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Ready, Set, Reach Those Freshmen


July 23, 2018
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“The University is the clear cut fulcrum with which to move the world…More potently than by any other means, change the university and you change the world.”
– Dr. Charles Malik, Former Sec. General of the United Nations

Want to change the world? Change the university campus.

Want to change a campus? Reach freshmen.

You’re not going to reach all the freshmen this year. Or next year. But you can reach all the incoming freshmen in the fall of 2024 Or maybe it’s 2029. What’s important is that you have a goal.

“More happens in five years than you and I would ever dream. Less happens in one year than we would ever hope. In building a movement, time is our friend.”
– Jim Sylvester, Longtime Cru Director

The tendency in the fall is to tend to the urgent. There are fliers that need to be printed, rooms that need to be reserved, and retreats that need to be planned. But how does this fall fit into your long-term plan to change an entire university campus?

Every fall our strategy is the same: reach a progressively larger freshman class, in order to build a bigger movement, in order to eventually reach the entire campus—that every student would hear the gospel from a friend.

“I know of no other way to grow a movement in size apart from systematically and strategically reaching out to freshmen.”
– Bob Fuhs, LA Cru Director

Why a Plan for Freshmen?

  • Freshmen are the most open to the gospel—their lives have been turned upside down as they step into the new world of the college campus. They are looking to connect and are open to new ideas. The first six weeks are crucial in setting the course for their college experience and often their entire lives.
  • On many campuses, freshmen have to live on campus and thus are easy to connect with.
  • Freshmen have more discretionary time on their hands and more time left in college to invest for Christ.
  • If we can reach the entire freshman class for four years (it might take five to ten years of building up to this), we will have reached the whole campus.

I know what you are thinking: I am in college ministry, of course I am trying to reach freshmen.

But here’s the deal: unless you have a long-term plan, you will almost surely involve the same number of freshmen year after year and remain a small influence on a huge campus. If we desire to have an enormous impact for Christ, we need a long-term plan to build a movement of the size and health to really impact the entire campus. And things begin to change when you put a number on it–a goal: “We want to involve eighty freshmen this year in Bible studies.”

Why Does a Faith Goal for Freshmen Change Things?

1) It forces you to plan differently.

What happens when you realize you need to not just reach freshmen but to involve 80 of them in Bible studies? It forces your team to think in new ways—to try things you’ve never done before. It takes “reaching freshmen” from an abstract idea or wish to a concrete reality that needs to be planned.

It makes you realize:

  • We’re going to need more than just our staff team of 3 in order to make this happen.
  • We’re going to need 28 freshmen Bible study leaders (paired up, leading 14 studies) in order to make that a reality.
  • We’re going to have 120 in freshmen studies by the end of the fall (in order to have 80 still in studies by the end of the spring).
  • So we need to figure out a way to have conversations with 400 freshmen (if 1 in 5 will get involved in a study).
  • So we’d better get in contact with 800 freshmen (if half of our contacts will result in appointments).

2) It gives your staff and students hope and vision.

Scope (“Let’s share the gospel with every student on campus!”) is demotivating if you don’t have a long-term plan for reaching the entire campus. Having numerical goals that fit into a long-term plan turns ordinary, mundane tasks into vision-infused opportunities.

It’s really depressing to constantly hear, “We want to reach the whole campus with the gospel” and then look around the room and see you have 25 students involved. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that it is not going to happen this year.

But when your staff and students see a bigger picture for how we really are going to reach the entire campus, and how their hard work this fall fits into that big picture, their work becomes meaningful and full of purpose.

It allows them to say, “We want to involve a freshman class of 80 this year, and next year we want to reach 120, and eventually we hope to have a large enough movement to be able to truly reach every student on this campus,” and believe that it is possible.

“Without specific team goals, team members become confused and revert only to what they like to do or want to do. Goals that motivate always contain a ‘stretch element’ to them. In other words, they go beyond what you did last year and cannot be accomplished by simply plugging in last year’s methods and strategies. Most staff would rather fail at attempting something great than to succeed at something mediocre that just feels like failure.”
-Eric Swanson, Author of The Externally Focused Church

Our staff and students need to know that we’re not just involving freshmen to make our name great, to enlarge our ministry’s kingdom. We have a long-term plan to raise up enough equipped laborers to eventually share the gospel with every student on campus. I will only work so hard for an organizational vision. But I will work tirelessly to spread His fame.

So let’s get really practical…

Three Steps for Reaching a Freshmen Class that Starts a Movement

1)    Come up with a long-term plan.

Example five-year plan:

  • Year 0: find leaders; build a leadership core
  • Year 1: Involve 80 freshmen
  • Year 2: Involve 80 freshmen
  • Year 3: Involve 120 freshmen
  • Year 4: Involve 120 freshmen
  • Year 5: Involve 180 freshmen

Remember these goals reflect the number of freshmen you want to have actively involved in your ministry by the end of the year. Your initial outreach goal needs to be much higher to compensate for your ministry’s typical drop-out rate.

2)    Build a Team.

  • You need a reaching-freshmen team. You need all your leaders on this team.
  • You need to build consensus that we must reach freshmen.
  • When it comes to the fall, it’s all about manpower. If it’s just your staff team and four student leaders pursuing freshmen, you have a long road ahead of you. But if you line up 25 students who will focus on reaching freshmen, the fall will be measurably good.
  • And the job description we give these reaching-freshmen leaders is: Bible study leaders. They’re so much more than Bible study leaders. They’re pursuers of freshmen. They’re evangelists. But students can wrap their minds around: “Will you lead a freshman Bible study in the fall?”
  • Fill out what that looks like: “We’re not going to hand you students to be in your study. We’ll help you get contacts, but it’s your job to pursue and share the gospel with as many freshmen as possible in the fall.”
  • It’s okay if this year all you do is build a team to reach freshmen next year.

 3)    Plan Your Outreach Ideas for the First Six Weeks of Fall.

If you’re able to put together a reaching-freshmen team by the fall, here are some things we do to reach freshmen:

  • Have coed Bible studies in every dorm the first week of class.
  • During move-in week, we have cookouts in front of the freshmen dorms (and have them fill out a spiritual interest survey as they get a burger).
  • On the first day of school, we set up tables in front of every dining hall on campus. We hand out something free (sunglasses, free sandwich coupon, etc.) in exchange for students filing out a spiritual interest survey. (Download a sample jpg or Photoshop file you can adapt for your use). Between the cookouts and tables we do about four thousand of these spiritual interest surveys.

Here’s the key: our staff and student leaders then follow up, one-on-one, with as many of these students as possible. We share the gospel during every appointment and work hard to connect these freshmen to Bible studies. In the previous spring, most of our leaders had been through training on how to share their faith. We share the gospel with every student, despite the fact that our university is in the “Bible Belt,” because the vast majority of students do not have a clear understanding of the gospel of grace. Many times we see students trust Christ for the first time.

Reaching freshman to build a movement of evangelism and discipleship that eventually reaches into every area of campus has proven to be an effective strategy for many decades across many ministries. By God’s grace, a long-term commitment, and some good strategy, it can happen on yours too.