From Campus to Community

I’ve only recently discovered that I’m more of a “Church Planting Movements” guy than I am a strictly “Collegiate” guy. When I look at a college student, I don’t see their year in school, their major, or their age. I see a potential church planter and movement catalyst.

Today was a special day that reminded me of something important. In the center of the picture above is one of our guys who is graduating in just a few short weeks. He has spent this last school year with us, leaning in from the very beginning. Every time we would go out into the harvest, Jordan was with us. He’s quiet, huble, and committed. Over the course of this year, he has been faithfully (and quietly) reproducing our training and practices in his home church in Ronda, NC (pop. 417). Today, he had arranged for a small group of us to come down the mountain to model Entry Strategy for them.

A wide-angle of this picture would reveal that in this group are his pastor, his parents, one of his Timothys (a disciple he is intentionally mentoring), and his Timothy’s grandfather, among others. As a young man not even out of college yet, Jordan is helping to lead his legacy church into the harvest to make disciples.

If we raise the bar and set higher expectations for our students, they will turn the world upside down. We will still coach him and connect with him from a distance, but he is a great example of one way God can use college students post-college to spark movement beyond their campus for the gospel and the kingdom of God.

Baptism Celebration

Today I had the pleasure of joining with my extended family to celebrate the new life in Jesus of John! A couple of our freshmen students (one is a new believer herself) shared the gospel with John on campus, led him to Christ, and baptized him! When we raise the bar of discipleship for Christians, so many will meet that bar.


These students (college freshmen) are disciple makers and church planters. This is fruit of their obedience and the natural outcome we expect. When they asked John what is next after this moment, he simply said, “Obeying Jesus and sharing the gospel.”

Thank you, Jesus, for letting us be a part of your work! This is one step closer to accomplishing the #NoPlaceLeft vision!

How One Question Changed my Perspective on Ministry

We are hard at work trying to catalyze movement at Appalachian State and graduate movement catalysts for the rest of the world. ASU is the flagship university of Northwestern NC and one of the top-tier schools in the state. It’s our primary context for making disciples, but it is only one of 14 campuses across this corner of the state. The 18,000+ students of ASU are just one segment of the 83,000+ students in our region. We are realizing that what we do at ASU isn’t very likely to translate well to the wildly different campus cultures in our region.

  • Appalachian State University
  • Lees McRae College
  • Lenoir Rhyne University
  • Catawba Valley Community College
  • Caldwell Community College, Watauga
  • Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute, Hudson
  • Wilkes Community College, Wilkes
  • Wilkes Community College, Alleghany
  • Wilkes Community College, Ashe
  • Mayland Community College, Spruce Pine
  • Mayland Community College, Newland
  • Mayland Community College, Burnsville
  • McDowell Tech Community College
  • Western Piedmont Community College

If you were counting, 11 of the 14 campuses in our region are Community Colleges, and a number of them are satellite branches of lesser-known Community Colleges. The No Campus Left team has reported that roughly 80% of the 1.2 million college students in North Carolina are Community College students – 80% of our campuses in the list above are Community Colleges.

These schools are as different from the “flagship” state school as they can be. We cannot simply port over what we do at ASU to the rest of these schools. We engage heavily in the dorms at ASU. Not only do most of these schools have no dorms, the majority also lack a student union or some other on-campus gathering space. One other key thing Community Colleges often lack is community. They are in, of, and for their local community, but they have no community of their own. The key connection points we leverage on a state school campus are non-existent on most Community College campuses.

When we made the shift from ASU BCM to BCM of the High Country, we recognized that these campuses would never have a gospel presence pop up without someone targeting them specifically. Why shouldn’t we adjust our vision and mission to include them? At first, I assumed that we would raise up a full time, (or part-time if necessary) staff to lead the new work at each new campus. While that works just fine at the state school level, it makes a lot less sense at a smaller or mid-sized Community College.

To help me get my head around more than one campus, I needed to be able to see where the unengaged campus fields were. I created a simple Google Map of all the campuses in our region, where there was little or no gospel engagement happening. A list is one thing; a map is another thing. The start icons represent the 3 residential schools and the rest are Community Colleges.

