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How Effective Do You Really Want to Be?

I sincerely believe this generation of university students is one of the most significant, exciting, and challenging generations of our time. They are without a doubt the most connected generation. They have a social conscience. They are activators. They are more comfortable with diversity. They tend to be more fiscally conservative than their parents, yet more liberal on social issues. They can also be rather narcissistic. They can appear to lack commitment. They have been called the “wounded generation.” They have been documented as the least churched of any generation in our nation’s history.  Yet, they are very spiritually minded. They have potential to be the most explosive, world-changing Christ followers we have ever seen. And you intersect with them in a prime season of their lives. You have the privilege to be loving representatives of Jesus to them. They need the truth of the gospel communicated and lived out in highly tangible ways. The evangelistic task has never been more demanding and more necessary.

Own the Scope

Reaching any size campus population with the gospel can feel daunting. The natural response is to reduce your vision, both to those who will join with you and/or to what you consider manageable. Yet the Great Commission, as proclaimed in Matthew 28: 18-20, has that nagging little word all. Three times this word shows up, as Jesus gives final instructions to his closest followers. He states that He has all authority, that they are to make disciples of all nations, and to teach all that He has commanded them. All is all-inclusive. Every. Each. All. We know that this literally means every people group on the planet. That includes the students on your campus.

I strongly believe that every campus ministry leader must take seriously the entire scope of his or her campus. (You might even consider other campuses). Why? This mentality takes the Great Commission seriously for the audience you have been called to reach. Embracing every student forces you to look at your campus through the lens of what could be, and not simply what is. Just think, the students on your campus could be the generation that leads the church in reaching the remaining unreached. This mentality also forces you out of your comfort zone into an area where God has to show up. This is the nature of faith.

Taking scope seriously causes you to raise up like-minded partners; this is the concept of The Body. Being committed to every student also means you must give power away by equipping and empowering students to reach other students. If you remain in a constant state of waiting for the next staff person to be added to your team for success, you will be waiting forever. The first job of every leader is to raise up more leaders. In your case, this primarily means raising up more student leaders.

Yet, to actually be strategic about getting to the whole campus, you must also be laser focused on the opportunities God has provided for you today. These opportunities come in the form of careful consideration and open doors. We will talk more about both of these concepts under “The Planning Process.” Simply put, you must strategically focus the resources God has entrusted to you in a fashion that gives you the greatest leverage to extend the gospel message to every student on campus. This requires godly wisdom and great dependence. This requires a plan.

The Reason We Must Plan

To many, planning can be about as frustrating and painful as a colorblind person playing twister. But planning is necessary for two primary reasons:  stewardship and celebration.

Stewardship has two components that we must embrace. First, whatever resources we have (staff, student leaders, funding, etc.), they are not our own. Therefore, they are not there to benefit us as the leader. They have been entrusted to us to steward well, towards the purposes of the Master. Second, whatever resources we have are limited. Therefore, we have been tasked by God to invest and manage those resources in such a way that they provide the maximum return (Matthew 25:14-30). We do so because the cause is great and the Master is incredibly generous.

Celebration may seem like a strange aspect to planning. But if we are truly asking God to give us His plans, and in faith we see Him use us to accomplish those plans, then we should rightfully stop and give Him the praise, glory and honor that He is due. Marking God’s kindness with celebration keeps before us the dependent nature from which we lead.

Therefore, planning is necessary because we have been called to steward well that which He has entrusted to us towards His grand purposes, which requires great dependence and intentional celebration.

The Planning Process

There are six important parts to any good strategic planning process. Don’t be overwhelmed by that notion. You actually think this way many times a day about a lot of things. Now you must simply apply this same thinking towards an audience and with a team.

Step 1-Imagining the Future

Vision is a mental image of a desirable future. Vision is about what is not yet, but must be. Vision for the Christ-centered leader begins by genuinely seeking Him and His agenda. While there are such things as natural visionaries, anyone can cultivate vision towards God’s calling. You exist as a leader because something needs to change. Your vision defines what that change looks like. Planning is the process by which you humbly and wisely work out the steps you will take to get there.

Vision for evangelism begins by continually growing a bigger heart for the lost. Meditate on Luke 15. Study Romans 1-3. Become conversant with Ephesians 1-2. Be captured by the whole storyline of the Bible. Go spend an hour one day at the most travelled footpath on campus. Really look at the students and wonder. What burdens are they carrying today? What idols have they given power to that are destroying their lives? What sins enslave them? Will they ever know freedom that comes through true forgiveness? Do they know anyone who is a true follower of Christ?

We must also constantly be forming rock solid convictions about the nature and power of the gospel. Look at the cross narratives found in all four gospels. Read Romans 6-8. Study life change from the book of Acts. Invite others to share their life-change story with you. Give thanks for specific ways Jesus has changed your life in the past year.

Vision is far more about being motivated by healthy burdens than by having a carefully crafted statement. I have watched many teams spend endless hours trying to forge vision statements. By the time the team arrives at the “perfect” statement, no one owns it. Instead, have regular times of vision sharing with your team.  Allow each person to share what they are burdened for related to students and what motivates them about reaching students.

