Late last year I posted a bunch of ideas and resources from Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) that we used for inspiration for a bunch of new ideas for O Week that we trialled this year, made possible by a grant from the Tasmanian Christian Fund.
In the next few posts I want to share our experience, results, and lessons learned for next time.
Three preliminary comments
1. Not really that different: just bigger and more focussed
We weren't doing a whole heaps different to what lots of AFES groups and other campus ministries already do. Heavy broadcast promotion, attempts at gathering large numbers of contacts, providing a mix of social and ministry events to connect with, and personal follow up.
For that reason we probably haven't learned much that a larger campus group hasn't already figured out. But perhaps we can provide some pointers to other medium sized groups we want to stretch their reach.
But maybe one or two of our ideas will be fresh, or maybe the overall 'spirit of the project' will be inspiring to other groups.
2. Not directly applicable to church ministry, but plenty of things will be
Campus ministry is unique in its sprint-lull rhythm, its demographic focus and its concentrated seasons where a large proportion of the target group will all be in a few locations with an interest to joining new things. In that sense what we have discovered won't easily translate to church ministry.
However, I think there are lots of things that will translate well, perhaps with thoughtful adjustments. The principles around large scale promotion and connection and personal follow up will definitely have their place in church ministry. And speeding up the pace and drive of a local church could well be a good challenge.
I'm keen to hear from those who are doing some of these things in church ministry, or who have stolen and adjusted some of our ideas.
3. Spending money on mission
A lot of the scale and quality of what we did was made possible by the grant, that we spent a lot of time applying for and keping records to report against. But since we feel the O Week Mission was a success, we are resolved to spend money on this next year.
And I want to say it's worth it. If spending money helps connecting with more people more meaningfully, why be a cheapskate at this point? That's a big mindset shift though. Rather than running a campus group on a shoestring budget, to proactively plan to raise and spend more money to reach more people.
Also we have more staff than the equivalent sized local church (1:25 ratio is pretty common in campus groups in USA; these stats are similar in Australia): so we are 'spending money' at this point too. There's a bunch of reasons for this ratio… but one point is to say: to do mission really effectively and broadly 'costs' in people time too. There will be a limit to what we can attempt in outreach and promotion if it depends on one 'generalist' pastor and a bunch of volunteers.
Purpose of O Week Mission
1. Provide face to face opportunities to discuss the gospel with hundreds of university students
We wanted to stretch and push ourselves to be more present and 'ubiquitous' on the campuses of UTAS, so that there were heaps of opportunities for that connection to take place. The 'gospel opportunities' would be light touch: but a face to face invitation to find out more.
The spirit of the mission was to do more. How could we logistically stretch our group, that normally only had one 'contact table' or point of presence? How could we instead be present on multiple campuses or multiple sites on the campus at the one time?
2. Connect interested non-Christians with multiple formal and informal opportunities to investigate the gospel of Jesus Christ
3. Connect committed Christians and nominal Christians coming to uni with a vibrant and robust Christian community to help them grasp the spiritual, personal, intellectual and lifestyle implications of the gospel
4. Train Christian students in public marketplace evangelism, formal event evangelism and informal personal evangelism, for their ministry at university and church, both now and into the future
5. Test effectiveness of mass promotion
For us, this O Week Mission experiment was an opportuntiy to test a couple of things. First of all, we had noticed over the last 6 years that by far the most effective way for us to connect with new people is:
- Facebook promotion
- A really good Pre-O-Week Conference (our Pre-Season Conference)
- Informal word of mouth advertising
We decreased our amount of fliering and cold contacting, and yet saw an increase in the size of the group. And very very rarely did our mass promotion lead to fruitful gospel opportunities or actively involved Christian students.
And that is true more generally in the Geneva Push network I'm involved with: vibrant, growing church plants rely predominantly on social media and informal invitations, rather than printed, published or cold contact evangelism.
So I wanted to test if there was a place for mass promotion and cold ontact Or is it just a financially expensive or time expensive activity that bears little fruit?
6. Test saturation of the campus
Short of revival, most ministries will reach a point of saturation, where any further growth will be slower. This is because you have engaged most of the Christians who will ever be engaged by your particular ministry and you have connected with the 'low-hanging fruit' in evangelism. All other growth will be the slow but worthwhile trickle of evangelistic growth and maturity-leading-to-more-regular-attendance growth.
I was curious to know what the saturation point for our Hobart campuses of around 14 000 undergraduates. At what point will your group reach a 'cap' on its growth, short of significant spiritual, sociological and ecclesiological changes?
The O Week Mission Strategy
Basically the whole thing was one massive funnel:
1. Broadcast Promotion
We threw money at a whole bunch of things to see what would work:
- Radio advertisements on the Christian radio station and on the community radio station that broadcasts from the uni,
- Corflute signage out the front of the building where we hold our main evening 'Citywide Gatherings'
- Paid Facebook advertising and 'boosts'
- Fliering at orientation lectures
- Giveaway BBQs in Week 2 (so not competing with all the other free stuff in Week 1)
2. Brief surveys on all campuses of UTAS with gift incentive
- We positioned ourselves at contact ables at multiple points at the largest campus of UTAS Hobart, as well as the other satellite campuses and residential colleges
- Invite any and every passerby to complete a short, 3 question survey and in return we will give them a gift bag with a KeepCup and free coffee voucher from an awesome boutique cafe.
- The third questions was: “Would you like to find out more about the Uni Fellowship of Christians' events and activities? YES/MAYBE/NO
3. Live data entry and afternoon follow up
- Previously we had left data entry and follow up calls to the evenings of each day of O Week.
- But this year, because we were inviting people to things that very day (see 4, below), we sped up this process.
- We had people rostered on to do data entry at the same time that new contacts were being made.
- We recorded the raw survey data in Survey Monkey and plugged all the Yes and Maybe data into our Elvanto database.
- All the Yes and Maybe answers then received a generic 'Welcome from Uni Fellowship' email, as well as a personal call/SMS/email inviting them to the pizza parties:
4. Pizza Parties Monday-Wednesday of O Week
- We invited new contacts to come to free pizza parties (or dessert on Wednesday) each night of O Week.
- This was meant to be an opportunity to connect with people personally and socially straight away, rather than just inviting them to a public ministry event (Bible talk, for example).
- At this event we gave a brief explanation about our group and encouraged people to sign up to evangelistic courses or Fellowship Groups.
5. Personal follow up coffees
- Staff and student leaders contact each person who said Yes or Maybe, to invite them for coffee (our shout) to find out more about the Uni Fellowship and ask any questions.
- We extend this invitation 3 times before giving up.
6. Invitiation to Public Meetings Faculty Cluster social events, Fellowship Groups and Chrsitianity 1A
- Our pattern of regular meetings also became part of our follow up: inviting people to plug into our small groups, evangleistic course and public meetings.
- We also gave money to our Faculty Cluster groups to organise social events on a faculty basis.