In 30 years of campus ministry, I’ve seen all kinds of outreach efforts by campus ministries at various kinds of campuses. Every campus ministry should have an outreach strategy- even those located at religious institutions. I myself have organized and done these tables numerous times at Baptist colleges, community colleges, and 4 year universities.
I’ve had to time and again teach my students WHY we do these kinds of efforts. Honestly it is because they are much more comfortable being inside of their own bubbles and often uncomfortable getting outside of their own friend groups. They may never have seen any good examples of doing outreach. Even likely in their churches, what they see is community events where the Christians are inviting neighbors and friends to attend the church. This is a transactional kind of approach where you are using the outreach opportunity only to invite others to come to something spiritual.
Here’s why doing outreach activities is a critical strategy to implement if you are a campus minister. If done well these tables give us access to a wide variety of students. These outreach efforts could and should give us an opportunity to meet a student who is not likely to come to spiritual activities on their own initiative. There could be a spiritual element to the activity, but it should be focused on a lost student, not the believers on campus. The reason I say this is that the best outreaches are not geared toward building up attendance at our ministries. They are geared towards building relationships where the gospel can be shared. The goal of outreach activities is to create an opportunity to engage with a student and be able to present the gospel to them. Perhaps this doesn’t happen at the outreach activity itself but at a later opportunity for deeper conversation.
SO! Here’s some hints for great campus outreach activities:
1. Make them excellent QUALITY
Even on a small or tight budget you can make things look neat and organized and that you have something to offer the students that is priceless. Get a tablecloth ( keep it neatly folded to avoid wrinkles), have some fliers or cards about your ministry available, have out out some Bibles or Christian books that you can give away, and if you can afford it, have something to give out- candy, water, granola bars, etc.
2. Have a way for a student who comes to express themselves
A white board with a question of the day will get them to engage with you about what they think. Be cautious with what your questions are- don’t make them too controversial or you’ll only get into arguments! And don’t make them too cheesy or easy, or there’s no way to move to a spiritual conversation authentically.
3. Train the students or volunteers or staff who are working at your outreach activities in the art of exchanging personal phone numbers.
Some use a questionnaire or form to sign up for some drawing or to get more information about your ministry. I think doing these is fine as long as I do more than dump their contact into a mass texting service. If I’m working at an outreach activity and a student fills out my form, I put my name on the form somewhere so I can do the personal follow up with them in addition to sending them mass invitations to our ministry.
4. Pursue personal relationships in all follow up efforts.
Invite them to get coffee or lunch together but spend that time getting to know them and hearing their stories more than you advertise your ministry. And stay in touch over the long haul of the semester. You may have more intense activities during the starting weeks of the semester but if you drop off your efforts to contact and communicate with those you meet it smacks of inauthenticity.
I recently asked some student leaders from a variety of campuses in our state to share their thoughts on outreaches with me, and they were spot on. They said things like holding outreaches in non-religious centers on campus (think outside of your own ministry centers if you have one). They also suggested pairing up and attending events hosted on campus by other organizations or groups. According to these leaders, including food is always inviting to college students.They are intrigued about learning about other cultures, religions, and people groups so find ways to engage in activities that open those doors. They also suggested service to other students like dorm trash takeouts as an outreach strategy.
If you are trying to reach a certain population on your campus, invite local church partners to help you. In Texas we have campuses with large percentages of Hispanic students, so we like to invite our Spanish speaking or Hispanic heritage congregations to partner with us to reach these students. Often the church would love to make some connections; they just don’t know how to access the campus in healthy and meaningful ways. Invite them to partner with you in doing outreach to these specific students.
question I was asked recently: what’s a good frequency for doing outreaches? If our primary calling or goal is to share the gospel with lost students, shouldn’t we be doing outreach activities as much as possible? (I cringe when a worker cites our minimum standard as the goal they are happy with.) This is especially true when the campus is full of lost students. If every student leader is engaged in outreach activities and if you practice the Jesus-.way of sending disciples out in pairs to do ministry, you should have at least one outreach for every 2 student leaders you have.
What if you don’t have any student leaders yet?
You personally should be engaged in as much outreach as you can humanly manage. I would schedule part of every day I was on campus with some type of outreach effort. Sometimes these would be formally organized- like a BSM table in the student center. Sometimes these would be more informal- like starting a conversation with a student in the quad. All of these were preceded by prayer for the Spirit to enable me to say what needed to be said and to listen to what the student was sharing with me.
May you be encouraged to try new things and connect with more students by being intentional with your outreach activities!
Beth Smith is a Campus Consultant for Texas BSM. You can email her at email@example.com.