Vision comes from the intersection of four things—passions, dissatisfactions, a strong knowledge of your situation, and calling. Here are some questions you can use to help you and your team cultivate vision:

  • What are you personally passionate about regarding the ministry?
  • How does that connect with the idea of reaching every student?

Step 2-Understanding Your Current Reality

Our knowledge of our ministry setting is often way too vague to make good, strategic decisions. We rely instead on our sense of what students are like and how the ministry is doing. Yet the reality is this: students are a moving target. We need to be constantly assessing the key elements of our ministry. What must we know? Here are three areas of current reality that must be assessed regularly.

  • General cultural trends as it relates to college students. Here are a couple of the many great resources for this: Tim Elmore’s Generation iYUCLA’s Annual Report on Incoming Freshmen, and Chuck Bomar’s The Slow Fade. What are college students like today? Most specialists agree that the university audience changes in some measurable way every six years. We have to be a student of students.
  •  The makeup of your campus: all the hard and soft data that paints the picture of that local setting. What is the ethnic and gender makeup of your campus? How many live on campus? Off campus? Where are the international students from? Where are social connections made? Who are the campus leaders and from which segment of campus do they arise? This includes statistics about your campus and the ministry, as well as current attitudes among lost students as well as students involved with your ministry.
  • The makeup of the current ministry, including past and current ministry effectiveness. What has worked in the past? What is proving effective now? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities do you need to seize? Are there any threats you need to guard against? Write these down and select your top 3-4 to focus on next year.  These will fit into Step 4.

We can only have confidence that we are trusting God to solve the right problems to the degree that we thoroughly know our current situation.

Step 3-Knowing Your Available Resources

Your primary resources are people, funding, and tools. But don’t forget the resources of knowledge, attitude, and hope. It has been said that the gospel is free, but evangelism is expensive. There is some truth to this statement. A critical part of planning for evangelism is to determine what resources are available to you. As I stated earlier, your most effective means of getting the gospel to every student is to empower students towards the gospel task. Here are some resource questions you must answer:

  • Do the students currently involved in your ministry understand God’s heart for the lost and the power of the gospel?
  • What are the attitudes of your students towards evangelism?
  • How many evangelistically trained or equipped students do you have in your ministry right now?
  • How will you (and any other staff on your team) seek to encourage and model steps of evangelism?

These types of questions will help you determine both the resources you have and the resources you still need to accomplish the evangelistic task. They may also begin to unearth some of the problems you need to solve in the next step.

Step 4-Determining The Strategic Steps You Will Take

This is the task of clearly defining the problems and opportunities that stand between where you are today and your vision. It helps define clearly the “path” you are going to take the next 6-12 months. You probably should not have less than two path steps and not more than five. If they have been defined clearly and correctly, these path steps should change each time you reevaluate (Step 6). Related to evangelism, some path step examples might include “Train 50% more Students in Evangelism This Year,” “Create and Execute 3 Evangelistic Events This Academic Year,” “Launch a Student Led Prayer Movement for the Lost on Campus by December,” etc. These need to be active steps toward which the whole team can agree and work on. They should move you toward an ultimate goal of Mt 28:19-20, i.e. “That more students would know Christ and reproduce new disciples of Jesus worldwide.”

Step 5-Making Sure Your Plan Is Executed

For every strategic path step, you must come up with a clear, executable plan that will probably involve two or more actions steps to accomplish. This is where most plans break down. Teams come up with good strategic ideas and never execute them. This is poor stewardship. There are four elements to every good form of execution: roles, goals, tools, and time. The “role” aspect is determining who is leading this particular tactic. The “goal” aspect is determining the measurable result that you are looking for with this tactic. The “tools” aspect is making sure that the people responsible for executing this tactic have all the resources they need. The “time” aspect is making sure this tactic gets into the calendar, either as an event on a specific date, or as a strategy that will be executed within a certain time frame.

Step 6-Ongoing Evaluation & Learning

Once an action item has been executed, take time with the team to gather feedback and see what has been learned. Don’t wait until the mid-year or the end of the year (though these are great times for general feedback too). Evaluation must be an ongoing process for quick learning and change. In most cases you can do this in less than 30 minutes of a staff or student leader meeting. Listen, measure, learn, and make adjustments. And give God thanks for all that He did to get you to that point.

So…how effective do you really want to be? Do you want to continue on the same path you’ve been on, regardless of the marginal results that you may be experiencing? Or do you want to ensure that you are being as intentional as possible to make the most out of every moment and every opportunity God is giving you on your campus? Will you own your scope with a plan that needs God’s supernatural intervention? Will you be a strategic leader?

If you and your team are ready to create a strategic plan then please take a look at John Allert’s Article, Strategerize Yourself, to find great resources and templates that will help you implement the wisdom given by Gary in this article.

Questions for Discussion

We all do strategic planning, whether it is breakfast, a road trip, or getting an education. It takes us from where we are to where we want to be. In what ways do you see Jesus or the disciples working a plan? How could a plan help you trust God more?

When is the last time you dreamed and asked God to do great things in your ministry without regard for cost, time, effort, or people?

What is the state of your ministry? Your campus? How does this article help you think more strategically about reaching students?

Gary Runn is the Executive Director for the Cru City in Leadership Development. Meet Gary and all our CMJ authors here.