Aug 27, 2018


The Missing Freshman Class

Cole Penick writes about just how much it could cost you if you fail to reach the incoming freshman class.

We’ve all heard “Win the Freshmen – Win the World” but let’s imagine that for just one year your ministry didn’t reach a single freshman student. Would it really be that bad? How quickly could you recover? Let’s take a look at the ripple effects from year to year after missing a freshman class, starting with this year.

Year 1: No Freshman Reached
A missing freshman class reveals some significant flaws in the system. No freshmen might mean there’s been no mobilization. You have to be strategic about energizing your upperclassmen to reach new students. Sadly, they won’t always come to that point without prompting. But even if you’ve cast vision with the best of them and taught all the best tactics that Collegiate Collective has to offer, your upperclassman have to own freshman ministry. A broad streak of selfishness running through your sophomores will kill freshman outreach. One of the best ways to eradicate that kind of consumerism is to engage your upperclassman in discipling new students, but with no freshman class there’s no sandpaper to smooth out the rough edges.

The freshman class provides the momentum to keep ministry rolling into the new year. Upperclassman who get frustrated by the dwindling attendance or bored because there’s no one for them to lead will start to drop out. Ironically, ministry strategies that work hard to keep returners to the exclusion of the incoming class often fail at their goal. Reaching freshmen is one of the best ways to retain upperclassmen.

Year 2: No Sophomores
A year later, you’ve fixed the mobilization flaws, you’ve retained a fair number of selfless juniors and seniors, and now you’re ready to reach the incoming class – just without any sophomores. Already, you’re significantly further behind your Year 1 starting line. Last year you had an army of sophomores, juniors, and seniors to roll out to meet freshman. Now you just have juniors and seniors, at least the ones you could hang on to. But sophomores are the engine that run freshman outreach. They bring extra energy, time, and near-peer friendships needed to reach a new batch of freshmen. Plus, they remember what it was like to recently walk on campus, wide-eyed and lonely. A system with no sophomores means your juniors and seniors have to not only be the experience and the brains but also the muscle to do the heavy lifting of freshman ministry.

Year 3: No Juniors
Juniors bring a mix of experience, enthusiasm and flexibility to your ministry that provides consistency and creativity. Juniors have been around the block. Last year they tried, failed, and succeeded at leading Bible studies, reaching out to freshmen, sharing the Gospel, and running events. That experience will help fight off the jitters that always hinder the sophomore class in their first year of leadership. Without a Junior class, your super eager sophomores won’t have a class above them who already paid the dumb tax. Juniors also help you innovate. With two years of ministry experience and buy-in they recognize the tweaks necessary to improve what you’re doing. Seniors tend to be overloaded and a bit possessive when it comes to the ministry they’ve invest years into. That combination makes them hesitant to pioneer change. Without a Junior class, your super busy seniors won’t have a class below them that they trust to make changes to the ministry.

Year 4: No Seniors
Seniors typically make up the smallest percentage within a college ministry but that doesn’t mean you can go without them. Their very presence at your gatherings and in leadership are a stabilizing force. It tells underclassmen, “This is a place worth investing in.” A ministry with no seniors gives the impression that there’s only a couple of years worth of benefit to being involved. Seniors are also key to language accusition within your tribe. The things they say fluently from stage, at small group, or in the car on the way to Walmart reinforce the mission, vision, and values of your group to underclassmen.

Year 5: Still feeling the effects
Even when the majority of the missing class has finally left your campus you will still be feeling their absence in your ministry. I’m sure there’s much to be said for fifth year seniors and grad students but the biggest hit will be the lack of new staff members to raise up or send out. Staff capacity is often the major pinch point in college ministries. Without the ability to replace or expand your team, your ministry will feel the limited bandwidth in reaching a new class, mobilizing for missions, discipling upperclassmen, or however you organize your staff. Even those you send off your campus into full-time ministry have a legacy on your campus. The seed planted in a freshman’s heart when her mentor graduates and heads overseas could take years to bloom but might not have been planted otherwise. And don’t forget that recent graduates can become current financial supporters. It was a breath of fresh air in the midst of a busy season when we got a check in August from a May graduate wanting to give back to our ministry.

Reaching new students isn’t a closed system. If you don’t connect with a freshman this year, you hopefully will before he leaves your campus in the next few years. But there is an extreme benefit to making every effort to reach him right now. Not only because he’s more reachable today than he might ever be again but because of all he brings to your ministry for the next half-decade or more. It’s going to cost you a lot of cash, time, and effort to connect with this new incoming class but, honestly, you can’t afford not to.

about the author

Cole Penick

Cole is the Campus Minister for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of Arkansas. He and his wife, Caroline, live with their four adorable children right in the middle of campus, their mission field. They enjoy family walks on campus, watching and playing sports, making and eating good food, and oh so many books.