Proverbs 4:7 says, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” If I were to borrow that language and apply it to college ministry it would be, “Get freshmen and whatever you get, get new students.” College ministries must connect with new students because a missed year of students stays with us for four years. In addition, that lost class can’t help us reach the next class, making it even harder to get back on track. When we don’t connect with new students it negatively impacts our ministries for years.
I want to offer some thoughts on connecting with new students. All our contexts are different, so I’d like to give some categories that I think apply broadly and can help us think through how we get freshmen.
1. Look for ways to make high quantity connections with new students.
The more contacts you can get, the more potential you have to connect with new freshmen. So, we need to find how to get the big lists of students. This can include…
Religious Preference or Orientation Interest lists.
We have access to a list of students as a member of the Council of Religious Organizations. Students on our campus can indicate at orientation that they want information about our ministry. Other campuses have a religious preference list. If you don’t have access to those lists, discover how you can get that information.
There are some easy ways to gather contact information from a large number of students. Set up a table on campus and ask students to fill out a short registration form to be entered to win something or for a giveaway. We give away Chick-fil-a sandwiches outside of dorms during welcome week. Last year we got 297 contacts in about 30 minutes.
Hosting your own large event or contest.
For example, the BCM on our campus hosts a corn-hole tournament with a cash prize during welcome week. Every participant registers and becomes a contact.
Promoting at strategic times & places.
Book a table, tent, or whatever is available on your campus during the first few days of the semester or during campus life fairs when students are most likely looking for a place to land and are in the habit of giving out their contact information.
Partner with campus ministries.
You can ask local campus ministries to share contacts with you. Also, you can attend their events early in the semester, especially if the organization is going to highlight or feature local churches.
Remember that this is about quantity. But quantity only matters if you can follow-up. If you get 297 names in 30 minutes, you need a team inviting all those people to your next event. Quantity isn’t everything, and that leads to our second point.
2. Look for ways to make high quality connections with new students.
Yes, we want a lot of contacts, but we also want good contacts. We want to give attention to students that are most likely to connect with my church. Some ways we do that include…
Leverage networks with youth ministries.
Find students who are already connected in churches. I contact youth ministers every year to find out about students coming to Fayetteville. If I have spoken at a camp, Dnow, or other event, I try to leverage that to help students find our church. I also want to know about friends and family of current students who are following them to college. As we know, there’s no guarantee that students involved in their church in high school will connect in a meaningful way with a church in college. But I don’t want that to be because we didn’t reach out them.
Plan events that give a real chance to connect.
I want to plan some events where new students really get to know my current students. For example, we rent out half the local bowling alley for a couple of hours for a welcome event. This event gives my students two hours to have significant conversations with new students. It’s fun, but it’s strategic. We also host a parking lot party with an ice cream truck after our first College Worship. We want people to stick around and make connections. At both these events, the incoming freshmen or transfer student is no longer a name on a piece of paper (high quantity) but we know their face and their story and probably have set up a time to connect again.
Get students into your building or to your main event.
If a student is only going to one thing during welcome week with FBC Fayetteville, I want it to be our College Worship. A student who has attended a service or event in my building becomes a major priority for follow-up. They are a high-quality contact.
Let people self-identify as high-quality contacts.
Some of the things I mentioned above enable you to do this, like a student who indicates that they are interested in my church at orientation. They’ve already said that they want to connect with us. We offer students the same opportunity when we’re gathering high-quantity contacts. Everyone who gets a chicken sandwich from us can indicate that they want to know more about our church, want to know more about Jesus, or that they just want the chicken. We start the follow-up process with those who indicate that they are looking to connect or at least are interested in hearing more.
A student is a high-quality contact either because they are ready to connect with a church or because they are open to a gospel conversation. Both are important. We want to find those students.
3. Evaluate how much you can spend to make high quantity and/or high-quality connections with new students.
You may have read all that and thought, “High-quantity and high-quality all sounds like high cost!” You may be right. Not everything I mentioned above is expensive. But it costs quite a bit to buy hundreds of Chick-fil-a sandwiches and to rent half the bowling alley for 2 hours. However, if the rule is “whatever you get, get freshmen,” then it’s worth spending a major part of my budget to get high-quantity and high-quality contacts. I am willing to spend my church’s resources to get contacts because if I don’t, the cost is even greater. None of us have unlimited resources, so we make wise decisions. But I think wisdom says here, “Get freshmen and whatever you get, get new students.”
Josh Mauldin is the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church Fayetteville, AR. You can follow the ministry on Instagram @fbcfaycollege and you can follow Josh on Instagram @joshtmauldin.