Campus Ministry: How to Launch It

How to Launch It

By Rocky Tannehill

TV Sitcom junk dealer Fred Sanford of “Sanford and Son,” when confronted with a stressful situation, characteristically grabbed his chest and claimed to be having the Big One. To a lot of youth workers,
considering campus ministry brings on the Big One. Attempting to blend into the high school lunchtime crowd not only intimidates us, but often embarrasses the students we’re visiting.

Few youth ministers are comfortable during their first attempts at campus outreach. I wasn’t. A seventh grader in my youth group was having a horrible time in school due to a few physical handicaps beyond the standard ones common to all early adolescents. His parents made an appointment for him to come in and talk with me about why he wasn’t plugging into school. When he came into my office, Richard sat down in the chair farthest away from me and began to tell me about how hard it was to be a Christian student at the school he was attending.

Keep in mind that Richard’s school wasn’t in Los Angeles or Chicago, but in a Missouri suburban neighborhood known for its well-ordered peacefulness. As I listened to an hour’s worth of his apparently
exaggerated stories of non acceptance by his peers, I figured Richard was trying to fool me, thinking me too old to have ever been on a campus before. I felt certain things couldn’t be that bad. I decided my best approach, however, was to learn about Richard’s school firsthand. I asked if he would mind if I met him for lunch at the school cafeteria.

He nervously agreed to the lunch date, and I told him I would set it up through the school, which I thought I could do with little effort. We prayed, and-feeling like I had engineered a master plan for Richard’s
recovery from school problems-I walked him to the front office to meet his mother.

Returning to my office, I phoned Richard’s school. The student receptionist who answered my call didn’t know whose permission I needed. As several people shuttled me from one extension to another, a huge feeling of anxiety built up within me. This was going to take more time than I thought. I finally hung up, redialed, and asked for the principal. I got his secretary, who took a message, starting a three-day phone-tag tournament between the principal and me. When we finally connected, the principal (who was, by the way, a very nice guy) told me the procedure for lunching on campus with a student. Without going into detail, what it took to get in that lunchroom nearly took an act of Congress.


Getting in wasn’t the worst part, though. Once we sat down to eat, both Richard and I were so uptight that we didn’t enjoy the experience. Feeling embarrassed about not fitting in was the easier part of the lunch. I found out Richard had told me the truth in our counseling meeting. The negative peer reaction toward him was obvious, even though most of the kids stayed away from us. I’m sure the pressure he felt affected his spiritual walk. It would mine.

On the up side, my first lunchroom experience woke me up like ice water in the face. This place was where all Richard’s potential friends hung out for six to eight hours, five days a week. Any chance of Richard
succeeding in academic or social development depended on his adapting to the environment-and if I was to survive the school youth culture to be of any help to him, I needed to do the same. Richard, by virtue of
his age, and I, by virtue of my career, calling, and passion, both desired to be part of this group of people. At that moment of awakening, I saw that we both had to change relative to the peer group we desired to be part of. This experience reorchestrated my focus outward instead of inward.

Campus ministry means that church leaders take their ministry to middle school and high school campuses-to where the kids are-instead of expecting students to stampede the church. Campus ministers effect direct change in the campus environment through building relationships and training up student leadership on the campus.

The campus ministry vehicle that worked best for me was training and discipling student leaders of on-campus Christian clubs. These clubs are fully chartered and approved by the Associated Student Body (ASB), which regulates club activities on high school campuses. I also sat for a year on the Board of Kansas City’s Chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. This organization has a vision for developing
leadership among student athletes.

A few of my friends coach athletic teams and lead Bible studies for the players. I’ve heard of youth workers shelving books in the library and monitoring study halls. Others love to speak to classes about history
or science-their expertise or hobby opens doors for them. Youth workers can chaperon activities, serve on a committee or school board, work with PTA, help establish a Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a Young Life club, or Youth for Christ club. One door to on-campus ministry is no better than another; all are needed. A person’s chosen ministry grows out of their experience and personal vision.

Out of the Church, onto the Campus

My comfort zone is training students to lead a Christian club. I assist them to take ownership of their vision to evangelize and change the campus they attend by urging them to put into action the principles I teach at youth group every week. Students need to actually see that this Christian leadership stuff works outside of the four walls of our church. I train students to serve the administration, teachers, and fellow classmates. I discourage fighting over issues by motivating students to help each other produce a more positive atmosphere on campus, and I convince them this attitude propagates the gospel faster than hard-core, turn-or-burn evangelism. Servant leadership produces a solid answer to negative peer pressure, drugs, premarital sex, and hurting people. My students see firsthand that loving leadership works on the campuses. Their experience can be transferred to jobs and families as well. We just work out our hypothesis: Whatever you do, leadership principles based on God’s word work.

