Aug 01, 2016
#BestIdeaEver – Make Summer Count
Rudy Hartmann kicks off a new series highlighting the best ideas from college ministries of all shapes, stripes, and sizes. Up first is Troy Maragos, who says making summers count is their best idea ever.
In this series, we’ve interviewed a variety of college ministry directors and pastors, campus-based and church-based, in different sized ministries and multiple ministry contexts and have asked them a simple question: “What is your best idea?” In our desire to elevate and advance College Ministry, we see this idea-sharing as a key to spreading some of the best practices and strategies across our tribe.
I had a chance to chat with Troy Maragos serving as the pastor of College/20s at First Baptist Church of Naples, a retirement town in Florida. Yes, you read that right: retirement town. In fact, Troy keyed me in on the reality that he is the only College Pastor in Naples and they are the only college ministry in Naples. “And that is probably due to the reality that the college campuses nearest to us are Florida Gulf Coast University — you know, Dunk City — thirty minutes to the north….and Florida Southwestern State University, a commuter campus thirty minutes south.” ‘
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself the same question I was asking myself at this point – why is Troy, a 32 year old stud with a degree from Moody and 8 years of part-time and full-time staff experience with Harvest Bible Chapel, at a retirement community in southwest Florida, a half hour from a college campus?
Troy summed it up in a sentence “We came down here because we saw a desperate need for ministry for these students. If the local church won’t stick its neck out for college students — then who will?”
So he moved his family from Chicago to Naples, and in a little more than a year after starting the college ministry at FBCN, Troy has seen a group of twenty-three quadruple into an active list of one hundred and twenty students. “It wasn’t transfer growth and it wasn’t necessarily unchurched or dechurched, it was those who were disconnected from church, they were neutral. We saw a number of students come to faith in Christ and get baptized this last year as well.”
Okay, let’s recap: Retirement community. No local college campus. No previous, formed college ministry at the church. Quadrupled in growth. Just had 10% of their active list come back from a mission trip to Los Angeles. I had to know what was going on.
Troy laid it out with three words: “Make summers count.” Summer. That season of the year where we face the reality of less students on campus, which typically means less students in the ministry, and moves most leaders into a rhythm that is leaning more towards development of the core group, processing the year past, and planning for the year to come – not to mention the additional summer responsibilities of a local church staff member, like Troy, that can often crowd out some of these productive rhythms in
But Troy sees things in a different light.
“There is an active assumption in many churches that most [college] ministry only happens during the academic year which results in summer becoming a reload time. The only problem is that usually just doesn’t work well if your church is not in close proximity to a campus and you don’t have the intentionality, resources, or staff you need to really go hard at it during the academic year. Over summer, our monthly gathering moves to a weekly gathering on Tuesday nights consisting of a hangout time at the front, worship, time for discussion, and an after-party…the discussion time is key. FBCN has more of a Sunday School structure, so even in our Sunday morning Bible and Life Groups, there is a focus, primarily, on discussion where we aim to literally get people out of rows and into circles. Where worship is a time for students to connect with God, the discussion times become a time for students to connect with each other, deepening relationships and connecting new students….these two groups actually filter into what we call D.N.A. Groups, following the Soma Church model. These are triads of students who focus on Discipleship, Nurturing, and Accountability. Our desire with these groups is for each student to have a couple strong, intimate relationships with other Christians, and for that to become the standard and their expectation wherever they go off to school.”
Another unique upside to making summer count was found in the graduating High School Seniors. “These incoming Freshmen, for the most part, are going to go away to school during the academic year, so we have the summer to let them know that when the come back for weekends, holidays, and breaks that their home church loves them, cares about them, and has a place for them.” Freshmen. Freshmen. FRESHMEN.
“We desire that our students worship Christ, walk with Christ, work for Christ, and witness of Christ with their lives – and we leverage the summer, especially, to equip them to do just that. Summer isn’t a time off.” His reasoning for this is strategic, not simply based on the reality of the students returning, but the fact that they’re going to leave. “We send a Finals Week Survival Kit to our students who are away at school and include a calendar for the summer. Our students will be with us, after they return, for a couple months, then go back to nearly twenty different universities.”
Twenty campuses. Twenty unique mission fields. The college ministry of FBCN over summer isn’t a social event-driven means for students to have something fun to do — as Troy informed me “I’m a pastor, not an event planner.” No, the ministry becomes a hub for student missionaries to be trained and equipped and sent out to twenty unique mission fields for the majority of the year, where they can reach other students, impact their campus, and shift the culture, knowing all the while that their home church loves them, cares for them, and has a place for them as soon as they return home.
With this in mind, here are some questions to help process and implement this idea:
- How do you make summers count in your ministry context? How could you take what you do now to the next level?
- If a student entered your ministry with their standard and expectation being having 2-3 intimate relationships with Christ Followers, how would they enter that space? Does it exist in your ministry? How could that benefit your discipleship process?
- What would a clear, intentioned process of seeing graduating seniors from High School getting plugged into the ministry over summer look like?
- How would summer ministry change if you looked at it as more of an opportunity to train and send out to other campuses? What if summer ministry became your “hub” to send student ministries out to other campuses? How could that shift how to view your summer-time with students?