The 5 Big Issues in Campus Ministry Today: #4 Innovation
I’m devoting this week on the SENTinel to answering the question I posed last week: what are “The 5 Big Issues in Campus Ministry Today”? I’ll be writing on one issue a day. Today’s post is on Innovation. You can read previous posts on Missiology, Theological Foundations, and Ecclesiology. Be sure to check out the Comments under each of those posts as well, as well as Todd Engstrom’s related posts here and here!
I. The Need for Innovation
The world is rapidly changing all around us. Technologies that we didn’t dream of only a few years ago are now taken for granted. The world is more connected than ever. Google is changing the way we think. We relate to each other through tweets, txting and status messages. The only constant is change.
And yet, much of campus ministry operates with the same methods that it did 5, 10, even 20 or more years ago. Compared to other areas of ministry, campus ministry seems stultified. Before you object, I’m not talking about cosmetic repackaging with cooler graphics and hotter music. I’m talking about the need for deeper, more substantial, more creative changes to how we do things.
We could say that much of campus ministry is built like a Ford, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. Henry Ford changed the world with the Model T. But he became so obsessed with it that it nearly ruined his company. He really did say that quote about having any color you want, as long as it was black. Even worse, he once destroyed an updated, low-slung, shiny red Model T that his engineers had redesigned during his vacation—with his bare hands. The message was clear: “There will be no innovation. We will always do things this way.” What are the Model T’s of campus ministry? Where do we pay lip-service to innovation, “as long as it’s black”?
Stale campus ministry is incongruous, since we work with the generation that is living the future, right now. They’re already living 10 years in the future, and we’re living 10 years in the past. Why have our approaches to campus ministry become so dull, predictable, and cliched? While the church has been breaking new ground in church planting and thinking missionally, we’re still content to play chubby bunny.
We need innovation. We need new ideas. We need an entrepreneurial spirit, a willingness to take risks, and courage to go beyond the manuals and prescriptions of yesteryear. Because while yesteryear’s methods may have worked well for yesteryear’s students, they won’t work for today’s. Innovation is a missional imperative simply because people, and culture, keep changing.
Talk of innovation may make you uncomfortable, due to the prevalence of theological novelty. It’s true, not all innovation is good. Yet Jesus said, “Behold, I am making EVERYTHING NEW!” (Rev. 21:5). All our genuine innovation is really renovation, and flows from Jesus’ renewing Kingdom work. Besides, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). All of the best ideas have been thought of already—they just need to be recovered and reapplied.
II. Principles of Innovation
1. Be an active learner. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, since you’re not on this blog and reading this far unless you’re interested in “sharpening your ax.” (2 points if you know what book I just referenced). Quick: what’s the last thing you read, besides this blog, to sharpen your campus ministry ax? If you haven’t read it, make your first stop Benson Hines’ blog and superb eBook Reaching the Campus Tribes. Then order Chuck Bomar’s new book, College Ministry 101.
2. Be open. In at least three senses:
- Open to new ideas. Leave open time and space for innovation. What if ministries instituted Google’s 20% rule? Be flexible. Give yourself and others permission to try new things, and permission to fail.
- Open in the sense of transparency. Don’t be secretive. Share the good stuff. Let people see your cards, whether or not you’re holding a strong hand. They’ll respect you more for it.
- Open in the sense of open-sourcing. Everything is going this way. Web 2.0 is about organizing all the information out there into a coherent whole, and doing that in a radically decentralized way. It’s about users CREATING the value of that content through their organizing, and doing it collectively. (I gleaned some of this language from Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything).
3. Work as a Team. Sharing, Teamwork, Peering—these are all essential for innovation to occur. Get people talking to one another. Waste less time in meetings not relevant to you, and get more involved in stuff you’re skilled in & passionate about. All alone in your ministry? That’s no excuse. Share across traditional boundaries, both within your organization and without.
4. Embrace the Speed of Change. Stop trying to build a static institution, and start trying to build a fluid, dynamic movement. Students change, schools change, cultures change—so should we. Don’t build a treehouse—pitch a tent. That way, when your tree is being chopped down, you can move on quickly and easily.
III. Let’s Make Something New
Here’s just a few ideas, all of which I’m implementing in my ministry at Penn State. I’m hoping you chime in with some of yours.
1. Fellowship Meetings.
The Old: Many people I know are bored and burned out with the traditional “Sing-n-Speak” fellowship model, but most of us just keep doing it because it’s all we know, and we have to justify our paycheck somehow.
Make Something New:
- Decentralize your ministry. Maybe you don’t need one big meeting. Maybe you’d reach more people if you weren’t spending so much time and energy planning your “big show.” You’re also limiting your connecting points to one time and place. Instead, go cellular/organic, and free up you and your students to meet with anyone, anytime, anywhere.
- If you have a large group meeting, take out certain “essential” elements, like musical worship—occasionally or even on a permanent basis. Stop trying to reproduce a worship service. You’ll reinforce students’ need to connect with a local church.
The Old: We take static content, written by someone else, and take (ok, sometimes drag) our students through it.
Make Something New:
- There will always be a place for basic discipleship materials. But don’t stop there! Help your students move beyond being consumers of static content to becoming producers of dynamic content. You’ll be helping them to become active learners, and they’ll take more away. Plus, you’ll have material uniquely tailored to your ministry context, because it’s by and for your students!
- Open-source your Bible study materials. I have a project that’s a good example of this. Commontary is an open-source Bible commentary, making orthodox, accessible, and missional Bible commentary available to anyone, anywhere. Check it out, and feel free to use it!
- Open-source your organization. You should have a wiki, for everything from Policies & Procedures to Resources. If you don’t have savvy students around to setup MediaWiki for you, use a free one at Zoho.com or another free site. It will cut WAY down on emails—and we know our students aren’t into emails anymore. You’ll also get better ideas.
3. Support Raising
The Old: Newsletters. Phone calls. Home visits. Direct Asks. Repeat. Again and again and again.
Make Something New:
While the above are still necessary, are you using social media technology to connect with your supporters in new and fresh ways? Facebook, YouTube, MailChimp, Twitter—all of these can give a sense of immediacy and connection.
- Save yourself some time and postage with MailChimp.
- Tweet your missions trip.
- Post interviews with students on YouTube.
- Start a group for supporters on facebook.
I presented on this topic at CCO’s Spring Institute. If you’re interested in the material, let me know. The possibilities for social media are endless, and the world is only getting more connected through social media. We should not only be getting on board, but looking to jump onto the next curve.
4. Resourcing with “Ideagoras”
The Old: New ideas and breakthroughs are hard to find. When they get to us, it’s usually through slow and cumbersome top-down initiatives, not through peering.
Make Something New:
Innovation, contrary to popular belief, does not “just happen.” It must be cultivated and nurtured. It must be encouraged. This happens best when innovative people get together and hash out ideas together. The ideas are out there, but we need forums for sharing and venues for implementation.
Wikinomics called these “Ideagoras,” meetingplaces for sharing ideas and resources, and even marketing potential solutions to the larger ministry world. The business world has sites like this, like InnoCentive, a sort of Craigslist for inventions and solutions.
Are you a higher-up in a church or organization? Then ask what happens if someone has a great idea: Does it have go up the chain several steps (losing speed and risking death) before it moves back down to implementation? Or can it move laterally? How long would that take, if it did happen?
Concluding Thought: What are YOUR ideas, whether you’ve implemented them or not? Please share them! Let’s start innovating by turning these comments into an “Ideagora.” Tell your friends. I’m eager to read what you come up with. Let’s make something new!