Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Collegiate ministry in a consumer culture

One of the things I've been trying to figure out for the past six months is how the whole emerging church thing relates to college campus ministry. On a related note, given my tendency toward organic/simple ways of doing church and following Jesus, how do you do that stuff in the context of campus ministry. In one sense, the organic approach seems like a natural fit - because college students are so highly relational. They're required to work together on projects, they live together in dorms or shared apartments, they are way into online social networks that have real world spillover (Facebook being the primary one these days) they are enthusiastic and energetic, they like to have fun, and they are serious about exploring the world of ideas - including (or especially) the ideas of spirituality.

So far, the organic approach to what we do isn't producing growth. We have a small, but committed group of students - awesome folks, really. But our attempts to build on that organic network haven't produced anything just yet. I'm not big into numbers, but numbers DO indicate growth. Our organic approach will help bridge the relational gap that a total numbers orientation might produce. So far, we're trying to just get to know students by giving them a free hot lunch once a week. We've had several new faces join us for that, but either haven't returned, or haven't decided to try out any of our other happenings. That's o.k. in one sense, but it does feel like failure at times.

Meanwhile, there are a few campus ministry groups that seem to be attracting large crowds. Even our students will go to their weekly rock shows, er, worship gatherings, and they come back to us buzzing about how cool that stuff is. (Interestingly, they DO come back to us when it comes to relationships). My struggle with this is knowing how to encourage them in their excitement about the ways of the Kingdom, and yet still prophetically call them out of a consumeristic way of doing church (picking and choosing campus ministries based on goods and services, the way their parents and the Christian ghetto does with church).

One of the trickier aspects of an organic approach is that in a simple church setting, relationship takes place within the regular rhythms of life, and usually over the course of years, not months or weeks. In a college atmosphere, the window of relationship has some fairly firm parameters (4-5 years max in most cases). Is there a way of stimulating a faster pace of growth, given that limited time frame? Facebook seems to have done something like that - it didn't exist two years ago, and now it's got over 6 million members - all of which are students - you can't join without an ".edu" e-mail address.

Way more questions than answers here . . . but any thoughts from the peanut gallery are welcome.

posted by Steve at 4:56 AM
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Blogger Morgan Owen commented at 8:25 AM~  

Steve, I think you hit on one of my biggest stuggles where I serve. Even though our college is in the Bible belt, there is this spiritual consumerism with students that drives me crazy. An interesting situation is about to take place that shows how it has come full circle. Our RUF guy is leaving for another position and is being replaced this fall. The individual they are bringing in went to SMU (a Methodist university), was involved in Baptist Student Union while in college (including being President) and went to a Reformed Theological Seminary (Presbyterian school). It will be interesting to see just how closely he relates with the students on the front end.

Nevertheless, relationships is where it is at. And even though some of my stuff is done online (facebook, email, IM), I have found that the more effective/productive ministry has been the face to face (one on one or group setting). Students want to know us digitally but there is so much more interaction that takes place over a cup of coffee, in a conversation, or in a counseling session.

I understand the frustration with the whole numbers game. To those on the outside, numbers legitimizes our ministry (how many came to Christ, rededications, yada, yada). Yet, they fail to see the life change that takes place over years. When that Freshman feels called to a career and desires to be salt and light at work. The student whose parents have pushed him/her to pursue the high paying career that surrenders to the missions field. The battle is tough. Pray for me & I'll pray for you. I believe in the amazing things our Father can do.

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spirit farmer data

I'm Steve Lewis. This used to be my blogging home. My online home is now at When this blog was my active online home, I lived in Seattle. Now I live in London, UK. I follow Jesus (poorly most of the time), worship simply, read a lot, watch culture, go to school, listen to music, write, enjoy art, and drink a lot of coffee.
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