Clubs also provide a way to fulfill the great commission. I teach students that to live their faith means considering Matthew 28:18 as a serious command, not as a mere option. I believe the emphasis on the
word “Go” in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:15 was deliberate. It means we are to actually go into all the world. School campuses constitute a world. They have their own environments, activities, codes, and
ethics. Students spend five to six hours a day in that world; so let’s go there.

Students trained to envision their campuses as a mission field bring in a harvest. Jesus said, “Do not say four months more and then the harvest. I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields they are ripe for harvest” (John 4-:35). We need to stop excusing ourselves for not sharing our faith on school campuses. We have in school campuses an open avenue for the gospel of Jesus Christ. God’s will is that students
harvest now, not when they get older, not when they supposedly grow up.

Since the courts have defended the right of Christian clubs to meet on campus, let’s take full advantage within our rights to help change our schools for Jesus Christ. Not only will having a Christian club on
campus influence a school toward Jesus, it will enhance the discipleship process of your youth group students. They begin to care for and nurture each other, peers to peers. Students who have been trained to serve can begin to give their faith away.

Clubs provide built-in accountability for their members. At our first club meeting on campus students were blown away seeing which other students walked through the door calling themselves Christians. They
found out who their brothers and sisters in Christ were. Knowing each other started breaking down the tendency to act like an angel at church then live like hell on campus. It fostered consistent disciplined lifestyles as the norm within the larger campus peer group.

The following basic steps can expedite the process of getting a campus Christian club started.

1. Tell students in your youth group that you plan to back them in starting Christian clubs on their campuses as part of the youth group’s activities and outreach.

Organize teams of students according to the area schools they attend. These teams form the core of your club leadership. By word of mouth, team members on each campus spread the news that a club will be
starting. They discuss it with Christian friends on campus as well as with friends interested in Christian ideas.

Meanwhile, you ask area youth pastors to let their kids know that their campus will soon have a Christian club that they will want to become a part of it. The purpose of telling other churches is to add to the
core leadership group and create a club that can start big. Urge kids to round up as many fellow students as possible to support the club. There is strength in numbers.

2. Assist students to approach a school employee who is a Christian to ask him or her to supervise the on-campus club.

The supervisor, according to Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergans, is a nonparticipatory monitor, present to protect the safety of the students and the school property. The job of the supervisor is to let the group into the meeting room and to insure that the room is left ready for class use. The supervisor attends club meetings but does not oversee club activities.

Every time I’ve helped start a campus club, one or two students get fired up about evangelizing their campus. These are the ones who should seek out an appropriate supervisor. If they don’t already know
a school employee who is a Christian, they can ask among interested students for the names of any Christian teachers, custodians, coaches, or staff members who might be able to fill this role. Parachurch
organizations such as Youth for Christ, Young Life, or Fellowship of Christian Athletes may also know contacts on campus. Pray for a supervisor who has pull on that campus, who fits the personality of the group, who has a vision for campus ministry, and who will be able to support the students by attending club meetings.

3. Student leaders pick up a club application packet from the ASB.

Work with the emerging student leaders to type out complete answers on the application form. Make it look professional by including a typed cover letter. Be up-front regarding what you are about: This is a
Christian club; the students join for the purpose of evangelizing other students; the club develops student leadership and trains students to make right choices. Downplaying your club purpose could create major problems down the road. Don’t hold back.

Discuss with your current core group who would make effective officers of the club. Guide them in choosing two candidates for each office the group plans to include-president, vice president, secretary/treasurer, publicity, and so on. (More than two candidates splits the vote too much, and open nominations create chaos-trust me on this.) Prepare a ballot that will be presented to all who attend the meeting to design a club charter.

4. Meet with students to write up the club charter or constitution.

By this point your core group has grown, and with it the circle of influence of the developing club. Now the student leaders invite everyone who has shown any interest to attend a meeting to create the club charter. Offering input in this early stage establishes ownership among participants. It creates an “I belong to this club” atmosphere. People from different churches with different styles of ministry will offer input; encourage your students to be open to their ideas. It’s likely the group will be meeting on campus during lunch or before or after school.

The one or two kids fired up to make a club happen are the ones who run the charter-writing meeting. Usually, one of these also ends up being president. The acting president should assign another student to keep minutes of this meeting.

5. Elect officers.

At the end of the charter-writing meeting, the acting president hands out the prepared ballot offering two candidates for each office listed and briefly described in the new charter. All participants present vote for the officers. The minutes should state that an election was held among club members for club leadership. It’s legally significant that the officers be elected by the club membership.

6. Meet with officers.

You and the newly elected officers set a date to meet and further develop the short job descriptions written up as part of the charter.

Middle school and high school students are still at the stage of cognitive development where they need explicit guidance. Help them define what exactly they want to accomplish on their campus, and direct their planning to produce specific assignments for officers. You’re basically helping them to get organized.

