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Are you bold enough to target the most strategic students on your campus?

July 10, 2016

All of us yearn to be part of a campus movement that is exciting, growing, fun, and full of warmth and vision, right?

But how do we get there? Does God mysteriously bless one ministry and withhold his anointing on another?

Or are there some things He reveals in the scriptures—some principles we can apply to our ministries that will help build this kind of campus wide movement?

What would have to take place at your school so that your ministry is like a magnet, drawing hundreds of students from every corner of campus, giving you what I call “irresistible influence”?

Deciding on which group of students on your campus you want to focus can make you or break you! Let me explain:

Students are Different

Admission #1: Can we agree that all students are different? They come to college with a pre-formed package of gifts, personality, family issues, goals, interests, and faith. They’re at different stages in their social and emotional maturity.

I’ve worked with collegians for 35 years and have learned that students always start off being part of one of these three groups:

  1. The influencers (10% of the campus)
    These are the mainstream students who come to college for the “campus life.” They want to socialize, join clubs, build a million friendships, and influence people. After a year they are right in the middle of things with an incredible network of relationships.
  2. The interested (60% of the campus)
    These are the midstream students that probably were never “big fish” in high school. They want to get involved, but don’t have as much confidence or experience and usually gravitate towards the groups connected with one of the influencers.
  3. The isolated (30% of the campus)
    These are the out of stream students who’ve tucked themselves away in a cove because it’s safe or are “just checkin’ out college.” Perhaps they came from a dysfunctional home or simply would rather not socialize in groups. They’ll end up being lonely, but curious students until someone pulls them into the flow of campus life.

What’s at the Core?

Admission #2: Having visited and spoke to over a thousand different campus ministries, I can tell you most of the groups at your college are made up of (almost exclusively) interested and isolated students primarily looking for a safe social/spiritual refuge.

As immature as it may sound, if a mainstream student came to one of those meetings, it would probably be their first and last visit!

Have you ever observed a ministry where the core of that group is made up of well-networked influencers and they’re gathering more students than other ministries?

Because of their focus, that core will usually end up attracting and impacting many more interested and isolated students than they’ve ever dreamed of. And the crest of that campus-wide momentum they are riding feels so different than the rest of the groups that seem satisfied with their small meetings, fellowships, and bible studies.

We can go into denial and say, “Well, we’re interested in a lot more than just numbers.” Of course, but a key to growing the quantity and quality of your small groups and one-on-one multiplication is the type of momentum you’ve created on that campus.

The large group is simply the front door to what’s really going on inside.

That momentum feeds multiplication, and as you build deeply into students’ lives, they will, in turn, recruit to your large group.

Your ministry can develop both depth and breadth if you will direct your evangelism and discipleship toward the campus influencers—those who have taken the time and effort to assemble a network of relationships during their time at school.

The Bible Speaks

You might be scoffing right now and asking, “where is this in the Bible?”

Well, when God chose someone in the Old Testament that could lead the Israelites and stand up to Pharaoh, He selected Moses. He had credibility, experience, and wouldn’t be intimidated.

In the New Testament, the Lord called a proven influencer and networker with a long résumé to establish churches all around the Mediterranean. He knew Paul would need extraordinary relational skills along with the confidence to confront kings.

Consider these four “influencer” principles, with Bible studies for each:

  1. How we view ourselves impacts how we relate to others (Numbers 13)The 12 spies weren’t sent to the promised land to see if they should go in, but how! Ten of them froze with fear when they saw the giants and cried, “we became like grasshoppers in our own sight─and so we were in their sight.” Only Joshua and Caleb weren’t willing to back down. Don’t avoid the giants on your campus; they’re the ones we need to be targeting! Missiologists will tell you: “Win the chief and you win the tribe.”
  2. Jesus said to focus on shepherds more than sheep (Matthew 9:36-38)Jesus said “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” He didn’t tell us to pray for more sheep, but more shepherds—people who have the spiritual, social, and emotional maturity to go beyond themselves to care about the needs of others. It’s not playing favorites when we select and develop these individuals; it’s what Jesus told us to do!
  3. The mature can connect with a broad spectrum of people (I Corinthians 9:19-23)Paul was willing to do and become anything he needed to win people. He believed he could relate to and witness to any person regardless of how high and mighty they are in the world’s eyes. Paul possessed this perspective about himself and ministry … and so should we!
  4. We are to select faithful men who are able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2)Paul told Timothy to not only find “faithful men” to invest his life into, but men who would be willing and able to pass it on to others. I can help steer a moving car, but not a parked one. If we’re truly going to multiply ourselves, we must look for students who desire to reach out and influence others. Loners need not apply!

[Other passages to study: The Conversion of Cornelius ─ Acts 10; The Parable of the Talents ─ Mt. 25:14-30]

Believe It or Not

Some reading this article are uncomfortable right now, maybe even mad! You might be rejecting this approach outright saying it’s being too exclusive or preferential.

Friend, you’ve already knocked out 99 percent of the world’s population by choosing to focus on college students—what’s wrong in narrowing it down just a bit more?

The most fruitful campus worker the world has ever seen, Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, believed “All people are equally important. But not all people are equally strategic.” Please tell me you see the wisdom in that!

As a final effort to convince you, I’ll share these three startling principles about this 10 percent slice of the campus called “The Influencers”:

  1. They are the most unreached group on your campus. It baffles me why almost no one wants to go after this most strategic, but unengaged group. I’ve posed that question a thousand times on hundreds of campuses. Influencers are almost non-existent in most campus ministries. Instead, the college ministries seem to be battling with each other to see how many of the safe, polite, churched kids will come to their pizza lunch or worship concert. Let them have those students. You “go where the gospel has not gone” (Rom 15:20) and practice the “reach the unreached” principle in this culture like we do in foreign missions. If not you, who? If not now, when?
  2. They may not be cool, athletic, good looking, or from wealthy families. I don’t care what a student looks like, how they dress, or what kind of car they drive. To apply 2 Tim. 2:2, I will invest in any student who’s socially and emotionally strong enough to get their eyes off themselves in order to reach out to initiate friendships with others. I think the Lord gave me another one just yesterday: a young man in a small group with me who is starting to genuinely seek Jesus, but who has hundreds of key relationships across our university. I caught myself looking deeply into the eyes of this one student and seeing the whole campus mobilized for Christ!
  3. They desperately want someone to reach them. Some influencers may be insecure and hiding behind their Greek letters, preppy clothes, cocky attitude, or 3,000 Twitter followers. Yes, they may look like they have it all together, but many yearn for someone to see through them and be brave enough to enter their world on their turf. So, rescue them from their “selfie” world, and do them the greatest favor ever by giving them a purpose in life greater than themselves. Their potential is staggering!

So, go for it! Be bold. Don’t make excuses. Don’t play it safe. Don’t give me this crap about it being outside your comfort zone!

Go straight to the heart of your campus and boldly plant the flag of Jesus Christ. But you must do what is necessary by moving away from just having your little ministry fellowship group and taking radical steps toward launching a campus-wide movement that becomes a launching pad to change the world!