In the last few years there has been a lot more focus on planting on or near college campuses. This is a trend I hope accelerates even more. As Resonate Church has planted 5 churches on or near college campuses in the last 7 years, we have learned a lot and bled a lot in the process. Here are 10 things we learned the hard way so that you don’t have to.
Target College Students. Specifically. Unapologetically.
This may sound obvious but often times we aim too broadly at “younger people.” Narrow your focus to create greater clarity in which strategy will actually work. If you aim for that freshman liberal arts student you will be much more likely to create a clearer, more effective strategy than just thinking “younger.”
Embrace the Strategic Importance of College Students
No one is more reachable, trainable and sendable than college students. Universities have thousands of high-capacity people in a high-density environment all trying to make significant life decisions. It’s a missional no brainer. However, targeting students can appear from the outside to have a low return on investment. When you count the costs, make sure you see the big picture. Think in terms of long-term investment.
Pick a team
No team, no dream. If I could pick one single leading predictor of a successful collegiate plant it would be whether or not it’s a team-led effort. While this is a significant factor in all planting, this is even more of a necessity when planting on or near a college campus. College students possess a “herd” mentality, so start with a herd even if it’s a small one. I would recommend 5 people minimum.
Figure Out Sustainability
Think of this as a marathon not a sprint. Before you start it, know how you are going to support it. Our sites that targets student living on campus average $8 per student per month. Tithe alone won’t create a workable system. My suggestion would be to work both ends. Leverage opportunities like free meeting space on campus and support-based staff to keep costs low. At the same time develop organizational and alumni partner systems to funnel in resources from the outside.
Start when they Start
Remember, you can relaunch every year. If you are going to plant you have to begin in the fall when they begin. The beauty of this is that every year you get to do a rolling restart. If you don’t like who you are after the first year, guess what you get to reinvent yourself next fall. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day, the more you do it the better you get at figuring out how to reach students the first 6 weeks of school during the critical window before they get settled.
Go where they Go
Meet them where they are. Students aren’t going to come to your off-sight space unless its crazy awesome or they are significantly connected. To reach new students you have to go where they go. I cannot stress how vital missional capacity is tied to being where students are:
- Common Spaces
- Dining Centers
- Rec Centers
Become a registered student organization. Many successful collegiate plants have leveraged the registered student organization system to create a group recognized by the university. This group typically has privileges such as free meeting space, common space advertising and reduced rental rates. Many universities have auditoriums and large classrooms that can be reserved for free or reduced rates. What planter doesn’t like free worship space?
Make Missional Metrics
As far as metrics go we have just one for our teams: “Did you engage someone with the gospel today.” We believe that practically everything we are aiming for flows out of this singular action. When we launched on a campus last fall our team had a goal of 357 gospel conversations in the first 6 weeks. Now at week 14 they have seen 21 decisions and last Sunday baptized 16. If you ask them it’s not about being super innovative or slick— results come simply through being faithful to what is known. With tools like NAMB’s 3 Circles it’s easier than ever.
In college life attractional is missional.
If You Are Going To Gather, Do It Right
What should programing in a college plant look like? Corporate. Create the most attractive worship gatherings that you have the resources to pull off. In college life attractional is missional. Community. Inspiring environments may get students to come, but it won’t keep them. Above all else college students are looking for friends. If you go beyond just creating friendly environments and really push to foster friendships you won’t lack students. Hint: Food=Friendship…really though Cause.Use retreats, mission trips, service opportunities, to accelerate community beyond weekly gatherings.
Use Students to Reach Students
You may be rocking plaid, skinny jeans and thin rimmed glasses, but you’re still old… to them. Developing students on the front-end will not only be the most effective way to start but also creates really healthy precedent that this isn’t just something else to consume.
Published March 17, 2015