Sep 29, 2014


Learning from Large Cru Movements

Tim Casteel (Cru – University of Arkansas) shares what he learned from looking at the largest Cru movements in the US.

A couple years ago I interviewed the directors of the largest Cru movements in the U.S. – to pick their brains on the factors that have contributed to their success. I wanted to know what contributed to their growth, what they did differently because of their size, how they lead as directors, etc. This research was one of the most beneficial things I have ever done – for my growth as a director and for the growth of our movement.

Size isn’t everything, but there are good reasons these movements are so successful. Every campus is different but I think there are some great principles here we can glean from these movements. The college ministries I learned from have anywhere from 400-1200 students involved. Many of the schools have seen their movements grow from 50 to over 500 in the past decade. Schools ranged in size from 13,000 to 50,000 students.

Here’s the list of Cru directors from my research:

Jamey Pappas, Cal Poly and Cuesta Community College

Mark Brown, Miami University of Ohio

Alan Williams, University of Florida

Bob Schwahn, Montana State

Brian Langford, Michigan State

Mike Mehaffe, North Carolina State

Isaac Jenkins, Ole Miss

Tim Henderson, Penn State

I’ve written in detail on my blog about what I learned from each campus, but here are the highlights.

What do staff do?

  • Jamey Pappas tells his staff, “This movement can survive without a weekly meeting and social events.” Instead, he focuses their energy on evangelism, discipleship, and small groups, which he calls “the backbone of the ministry.”
  • Isaac Jenkins keeps reproduction at the forefront of their staff’s minds. He pushes them to think about reaching new people by asking, “How can you give me four of you after this year?”
  • Tim Henderson says that they want to give students the space to lead. Therefore, their staff focus on casting vision, providing resources for the ministry, and developing students as leaders.
  • Bob Schwahn tells his staff that their primary job is to be in their target area, sharing their faith, with student leaders – on the front lines of evangelism.

What do you do as a director?

  • Many directors said that most of their energy goes to meeting with their staffers every week.
  • Tim Henderson says, “My job is to keep my staff happy so they’ll stick around and grow up to be directors.”

 What contributed to the growth?

  • Many humbly acknowledged that God decided to move.
  • All of these directors had been with their movement for over 10 years each.
  • I also found that most of these movements had strong emphasis on small groups. In fact, most of them had as many or more students in small groups than in their corporate gathering.

My top takeaways

  •  Be crystal clear about the role of your staff.
  • The critical event for Montana State’s Cru is a trained person taking a non-trained person along to do evangelism.
  • Again, at Montana State, they have two primary metrics:
    • How many students are actively involved in sharing their faith?
    • How many people have “spiritual grandchildren” who are sharing their faith?
  • At Michigan State, they start with students the way they want them to finish. Therefore, they place priority on getting freshmen actively involved in sharing their faith.
  • Jamey Pappas said that they unwittingly created a culture of discipleship that was reduced to “deep conversations at coffee houses,” so they switched gears to refocus on the right things.
  • Important perspective from Mark Brown: “We want to reach the unbelievers, but we have a ton of students who come as self-centered Christians and we trust God to scrub them down and start following God passionately. It’s a longer process to take a carnal, nominal, youth group kid to Christ-centered than it is to take a lost student to Christ-centered laborer.”

There is much more to learn from these ministries. You can find a series of articles highlighting each one here.

What stood out to you as you read through these highlights?


about the author

Tim Casteel

Tim works in college ministry at a university in Arkansas.