. During these weeks, we aren’t just counting down the chronos time. These are kairos moments. And we are keeping spring, summer, and fall emphases in mind all at the same time. Last week, I focused on sending seniors well (spring), and the week before on passing the baton (fall).

In today’s tip, let’s look at some summer options.

For years, we had a specific focus on summer survival for students not attending a summer mission. Some of us would hand students several pages of information about time with God, fellowship, and personal discipline. While this material is dated and there are other ways to meet these needs, some find that some of the material is still helpful.

For most of us, Summer Connect is a great way to help students grow over the summer and come back to campus in the fall with an anticipation of what God will do in and through them. Here is the promo video if you need it. This is where to register: Cru.org/summerconnect. And this is the process for joining Summer Connect.

Some of your students may be interested in putting their faith into action in a more specific way. One way is to consider ministering to high school students back home. Our high school ministry offers several ministry ideas with that in mind. High school students often look up to college students and that could be a great way for them to pass on some of the training they received from you this year.

And finally, you may be aware that InterVarsity and Cru are teaming up on a project to see a ministry launched on every campus in the country. The first critical piece in that endeavor is to prayer walk campuses with a view to seeing what God is already doing and whom He has prepared to reach their campus. The EveryCampus project will officially launch this Christmas. But our Prayer team, headed by Dave and Courtnee White, said that 340 campuses have already been prayer walked.

If you have students who would be up for prayer walking a nearby campus, they can go to the EveryCampus.us site, indicate the campus, and post their story and pics to Instagram.

As you meet with students and prepare them for the summer in these and other ways, you may be creating kairos that may have far-reaching impacts.

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Passing the baton.

If you’ve read these tips for any length of time, you’ve noticed that I address this topic each year. Passing the baton to new leadership now is critical in preparing for the fall.

The earlier you choose leaders for next year the more they can prepare for their roles. Here are some things to help in the transitioning process.

Passing the baton to new leaders

1. What is God calling our leaders to?

I was recently reminded of the Movement Leader Job Description. By way of reminder, here are the essential responsibilities:

  • Shepherd, lead and coach a student leadership team to work together to build a spiritual movement.
  • Help your team own the vision being mindful of the ethnic demographics of the students and faculty as well as sending to a global partnership.
  • Create a plan with your team to: [Lead with Cru DNA]
    • Reach students and faculty with the gospel,
    • Build them in such a way that they spiritually multiply into other leaders,
    • Send them out as Christ Centered laborers, [outreach opportunities, pioneering other movements, developmental conferences, missions trips, as they graduate]
    • With an emphasis on prayer.  [build dependence on the Lord]
  • Identify and ensure that your team has the necessary resources (money, supplies, training in cultural competency, etc) to fulfill the mission.
  • Keep a consistent appointment with a coach to help you fulfill your vision.
    • report movement indicators monthly.

2.  What does a leader look like?

Picture of a Leader looks at qualifications for leadership. This could look pretty impossible. But the key here is not perfection, but growing in these areas.

3.  Developing personal vision.

You can provide your new leaders perspective by suggesting they read Cultivating a Vision for my Campus. This will direct them through a process of hearing from the Lord and putting their vision into action.

Vision and motivation are so important for your leaders. Another helpful diagnostic is Evaluating your Ministry. This is best done as a team over several weeks.

4. Planning.

Finally, Nine Principles for the First Six Weeks offers principles and tips for planning.

In his book, Life with a Capital L, Matt Heard refers to cultural commentator David Brooks, who, in The Social Animal, wondered why chess experts are so accomplished. “The reason? It’s because they can see the entire game board at once. How? A higher IQ? Not necessarily. It’s because they have learned over time to see the game board in a different way.” Quoting Brooks, “When average players saw the boards, they saw a group of individual pieces. When the masters saw the boards, they saw formations. Instead of seeing a bunch of letters on a page, they saw words, paragraphs, and stories.”

As a leader, it’s vital that you set up your leaders for the fall even while you are seeking to end the spring well.

All three of our boys ran track in high school. The relays were always exciting races. I’ve seen teams blow leads and lose races because they messed up the baton pass. That hand-off is the most important part of any relay. If the baton is dropped, the team may be disqualified, or, at the least, lose precious seconds and momentum. The next runner gets into position to receive the baton and then takes off running. They must keep in mind both what is happening with the runner handing off and the race in front of them.

This is such an apt metaphor of what happens in transitioning leadership. They watch the current leadership to consider what and how to lead as they plan for their own time.

Let’s do what we can to ensure that baton pass goes well.

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Juggling in April

It’s April! There is a lot to do this month. Some campuses will be done before the end of the month. And some summer missions start the first week of May.

How are you at juggling? You have a fair amount to juggle during this last month of the spring semester. You are trying to end the semester well. You are thinking about the summer. And you are already planning for next year.

Here is a list with some helpful resources.

Spring

Summer

Fall

A few perspectives on this busy time.