The elected officers are the ones in charge of designing a meeting format that will build the club. You want to make sure that they have a hot meeting. Prime their brainstorming with questions: What do you want your meeting to look like? Do you want special banners? Do you want loud music to draw a crowd? How could you use drama to get the club more campus exposure? What themes do you want to emphasize? How
long do you want to stick with the same theme? (See the sidebar for more ideas on the format of a club meeting.)

At this planning session you should also have a copy of the school calendar listing pep rallies, other clubs’ activities, sports events. Direct the officers to move out from the weekly gathering of club members to determine how they can be an influential presence on campus. Ask them more questions: What events do you want to sponsor? What services do you plan to offer? How can you be a presence at rallies or other all-school gatherings? The discussion will lead into publicizing club meetings and events. Plan another meeting date to start the club P.R. machine after you’ve got the okay from the ASB.

7. Submit your charter to the ASB for approval.

Usually this is an easy process. The officers submit the application and club charter to the ASB.

To make a strong case for accepting a Christian club, the presenters may state that among the club’s objectives is the desire to influence peers to make better life choices. Supply the officers with surveys by
organizations like the Barna Research Group or Gallup’s Princeton Religion Research Center (which publishes its findings in the, monthly Emerging Trends) and help them compile statistics showing the kinds of poor choices high schoolers often make. Create a graph or chart demonstrating the rising interest among teens in spirituality. The leaders then use this information when presenting their application to
the ASB to persuade them of the importance of the clubs purpose to help influence the atmosphere on our campus. The kids must know their stuff-why they’re starting a club. Prepare them to answer any questions that the, ASB might have regarding the club purpose, formate, or proposed activities.

8. Start publicizing your meeting.

The best way to publicize is, of course, by word of mouth. Kids come to what other kids are talking up. Urge club members to create quality posters announcing the new club. Create unique fabric banners to mount
weekly, reminding kids of that day’s club meeting. At basketball games or a wrestling tournament, make sure your club has two posters to every athletic poster. Have people from your publicity committee hand
out ASB approved fliers before school and during lunch hour. Announce events using the daily bulletin. If your school uses video announcements, tape short spots to be included. Make sure your club comes up at least two or three days a week in morning announcements.

Advertise in the school newspaper, running ads of your scheduled events. Fire up club members to write editorials on safe sex, AIDS, or issues of campus life. Encourage members to write a response to an articles in the school newspaper. Your club should be known for doing things, being active. Advertise in community newspapers and local radio stations. Community activity announcements are free time.

Why should we encourage our students to do campus ministry? For one thing, school is where students spend five to six hours per day. For another thing, Christian beliefs are a big part of our academic and
national heritage. Also, the school campus is a huge fishing pond. That’s where you come in. Answer for yourself: Why should you become involved in ministering on campus? What could be some ways you would
like to touch or relate to your students in their school environment? Could you visit students during school hours, develop their leadership skills through a club setting, disciple them one-on-one, coach their team, or address students in a classroom environment?

What are your reasons for not supporting a campus ministry? Do you simply lack time? Are you uncertain where to start? Do you feel your youth group isn’t big enough to tackle a club? Do you fear you wouldn’t have the student leadership or the financial resources?

Maybe you feel it isn’t your calling. One of the biggest obstacle to youth ministers is the fear that the community won’t support this type of ministry. Some feel campus ministry only works in rural community
sympathetic to Christian values. Others expect that only suburban campuses would support a Christian club. Some are certain that school administrators don’t want church related help.

It’s time to make a breakthrough. Grab a pen and paper and list every obstacle to including campus ministry in your program. List every possible drawback, every reason it wouldn’t work. After you’ve
completed the list, review it. Add any other barriers you might have forgotten. Now-start exploring possible solutions to the problems you listed.

Once you start into campus ministry, don’t let negative feedback rob it from you. Ask God to open every door that needs to be opened and to shut the door that needs to be closed. Purpose in your heart not to be
denied God’s best for the campuses at which you want to minister. The Christians’ right to gather together in public schools has been affirmed by the highest court. Like our muscles, however, our rights must be exercised or they will atrophy. Public schools are a huge mission field. Our missionaries to this field must be our students. They can reach their generation for Jesus Christ, but they need our support. Pray that the Lord will send laborers to harvest these ripe fields. God has opened a door; we must walk through it.

Faith Among Teens is Growing

Evangelical Christianity among U.S. teenagers is on the rise, according to a recent Gallup poll. Nationwide, 39 percent of teens (versus 36 percent of adults) say they are “born -again” or “evangelical” Christians. This is up 4 percent since 1988. In the suburbs, 31 percent of teens consider themselves evangelical, compared with 41 to 43 percent in large cities, small towns, or rural areas, according to the Princeton Religion Research Center.

Teens also have a high regard for the Bible, the study shows. Only 14 percent consider the Bible a book of fables or legends. But 84 percent said the Bible is “the Word of God,” and 38 percent said it should be taken literally. (From: National & International Religion Report, May 31, 1993.)

(The above material was published by Youthworker, Summer, 1993)

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