The tough thing about doing college ministry and working with other college pastors is that it is hard to find a universal structure that works for everyone, unlike junior high and high school that, while there are variations to each model, have a very similar structure. There are some elements that I think can fit into most, but not everyone.
The variable that comes most into play, I believe, is the fact that there are generally two kinds of college ministries:
College Town: These ministries have their largest congregations in the school year, being so close to a local university. Their ministries are made up of students that probably aren’t “home-grown,” meaning that their students are newer members of the church.
- Perks: These ministries generally know how long their students will be around because their students are going to a 4-year university. Their ministry is usually made up of students that go to the same school or same few schools, helping foster a richer community. These conditions are prime for having great small groups during the school year. They also get to work, in ideal situations, closely with on campus ministries such as Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade).
- Drawbacks: The first, and most obvious, is the fact that their attendance drops off in various severities during the summer. Some ministries will shut down or dramatically change during the time. Many of the students that came to college as believers can find it really intimidating to go to a new church so it may be difficult to establish your ministry for a while. These ministries (I’ve heard) rely on word of mouth.
2) Home Town: These are the opposite, where they have their peak season in the summer, and see a drop off during the school year. They are usually near some commuter colleges or community colleges and don’t see some of their “home students” outside of breaks. This is the kind of ministry that I have.
- Perks: They get to bridge students from their high school ministry up into their next life stage, creating a built in congregation. If the students have had a good experience at their church already, they will have an immediate buy-in with their new ministry and they are more willing to invest into things like camps and retreats. Because of that easier transition, they get to have a higher number of freshmen and sophomores. These ministries will generally have a backed summer calendar due to the students coming back for break.
- Drawbacks: Because most of their students are going to community college and are looking to transfer to a 4-year, they have constant transition in their ministry. They never know if they are going to have a student for 4 months, or 4 years. Because they aren’t by a larger university, it is harder for evangelism. Students that go to commuter schools keep their head down and don’t want to talk to anyone. Their attendance takes a cut when their home-growns go off to school making small groups during the school year tough, but not impossible.
What kind of ministry do you have? Would you add any perks or drawbacks to this list?