Articles

Community Colleges: Difficult to Cultivate… Rich In Fruit

March 2, 2015
Community Colleges: Difficult to Cultivate… Rich In Fruit

I remember several years ago when I was being interviewed to become the BCM Campus Minister at Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC).  I had lots of lofty thoughts of what collegiate ministry looked like as I had seen it on the campuses I had attended during my undergraduate studies.  What I had not taken into consideration is that fact that those were residential 4-year schools.  I was soon awakened to the reality that non-residential community college ministry is a much different animal with a personality all its own.

THIS PERSONALITY, IN PART, IS SHAPED BY SOME OF THE FACTORS BELOW:

LITTLE TO NO ON-CAMPUS STUDENT LIFE

Most students at a community college have no reason to remain on campus outside of class time. Many have families of their own or outside jobs to rush off to after class. They are also commuters that are spread out all over the region making it difficult to get them back on-campus for ministry events.

NO PLACE TO CALL HOME

Many community colleges are growing rapidly in Arkansas due to the low cost of attendance. This has put most of them in dire need of classroom/conference room space.  Most community college ministries do not have facilities of their own so they are dependent on having campus facilities.  Student organizations such as the BCM are often pushed to the bottom of the priority list when it comes to reserving space for meetings/lunches. During one particular semester we were moved last minute or lost our meeting room altogether more than half of the times we met. This lack of consistency and on-campus office space (or storage space for equipment and such) makes it difficult for students to be aware of the BCM or know where to find it if they are aware.

NON-TRADITIONAL STUDENTS

In reading ideas about campus ministries and activities that are generally successful and enjoyed by students it quickly became apparent that with non-traditional students many of these activities lack the same appeal. These students are in a different season of life than traditional freshman and often are on much tighter time demands with family and career outside of school.  This also means that some of the relationship-building “fun” games and such commonly used in the collegiate world may not appeal to this type of student.

SMALLER QUANTITY OF INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS

The presence of International students is a tremendous ministry opportunity both for the campus ministry staff and for the American students.  Ministry to international students can often be a rallying point for the staff and American students. Many of these international students plan to return to their home countries as leaders. If international students understand and receive the Gospel while they visit our campuses, they will take their faith and influence with them when they return home.  Due to these students being away from home, often living in apartments or with host families due to the lack of dorms at community colleges, they are looking to build new relationships.  This is fertile soil for a campus ministry! At a community college campus it is often a small mission field in terms of the number of students though.  At our school of nearly 9,000 students we have less than 100 international students.  While still a target to be rallied around… It is a much smaller one than most 4-year residential campuses have.

SHORT-TERM LEASE ON STUDENT LEADERSHIP

The average amount of time a student remains at a community college is 3-4 semesters or about 1.5 years.  As a campus minister this give you a very narrow window in which to build a relationship with a student, train them up and challenge them in ministry and send them out while hopefully already having another student in line to replace them.

WHILE THESE FACTORS CAN POST SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGES THERE ALSO ARE SOME INTERESTING STRENGTHS TO MINISTERING IN THIS ENVIRONMENT AND STRATEGIES TO HELP OVERCOME THESE CHALLENGES:

YOU REALLY ARE AN “ON-CAMPUS” MINISTRY

While the lack of BCM facilities can have its challenges it can also be a benefit.  We are literally on-campus where the students are.  We are in classrooms or common areas for our lunches, Bible studies and other events. I see tremendous value in having proclamation of the Gospel taking place in campus facilities.  In a day and age when there is more and more pressure to remove Christianity from any public forum, we are right in the middle of campus as community college ministries!

LEADERSHIP:

Due to the fact that we will not have our students for the 4+ years that many residential campus ministries do, we had to rethink leadership at the BCM at NWACC.  This has been a great challenge turned into a great strength! Though considered a CAMPUS ministry, traditionally BCM is a STUDENT ministry.  Students are the target demographic.  At NWACC, I quickly realized that if we were going to be effective and long-term in our strategy then I needed to reach faculty and administration as well as students, thus becoming a true CAMPUS ministry.  For one, it is proven that the faculty have a great deal of influence on a student’s worldview as it is being shaped in their college career.  Secondly, the faculty are long-term on campus.  Students come and go but the faculty remain.  They are also on campus and in front of students much more than I can be as a part-time campus minister, and… they can reserve campus resources in ways I can’t. We have seen great administration and faculty participation in our campus ministry at NWACC. I have personally seen them grow in their faith as they are ministered to and ministering along side me to students.

