My first job out of college was college and missions pastor at North Side. Dual responsibilities are always challenging in a church, but I loved both of them.
I thought I had figured out college ministry pretty early on. We began to do a “cutting-edge” worship service away from a church building, because doing it in an established church would be so “uncool.” We found a coffee-shop downtown, picked out a hip name, bought us a projector, got us a band, and started a dating series. In the first few weeks, we were seeing over 150 college students coming.
Things were a happening. Well, people were coming, but I was unsure if lives were really being changed. People were coming because I think they liked to remain anonymous. People would slip in and out, get their religious fix for the week, and unfortunately, they were energized for a moment but went back to the same lifestyle. I know that God used that part of our ministry, but I honestly felt like we were just a safe large group environment to get lost.
It grew. It was “successful” by most counts. And then we stopped it.
At the height of it’s popularity, we ended it for one reason: if college students were going to give 1 hour of their time, I would rather let them be in a group than a crowd. I wanted them to have an opportunity to go deeper. I wanted some accountability in their lives. I wanted them to get eyeball to eyeball with some people. And I didn’t want them to get lost in the hype of the next best thing in town.
As I have done many things in college ministry, I have found one thing rises to the top.
The secret to college ministry? Let them in your home.
Let them become part of your family. Don’t impress them on a stage, be real before them with your family.
It’s funny – college ministry isn’t even my job anymore. I am the Worship Pastor. This college group in my home is the Agnews serving as church members, not staff members. This is not in my job requirement – we just love discipling college students.
We began to pray a couple of years ago about a home relocation. We prayed for random things to find in a house. Two of the top requirements were: 1) a lot of room to park, and 2) a place where a group could gather and kids sleep at the same time. God honored that. And as we began to settle in the home last year, we started having a college group at our home on Wednesday evenings. I noticed something right away: they didn’t run off as fast as they did when we had an event. People hung around. They shared life together.
While our playroom floor gets full from week to week, I have seen this time as the most fruitful time in discipling college students. I have had the privilege to speak to events where there are thousands of college students, and I still feel like this group in my home is the most effective discipleship time in which I have engaged.
- No need for hype, just get in the Word.
- You don’t have to rush off.
- It’s a place to jump on a trampoline with 4-year-olds.
- It’s a place to come play with my baby.
- My wife and I get to do ministry together and not be separate.
- Young ladies can talk with my wife about situations they are going through.
- It’s a safe place to play cards, study, do laundry, etc.
- They see the realities (great and challenging) of an imperfect family trying their hardest to follow God.
- There is an authentic connection I’ve never had before.
These students are our family.
They come over on Wednesdays, and other days as well. When they need something, they have a home away from home. While I’m shocked at how many of them pile in our house some nights, it doesn’t compare with the amount of students we used to have, but more is happening spiritually than ever before.
Secret of successful college ministry? Get them in your home and into your lives.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.