If you’ve been a college ministry long enough, I imagine that you know what I’m talking about. You work hard to get people to your Bible Study, gathering or event and somehow you get either nobody to show up or a number of people that is much lower than your groups’ potential. It’s never about numbers, but it is about people, which can be represented by numbers and it can be discouraging. I’ve experienced all the highs and lows of this in my ministry to young adults over the last eight years.
I literally have conversations with people about this all the time. Parents, youth/college pastors and even students want to talk about this dynamic. And why not, it’s a legitimate struggle that we have in this type of ministry. It discourages people and ultimately sometimes burns them out. We’re all asking how to become more effective and what’s hindering that now.
I recently had the privilege of talking with a successful college ministry leader whom I respect immensely on this particular topic. His observations, which I’ve since wrestled with, are that if students aren’t coming then they simply aren’t finding value in what you’re doing. Bam. Take that.
For some of us, including myself, this can send our minds immediately spinning. If students are not coming then they’re not finding value. If they’re not finding value then I’m not providing a valuable experience. If I’m not providing value than I’m not doing a good job. If I’m not doing a good job then I should do something else.
I agree with my friend’s assessment on some level. After all, it’s hard to argue with. However, what I need to avoid, and what I want to caution us against is desperation and despair.
The other side to this coin is calling college kids “flaky” or “non-committal”. I hear this from a lot of people and this is the reason often offered as consolation to our struggles. Of course this too is hard to argue against as college age people can be difficult to rally together sometimes.
The problem with agreeing with both points is that we lose the ability to blame someone. It’s easiest in my frustration to blame “them” and not accept responsibility myself. It can also be easy for outsiders looking in on our ministries to blame us and not take into account the circumstances in which we minister. The unfortunate reality is that we live in a world where circumstances are often too dynamic to find clear blame. Blame is often the easy road but the road of responsibility and accountability is a much clearer expression of God’s desire.
In the end, we struggle forward. Sometimes successful and sometimes struggling. I don’t want their flakiness to become my excuse for infusing real value into my ministry any more than I would want a lack of value to be an excuse for their flakiness. I’ve said before that I’m not the best college pastor in the world. I know that there is someone out there (probably lots of someones) building a better college ministry than I am. However, I know this to also be true- there is nobody in my church building a better college ministry than I am. And I’d bet money that there’s nobody else in your context doing a better job at this than you.