Recall the old adage about how you eat an elephant—one bite at a time! You don’t want to give that whole list to your leaders all at once. You’ll want to prioritize these and then coach them through this in the time remaining this spring.

One way you can help your leaders own all that needs to be done is to have them brainstorm what they think needs to be done. That’s better than springing a list on them like I just did! Let’s just say that I gave you “The Answers”!

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Different Cultural Frames of Reference.

One of the values we are currently embracing in Cru is growing in cultural competency. With that in mind our Student LINC and Coaching Center team is reading Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church by Soong-Chan Rah.

We’ve had some really good discussions as we process each week’s chapter assignment. But twenty minutes really only just gets us started.

If you haven’t read Many Colors, chapter four defines some scales helpful in understanding how we process information, how we relate to one another, and how we lead or view leadership. I will list them with the simplest of definitions.

1. Individual vs. Group Orientation

  • Individual: Takes individual initiative, makes decisions individually, prioritizes individuals are above the group.
  • Group: Acting cooperatively, makes decisions as a group, conform to social norms, puts the team before individuals.

2. Guilt vs. Shame

  • Guilt. Responsible for individual sin resulting from individual action, corrected by confession.
  • Shame. Responsible for corporate sin, focus is on becoming a person of honor, corrected by transformation.

3. Equality vs. Hierarchy

  • Equality. Self-directed, individual initiative, flexible roles and expectations, offers own opinion.
  • Hierarchy. Directions from above, leader controlled, firm roles and expectations, respect status of leaders.

4. Direct vs. Indirect

  • Direct. Focus is on what is said, engage in conflict, focus on information, express opinions in frank manner.
  • Indirect. Focus on how it is said, avoid conflict, focus on feeling, express opinions diplomatically.

5. Task vs. Relationship

  • Task. Focus on keeping good time, accurate information, define people by what they do, logic orientation.
  • Relationship. Focus on building relationships, create a feel-good atmosphere, define people by who they know, feeling orientation.

Some of these scales of interaction are more easily grasped than others. One end of the spectrum is not right or wrong compared with the other. It’s a matter of understanding different cultural frames of reference. You may have found yourself, like I did, identifying one way or the other depending upon the context or group you’re part of. But all of this is to help us appreciate and value those who approach communication, relationships, and leadership differently.

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Believing that God is already at work.

Put today’s tip in the category of “Do it again, Lord!”

I’m writing this after three days at the Hawaiian Island Ministries conference. Several of us, representing Cru’s high school and college ministries, were here at this largest annual Christian gathering in Hawaii to see if we could connect with what God is already doing and possibly see new ministries start. Kent Matsui, our team leader at the University of Hawaii, Hilo, is particularly eager to see high school ministries start.

Scores of people, pastors, teachers, parents, and students expressed interest. And we will have a bunch to follow up.

One of those, Landon, came up to our booth. He stopped by earlier when no one was around, but was glad to see us. He thought we each could help the other and told us his story.

At 13, Landon started attending church on his own. He placed his faith in Christ and began to grow. One day his dad sat him down to say that his parents were getting a divorce. But he had noticed something different in Landon and thought it might be because he was going to church. So he decided to take the whole family to church. A different one. Landon followed.

One day he heard his pastor share a message about each person’s calling in life, and that’s when he felt God speak directly to him. “The person who will be leading the next generation of believers,” the pastor said, “won’t be a 20 year old or 30 year old man, but a 13 year old boy sitting in here today.”  Amongst the 500 plus attendees that day, Landon knew, with all of his heart, that this message was for him.

He started attending leadership classes in his church, and learned how to write sermons, lead small groups, and coordinate events. He was the only boy in a class of adults. Now equipped and inspired, he took the first steps toward his calling.

He posted a Bible study sign up sheet on the bulletin board of his school. The next day he came back to fine the sheet  filled front and back with names of the interested. As a middle school-er, he started a ministry that grew to over 100 kids.

Today at 20, he is a business major in a Christian university, and leads four high school ministries and one on a community college. Now we don’t want to change what Landon is doing. But we talked about ways we could begin to partner together.

Kaitlyn, a sixth grader, walked up to our booth with the bearing of a tenth grader. She told how she is leading a Bible study with other home schooled kids and wants to expand. She was looking for resources and, currently, is writing a devotion for home-school moms and daughters. We all were amazed at the vision of this 12 year old girl and her personal maturity beyond those years.

So yes, “Do it again, Lord!” or maybe I should say “Lord, expand my categories of what You want to do!”

Hawaii has cultural and historical distinctiveness that make ministry here unique from many places. Our team came in as learners and God blessed us with the realization that He is working in profound ways outside our categories.

This week:

  • What have you seen recently in which you are saying “Do it again, Lord!”?
  • Are there ways you might be putting God in a box?
  • What are some ways you would like to trust Him for people and communities you aren’t currently reaching?

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