Excerpted from GO: A Guide to Campus-Based Youth Ministry
STARTING A CHRISTIAN CLUB ON CAMPUS
The first step in getting an official Christian club started is to find a faculty sponsor. You have the legal right to be on campus, but for you to meet with students without their parent’s signature in a club setting, there must be a full-time faculty member present. I have never found this to be a problem. As you have been on campus meeting with students with signed permission slips, you may have met a faculty member interested in what you’re doing. On some campuses, there have been members of my church that work there and are willing to help. Ask the students you’ve been meeting with if they know a Christian teacher who might be willing to help. On the second campus where I started a Christian club, I found out about and talked to a teacher who sponsored a morning Christian club to see if he knew anyone else who would like to be involved. This teacher was very helpful in getting me set up to run my own club on the same campus.
Don’t be afraid to start a new club even if there is already an existing Christian club on campus. Where I live in California, the public school system is set up for about 2,000 students per campus, so there are two lunch periods. Most teachers have only one lunch period free, so most teacher-sponsored Christian clubs meet before school. My ministry focuses on lunchtime clubs because, unlike teachers, I can be at both lunches, and many students would rather come at lunchtime than get to school at 6:30 in the morning. On the other hand, the school where I’ve been running a lunchtime group for several years has just had a new group start up in the mornings. We reach different students at different times and have different styles, but the bottom line is that both clubs are growing as more Christian alternatives become available. Some students even go to both clubs!
When I started out meeting with my small group of students with individual permission slips, we met in the same place as the existing Christian club did, just a different day of the week. I became friends with the Christian club sponsor, and after he closed his club down, he turned everything over to me, connected me with another interested teacher and helped me start my very first club to take the place of his. God can open doors in many different ways!
Once you have a faculty sponsor, the next step is to file the paperwork to make your club official. Your sponsor should be able to do this, or you can go to the principal’s office yourself and get the forms. It’s usually simple and doesn’t take much time.
The next step is to find a meeting place. One of my clubs meets in the foyer of the gymnasium or on the bleachers outside, another club meets in an outdoor courtyard off the cafeteria and I know of others that meet in teachers’ classrooms. It really doesn’t matter where you meet as long as it is relatively quiet, there is enough room for everyone and you are warm/cool and dry.
The last step to starting your club is to get the word out! This is absolutely the best part and the most fun. My first day on campus, whether it’s with club status or my first visit to a new school, I show up with a Peace4youth (P4Y) Campus Ministry Starter Kit that consists of 4 P4Y t- shirts and 100 P4Y wristbands. I pick up 5 pizzas to go with it and I’m on my way! When I walk in with all that stuff alongside the students I know, I have instant attention, and it is so much fun! Kids at lunchtime are incredibly drawn to pizza, even the cheap stuff. I will typically draw 20 to 30 kids instantly and of course they can have some free pizza, shirts and wristbands. Your student leaders will be incredibly popular and so will you! As you give everything away, let everyone knows that you are starting a new Christian club; tell them where it meets. Quarter-sheet-sized fliers to hand out with this information are a great idea, as well. Another one of the easiest and most important ways to get the word out is to get your club meeting times announced in the school bulletin. In my school district, the bulletin is the morning announcements that the teachers read at the beginning of the first period class. Your club sponsor or the principal’s secretary should be able to tell you who takes care of this at the school and where to get started. This one step took our Peace4youth Christian Club from random participation to the formation of a regular group overnight. Regular reminders produce regular attendance.
Two more thoughts: first, if you have club status, have your students make posters to display around campus. This is a constant reminder that the students can see. Be sure to change them every few weeks so there are new designs, and they always have a fresh look. Second, the most important of all is text messaging. Most schools don’t allow students to make phone calls during the day, but they do send and receive text messages. Sending out a mass message to everyone in your group just as the lunch bell rings can help you remind the students just when they need it most!
Here’s a summary for getting your club going on campus:
1. Find a faculty sponsor. Find someone you know, or ask around for a Christian teacher who may be interested.
2. Get the paperwork needed to form an official campus club and file it in the office.
3. Find a meeting time and place. Lunch is often the best time and just ask around for a good place.
4. Get the word out! Storm the campus with a Peace4youth Cam- pus Ministry Starter Kit that includes this manual, 4 t-shirts and 100 wrist- bands. Pick up 5 pizzas to go with the kit and you’re good to go! Then make sure you get your meetings announced in the school bulletin, have your student leaders make up posters to display around campus, and get a good text messaging plan for your cell phone. BTW (text talk for “By The Way”)—free pizza once a month works wonders for a student’s memory as well!
HOW TO RUN A CAMPUS CLUB
The main goal of the actual meeting time is to build a Christian community. Public campus clubs can help you build community in ways that no other small groups can. The key to community building is authenticity, being real about who you are as a person and who you are as a Christian. In many church meetings and groups, there is tremendous pressure to put on a façade and to look the best you can. But façades aren’t biblical; in fact, Jesus was the hardest on the priests, scribes, and Pharisees who were experts at putting on façades: He called them hypocrites.