“What is it going to take to engage every campus on this map with the gospel so that there’s #NoCampusLeft without a reproducing gospel presence in our region?”

I’ve addressed this question as it relates to ASU – my primary campus. This question forced me to recalibrate my expectations of what gospel engagement and the reproducing gospel presence would look like when I broadened it to all the campuses in our region. This is the beginning of our journey on this mission. The broadening of our vision is forcing me to get outside of my perspective as a campus minister and start thinking more like a missiologist and a movement catalyst.

What would it take for you to engage other campuses around your primary target?

Collegiate Ministry is the Edge

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At any gathering of people, from a high school assembly to the General Assembly at the UN, from a conference to a rehearsal at the orchestra, the really interesting conversations and actions almost always happen around the edges.

Change almost always starts at the edges and moves toward the center.

This blog from Seth Godin makes me think immediately of collegiate ministry. I see it as the edge of mainstream ministry. It is where some exciting innovations of modern ministry are happening and where the next wave of catalytic leaders are right now.

Winter Break: Time for Working On, not Working In

7queynrnuea-les-anderson.jpgWinter break is a season when we get to shift from working in our ministries to working on our ministries. We work in our ministries because we believe in the importance of discipling college students. But if we only ever work in our ministries, we may have a difficult time developing breadth and depth in them. If my schedule as a leader is always full with hands-on ministry, I won’t be able to give attention to the things that grow the ministry over the long haul. I won’t have the time to develop my team. I won’t have time to start work on new campuses. I won’t have time to tell our stories to our supporters or churches.

Working on the ministry requires a total shift of perspective. We need to stop thinking like players and start thinking like coaches and owners. We can completely disconnect (mostly, anyway), or we can focus our energy on the things that will help us lead more effectively in the coming semester and calendar year.

There’s something refreshing about stepping back to work on our ministries. I hope you will leverage this winter break to rest and to grow yourself. I would love to know what you plan to do with your break – tweet me and let me know!

Decentralize or Die

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The biggest mistake I ever made in ministry was starting a worship gathering. I had 35-40 students between 4 campuses and the only thing they all had in common with one another was me. We needed connection, and what could connect us better than a weekly worship gathering? When I pitched the idea of starting a combined worship gathering at my church (which was roughly equidistant from each campus), they got excited about it.

Two students led worship. One ran sound and lights. The rest attended – most of the time. Attendance ranged from 20-45. Then 12 on one night. I preached to 12 students in a cavernous sanctuary one night. This all took place in a sanctuary with scarlet carpet that could seat as many as 300 if you packed in tight. Think about that.

The reason it was such a mistake to launch this worship gathering wasn’t because we didn’t have enough students yet (we didn’t). It was a mistake because the moment we launched the gathering, it took us 10 miles away from any campus. It capitalized on my time and took my focus away from the reason I was there in the first place — to reach students who were far from God with the gospel. I told myself that the gathering would help us reach students more effectively and that it would unite all my students across campuses.

None of the students ever really connected with anyone in a new way, and we became less connected with campus life. The weekly gathering quickly became our biggest distraction from mission and our biggest barrier for community. It hijacked our mission. Simply ignoring this fact would be a convenient negligence on my part.

What would you do if you had no ministry facility, no budget, no tradition, and the campus wouldn’t grant you Registered Student Organization (RSO) status? In my time starting that campus ministry in Ohio, I never had these luxuries. If our ministry model demands that we fit everyone in the same room at the same time, our response to ever-increasing campus restrictions might be simply to resist and fight for “our” territory. I never had territory in Ohio. I suggest an alternative. Let’s stop fighting the loss of territory and reconsider how we structure our ministry. We can either be proactive and prepare for the future now, or we can be reactive and wait for our campuses to squeeze us ever tighter.

We are currently multiplying to a new campus and we haven’t created any promo materials, we are not seeking RSO status, and we aren’t seeking to start a weekly worship gathering. Rather, we are relying on a simple process for multiplicative disciple-making.

