Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Can They Find You?

Can folks who are looking for your ministry find you?
Off-Campus: Prospective students and their parents looking for Presbyterian support at, say, Mission Field University look for you in a couple of ways. They Google "Presbyterian Campus Ministry Mission Field". They search Facebook for "Mission Field Presbyterian" and they look at Mission Field's Website listing of Student Organizations. They might search the PC(USA)'s Campus Ministry Locator if they are seriously Presby-geek and persistent. If your ministry is known on campus by some other name (Westminster House, K-House, The Abby, The Bridge, The Inn, FOCUS, FLAME, etc.) you will need to be thoughtful in your media usage.

Web site metatags are what help search engines list what information appears on the search results page. Use them!

If you are a congregation hoping that some nearby college students will attend your church, your web site had better have something which specifically says "college students". They won't be attending without first looking you up for directions, times, and to see if you look like a church where they would be welcome.

A Facebook PAGE is good for your external visitors because it will appear on search engine results. The PAGE's title should not be the on-campus name. Save that for the INFO. A  Facebook GROUP for your internal (on-campus) organization should have the title by which your students would know you.

You should also check that the PC(USA) Campus Ministry Locator has up-to-date information. The procedure to submit changes can be found on the Locator front page. If you are a congregation near a campus hoping to attract college students and you are already in the Locator data base, you MUST have a website!!!

A Recommended exercise: Go to the library. Pick an institution similar to yours in another state. Imagine that you are first a parent and then a perspective student.  Use a computer there to search for a Presbyterian campus ministry at that institution. Did you feel as if you got a good sense of what faith support there might be there? Then repeat the exercise for your own campus.  (Don't use your own computer, it may skew your results)

If you have any comments or suggestions about being visible, please share them!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

A Missionary Endeavor

Maybe one of the reasons the Presbyterian Church has high regard in the abstract and low regard in the tangible for collegiate ministry is because of the way the denomination views college ministry.

Most congregational-based campus ministries have a staff person (ordained or lay) responsible for the ministry and the finances and accountability structures are similar to that of the congregation's youth ministry. This structure unconsciously casts college ministry as an older youth ministry.

A better model would be to see the congregation's campus ministry at the nearby university in the same way it views its ministry to an overseas elementary school. The congregation supports the overseas school by raising and giving money to the school. They don't expect anything back from the school except occasional reports, thanks, updates, and photographs.They realize that the school enriches and impacts their congregation not by having any of the students participate in the life of the congregation, but solely for what the outreach ministry does for the congregation itself. The congregation might send a few of its members on site do some some work for the school. Often those "mission trips" involve physical plant support or intensive education events. The congregation is proud of its support for the school and places pictures of the school and its students on bulletin boards. Members who have been on "mission trips" to the school report back to the congregation.

Organized, stand alone Presbyterian and Ecumenical Campus Ministries  also need to been seen as missionary outposts by supporting congregations. There should be no expectation that the students involved in campus ministry will attend, participate, or contribute to the supporting congregation.

Chaplaincy programs are frequently overlooked by congregations. They think that because the Chaplaincy programs are part of the college there is no need for the congregation's funds, prayers, or physical "mission trip" presence. These campus Religious Life Programs are missional.

When will we take seriously the notion that ministry on campus to college students is a missionary endeavor? When will we start treating campus ministers and chaplains as missionaries and colleges as a mission field?  Campus Ministry is not just an older youth group, able to provide nursery workers, Sunday School teachers, and perhaps a choir member. Campus Ministry is a missionary outreach to a different culture. Members of that different culture have their own society, rules, and language. A few (15%) may be able to speak the congregation's religious and social language, but the overwhelming majority do not. (Even when the ministry on campus is vibrant and students are having their faith deepened, those campus ministry students will probably not be visible at the 11 o'clock worship.)

Missionaries get some training from the denomination before they report to their site. They receive public recognition and commissioning as they begin. The denomination actively supports them with publicity and communication. Periodically the missionaries are brought back home for rest, replenishment, and time to spend with the congregations which support them.

Notice, please, that while local congregations financially undergird the missionaries, a numerically strong denominational staff supports and coordinates them.
(I count about 125 Mission workers on the PCUSA website with 45 denominational staff.[Young Adult Volunteers and staff not encluded.]  I estimate about 300 organizational campus ministers, 450 congregational based staff, and 80 chaplains supported, coordinated, and publicized with one denominational staff person.)