It is also important to mention the value of having local church staff and lay persons who are often more than willing to come along side you to reach faculty & students. Some suggestions might be to visit with your local Associational Missionary and see if he/she would allow you to speak at a pastors event or just give a pastor a call and take him out to lunch!

That being said… we have fantastic student leaders as well. While this is challenging in a community college setting, it isn’t impossible. Here are a few guidelines that I use in our NWACC BCM.

  • Select the right leaders. I use a grid when evaluating leaders in our church or in the BCM. This grid also helps me in instances where someone that I don’t believe to be a good fit is being aggressive in pursuing a leadership role. I simply point them to this grid: (L.V.V.R.I.)
    • Life in Christ: Should go without saying but, is the potential leader a Christian?
    • Values: Do their actions indicate that they value the same things as the BCM? (example: discipleship, missions, etc..)
    • Vision: Do they have a vision that lines up with yours on what the BCM should be doing?
    • Relationship: Do they get along with you as a BCM Minister and also with other students?
    • Involvement: Are they present? Do they participate well in BCM activities?
  • Clearly define expectations for leaders. You might even consider doing a leadership covenant. This is different than a contract. What separates a covenant from a contract is that in a contract if there is a breach then both are released from the contract.  In a covenant one party might fall short but the other is not released but is to extend grace and work to see reconciliation to the original terms of the covenant.  This is why I think covenant marriages are important and act as a picture of the new covenant of the Gospel. These expectations should be written almost like a job description with your responsibilities as their leader also included.
  • Sometimes the “unspiritual” is the most “spiritual” thing you can be doing. There have been times when I see great potential in a leader but know that at some point I am going to have to speak some hard truth to them in some areas of their life. I know that in the moment I am not quite at a place with them where they are ready to receive that from me, so I do the “unspiritual”. (really… everything is spiritual) I spend sometime just hanging out with them. I figure out what they are into and do that with them. This could mean playing a sport or video game. This builds what I call “collateral” into their lives so I can later speak a hard truth.
  • Let them “do” ministry! I am very intentional in identifying strengths in them and then purposely putting them in positions to see those strengths utilized. Whether entrusting them to plan and event or teach at a meeting, I stretch them in what they think they are capable of. They will fail at times which isn’t really a failure but an opportunity for them to learn and you to encourage.
  • Evaluating fruitfulness: Be quick to affirm fruit you see in their lives and ministry, but also quick to step in when the fruit isn’t there or isn’t good. As I evaluate fruit of their ministry I am also constantly communicating to them that I am not just looking at their lives but ultimately at those they are speaking into. Note: this also serves in getting these short-term leaders to be conscious of their responsibility to help find their replacement leaders as they move on.

HOW TO REACH STUDENTS THAT JUST AREN’T ON CAMPUS MUCH?

This is a difficulty that all community college ministers face. You plan luncheons, Bible studies and other events and students say, “sorry I am not on campus that day” or “I have class during that time”.  How do we minister to them?  One option is to spread out meetings over multiple days of the weeks.  This can be difficult if you are a part-time minister with limited time and resources.  What I have found effective is using tons of social media to post helpful articles, devotional reading and free e-books.  I also use sites like MailChimp.com that is a free e-mail newsletter tool.  I send out regular event invites as well as useful content and spiritual challenges. I have gotten lots of feedback from students who are on our email list but can’t attend meetings due to time constraints.  Our email list at NWACC has grown to over 500 students, admin, faculty, local pastors, etc…

In Arkansas, community college students account for just over 40% of the total student population making our presence on campus vital to impacting this next generation of Kingdom leaders in the form of future nurses, entrepreneurs, educators, and more.  While this mission field has its challenges it is also rich in rewards!

What are you doing on your campus that has proven effective? How can that be replicated on another campus? Let us know!