Decentralizing a ministry isn’t a choice of preference. It is about the end-vision. Our end-vision is that we want to see no place left without a gospel presence on our campuses. If we truly want to saturate our campuses with the gospel, we cannot truly believe that a one-size-fits-all approach will work. It hasn’t yet. Why should we expect that to change? I think we can do better. Ideology is the fuel for a decentralized organization. Without a shared ideology, a decentralized organization will simply fall apart and wither away. Our vision is our ideology.

In a centralized ministry, evaluation is often based on attendance at the central gathering. The assumption is that if attendance is high, something must be working. We are successful. If it is low, something must be wrong. In a decentralized organization, metrics for success must be reevaluated. A decentralized organization is built on a network of circles (we call them “Gospel Communities”), so we must evaluate not just the number of circles and number of circle members, but we must evaluate engagement with outsiders, activity of circles, multiplication of circles, etc. Note that this is not a plea for more “Small Groups” or “Community Groups” or “Sunday School” etc. What I am talking about is a network of self-contained, self-sustaining, totally independent and autonomous groups, each containing our complete DNA.

I have often tried to keep my ministry as neat and tidy as I can. I seek order and try to contain and eliminate chaos. I don’t think we always understand the messiness of ministry. In a manner of speaking, Proverbs 14:4 says that we should expect a healthy and growing ministry to be messy. We must tend to the mess, but we shouldn’t avoid it. Decentralization recognizes the messiness of ministry, and sometimes even empowers it, especially as movements break out. In a decentralized ministry, if we try to control everything, we will stifle and kill it. We must trade control for cultivation.

Sometimes there’s nothing more comforting than sitting around a campfire with close friends. A campfire is safe as long as it is contained. Some campfires are large; others are small. I am proposing that we abandon our controlled campfires and start unleashing wildfires. Wildfires are not controlled and they can barely be contained. They are a living example of the power of a decentralized movement. May God engulf our campuses with uncontained wildfires of multiplying gospel impact!


I wrote this post initially for the No Campus Left blog and it was then published on Collegiate Collective.

Dandelions & Airports

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I love a good metaphor. There’s something beautiful about the way a metaphor can draw out meaning with more clarity. When I share about the importance of engaging college campuses with the gospel, I used to describe them as a dandelion. For a moment God has gathered a variety of students in one location. When that moment is over, they are carried away to different places to land, take root, and multiply. I like the poetry of that.

This metaphor works, I think, to describe the general context of the college campus. With a little intentionality, I think we can change the metaphor to an airport.

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We are preparing students for launch. The campus will be their home for a while, but it is not their destination. From the moment someone walks into an airport, they are already bound for their destination. Our students arrive on campus with a destination, likely unknown, already ahead of them. The long term strategy is graduating students who are equipped to make disciples with a vision for reaching the place they are called to. We will send most of our students away. Some will join a plant team bound for a new campus or city. A few will even lead those teams or pack up their lives to go abroad. College students are the most sendable people on earth, but we need to expect this of them and prepare for it with intentionality.

Why?

My friend Evan wrote an excellent article on Collegiate Collective called “The Frustration and Power of Why.”

Here are a couple of quotes:

“This simple word — a single-word question — can frustrate, illuminate, or obliterate the execution of your collegiate ministry’s vision.”

“Most of the things that were going on previously were not bad things, but it’s surprising how many “not bad” things can turn out not-so-good when nothing gets filtered. Asking Why? made us focus.”

Our Why Questions
Our ministry has gone through some significant shifts in the last 3 years. Similar to Evan, it all started with asking, “Why?” Here are some of our Why questions:

  • Why haven’t we seen a single salvation in years?
  • Why do we treat leadership as a position?
  • Why don’t students share the gospel?
  • Why do we have a ministry building?
  • Why are our most committed students least likely to make disciples?
  • Why wouldn’t we want to reproduce what we are doing on a new campus?
  • Why are our leaders burning out and fading away?

These questions have been game changers for us. They were painful at times. They also turned out to be both necessary and clarifying. Lean in. Ask the hard questions. It is worth it.