Mar 05, 2018


7 Practices of Effective College Ministry

David Worcester takes Andy Stanley’s 7 Practices of Effective Ministry and applies them to the college ministry context.

I recently re-visited Andy Stanley’s insightful book 7 Practices of Effective Ministry and I want to apply the principles he shares to the unique challenges and opportunities of college ministry.

1. Clarify The Win
Stanley encourages leaders to “define what is important at every level of the organization.” What is the win for your college ministry? For me it’s disciples made, matured and mobilized. That’s the win.

Clarifying the win brings momentum. Stanley says, “Momentum is actually just a series of wins.” Nothing motivates people more than winning. One thing I’m challenged to do is not just clarify the overall win for my organization but to clarify the win for each meeting. Some meetings are designed for outreach, some for discipleship. The problem often comes when we try to do both in the same meeting. This can lead to being ineffective at either. When playing duck hunt on the original Nintendo, you aim at one duck at a time or you don’t hit any ducks.

What is the overall win for your college ministry?

Have you clarified the win for each of your ministry environments?

2. Think Steps, Not Programs
My wife and I are planting a church near San Diego State University. We have been inviting students to a weekly outreach dinner. As many of you have experienced in college ministry, we get a lot of last minute cancellations. Recently we faced this discouragement and it provided us an opportunity to remind each other: “The goal is not for them to come to a meeting; the goal is for their lives to change.”

Everything we do should be a stepping stone to life change, not an end in itself. Do we care more about how many show up or how many leave changed?

Stanley encourages us to ask, “Where do we want people to be?” and “How are going to get them there?” If we are honest, many of our college programs are not taking people anywhere. They are more like ponds than streams. You might be able to fit more people into a pond, but ponds don’t take you anywhere. Is your ministry a stagnate pond or a running stream?

Stanley encourages us to make every step easy, obvious and strategic. When someone comes to your ministry, it should be simple for them to figure out how to plug in, grow, and serve.

Before you start that next cool idea you read in a book or even a blog like this, stop and ask yourself, “Is this taking students where we want them to go?”

3. Narrow the Focus
Stanley says that we must “do fewer things in order to make a greater impact… you have to do less if you want to grow more.”

One of the most painful things I have had to do as a college minister was eliminate meetings we had started in order to focus on what produces the most fruit. I’ve canceled small groups, split our large group, and stopped our community college meetings. Each time we said no to something good, we were saying yes to God’s best for us. When we made the hard choice to stop something, along with some pain we also experienced increased fruit from focusing on where God was moving.

Sometimes narrowing the focus doesn’t mean canceling a program; sometimes it means defining the primary target group and asking yourself, “What one thing is this environment best designed to do?” Once you figure that out, go all in with that!

Stanley says, “The more you focus each environment, the greater the relevance, the better the connection, the higher the quality, the stronger the impact.”

What might you need to eliminate in order to narrow the focus of your ministry?

4. Teach Less for More
Stanley says, “Say only what you need to say to the people who need to hear it.” At the beginning stage of our church plant, we’ve been having outreach meals with a 10min talk. Instead of doing a 3-point message I’ve been doing a “pointless message” – saying just one thing. You will be lucky if people remember one thing from your talk, let alone 3 or 4.

Instead of asking what are are all the things these students need to know about this topic, ask what is the one thing that will make the biggest difference for them to know about this topic. Make your point and hammer it in. There is always next week. I believe many sermons could and should be a sermon series.

Ask yourself, “What’s the main point of your talk?” Then ask, “Will this help me make that point, or distract from it?”

5. Listen to Outsiders
Stanley says, “Focus on who you’re trying to reach, not who you’re trying to keep.” In college ministry, every year we lose at least 25% of our students and need to grow by 25% just to stay the same size.

In order to keep reaching people every year we must keep a pulse on our culture, learn their language, and provide places where our believing students can invite non-believers. One of the keys to getting students to invite their friends is to consistently provide environments where your people know “every week is a good week to invite a friend.”

Is your ministry in touch with the needs of outsiders?

6. Replace Yourself
This one hits home for me, because I recently handed over the ministry I planted 8 years ago to one of our staff members. Nothing makes me happier than hearing that since he took over, the ministry hasn’t missed a beat.

As director, I met regularly with each of my staff guys and saw my job of investing in the staff as even more important than my meetings with students. As I’m at the very beginning of my church, I’m thankful to already have a faithful guy who I could see as a future ministry leader someday.

Ask yourself, if God called me to a different ministry assignment would I have someone in my ministry who could take over? If not, start searching for someone to train!

7. Work On It
Two things separate effective ministries from average ministries: evaluation and celebration. Stanley says that too often we are so busy working IN the ministry we don’t work ON the ministry.

Regular evaluation forces you to “confront the brutal facts” and figure out what’s working and what’s not. Howard Hendricks said that, “experience is not the best teacher, evaluated experience is.” If we don’t have the margin to figure out what’s working and what’s not, we will waste a lot of precious time and energy that could be spent seeing people saved and sent.

In addition to evaluating, we must also stop to celebrate the wins! One of the turning points of our ministry was when we began taking time outside of our leadership meetings and celebrating stories of life change on our GroupMe chat. Stanley says that what gets rewarded gets repeated.

The best way to highlight a value is to celebrate a story of someone living it! Make celebrating life change central through regular baptisms, testimony videos, live testimonies, and stories in your sermons.

What do you need to do to create a rhythm of regularly evaluating your ministry?

How can you do a better job of celebrating the stories of life change in your ministry?

Which of these 7 practices does your college ministry need to focus on first?

about the author

David Worcester

David is the founder and director of Challenge at San Diego State and serves as an Elder at Mission Trails Church near the campus. He is passionate about mobilizing students to share their faith and make disciples. He’s helped develop which is a resource that helps students and college ministers share with others in an intentional and personal way. David just finished his Masters in Theological Studies at Gateway Seminary and now has even more time for blogging about campus ministry, reading, surfing, hiking, traveling, and spending time with his wife Jessica and one year old son Samuel.