What makes public campus clubs so good at breaking down façades is that they meet on the world’s turf. They aren’t tucked away in some room at the church just off the sanctuary. It’s easier for students to be authentic when they are actually sitting in the real world surrounded by many of the struggles they face on a daily basis, perhaps having just experienced one. When you take prayer requests at church, oftentimes kids can’t think of much to say because their lives are frequently compartmentalized. When the youth are at church, they have a tendency to talk more about church things like youth group outings or mission trips. But when you meet at school, there are always prayer requests for school issues such as grades, teachers, un-churched friends and the activities they engage in with those friends. When we take prayer requests at club time we also have a check-in time and ask how things are at home as well. In this format, the youth’s minds aren’t as compartmentalized; they are in their real world and, as they sit in that environment, they discuss the real issues that surround them. Because of this, the overwhelming focus of our club meetings has become “how to be a Christian in the real world.” There’s nothing like talking about God in a secular setting to force students to wrestle with how the two worlds collide and think about which way they will go with their lives. In fact, the ultimate goal is for the two worlds to become one and for the students to begin to live out their Christianity boldly for all the world to see!
This is the example that we adults set by coming on campus to meet with students. When we do this, it shows that we too want to live out our faith in the real world. Students won’t hear our words as well as they’ll see our lives and experience how much we care when we go out of our way to spend time in community with them. By living godly lives and showing evidence that we practice spiritual disciplines and engage in outreach on a daily basis, we set the example and encourage them to do the same.
The Weekly Meeting
For the first year of my first Christian club, our main focus was the check-in time and taking prayer requests so that we could develop personal connections within the group. This worked extremely well while we were all getting to know each other for the first school year. Our first challenge with using this format came when the club got to be too big.
When we had 10 to 15 students per lunch period, it worked very well, but when we got 25 to 30 students for one lunch period, we had a hard time being focused and listening to each person share. Then, one of the club’s vice presidents suggested breaking into small groups for our check-in and prayer request time. This worked incredibly well and provided more opportunity for students to step up as small group leaders.
Our second challenge was that in time our format got to be rather monotonous. After 9 to 10 months of check-ins, some of the less committed students began to check-out and stopped attending. About this time I had connected with a student who wanted to be a leader on another campus and asked her what she would like to do with the campus club at her school. She wanted to start out with icebreaker games and have a devotional thought at the end with the check-in time in the middle. It worked great. This is where the networking began—I went back to my other club and told them what was happening at the club across town. Everyone got excited, and the new additions brought some new life back into the group.
Notice that the idea of breaking into small groups and the ideas for icebreakers and a devotional thought all came from the students themselves! The lesson here is to ask the students what they want and need rather than to try to force something on them you’ve dreamt up. Students typically know what they and their friends will relate to far better than adults do. And even though I knew that the school’s previous Christian club had folded because it was too Bible-study oriented, the students still wanted and needed a devotional element to encourage them in the middle of their day. If in doubt, ask the youth!
Now, this doesn’t mean that there is no room for adult leadership— mentors are still needed! From experiences I’ve had with students on mission trips, houseboat trips and lots of other settings, I know that they like to get into serious discussions on relevant topics from time to time. I asked the club one day if they would like to get into some discussions every two or three weeks. They said they would. At the time, I was reading a book called Unchristian that talked about how Christians in America are getting a bad reputation because they really don’t act any differently than people not claiming to be Christian. The studies cited in the book show that Christians also have a bad reputation for attacking people engaging in lifestyle choices they disagree with rather than witnessing to them in a loving and constructive way. In our club meeting, I read some quotes about hypocrisy in the church and asked the students if they’d ever experienced anything like that. Several students opened up immediately about frustrations they have with church leadership and rules. Most of the students just listened to the handful who shared their experiences and opinions, but everyone was engaged and appreciated the dialogue. I believe that in time more and more students will open up and share the issues that concern and frustrate them. I also believe that these open discussions are important because if we don’t know what kids are struggling with we have no way to address it. Open dialogue is critical to building a healthy and effective Christian community, whether it’s on or off campus.
Once again, the main goal of a Peace4youth campus Christian club is to build a safe community on campus where students can come and belong without feeling pressured to get involved in the at-risk activities that so many young people get sucked into as they try to find a place to fit in and belong. As we build that community and as the students as individuals develop a sense of belonging during the club meetings, we then try to expand to the campus at large and share our community spirit through our pizza and prayer outreach events.
Once again, any time you set foot on a high school campus with boxes of pizza, you get instant attention! Teens are always hungry, and hot pizza is always good no matter how cheap it is. I get my pizzas for $5 each at the local branch of one of the nation’s largest franchises. The employees and I are on a first-name basis!
Here’s what we do. We split our group up into teams of two. One student holds two boxes of pizza and the other has a pen and pad of paper. We then spread out in twos around the campus lunch area. Most of the kids on campus instantly tune in to the presence of pizza, and many wonder what they have to do to get it, so they usually just ask. We always say, “Yes, of course you can have some pizza. Just one slice, and we’re taking prayer requests, as well. Do you have anything we can pray for?” Then we hand the pad of paper to the interested student that approached us and as they write their request down. We tell them that we are from the Peace4youth Christian Club and where we meet each week, give them a wristband with the Peace4youth website on it and tell them that they are welcome to come join our group each week even if they aren’t a Christian.
When we do this, we wait until about 15 minutes into the lunch period so that kids who have money can buy lunch; that way, the cafeteria doesn’t feel like we are competing with them. This also gives us a better chance of finding the kids who don’t have a lunch and are really hungry and in need. When someone is hungry, there are oftentimes other needs involved, as well. Using this format, 10 pizzas usually last about 10 minutes.
The first time we did this, I was totally amazed at how the club members responded to the outreach event. I thought they would be shy and a bit embarrassed to go out on campus and take prayer requests, but they weren’t at all. They were completely unashamed, and several groups of students continued going around taking prayer requests even after the pizza had run out! That first week, we took in more than 100 prayer requests dealing with serious topics ranging from issues with alcoholic parents and friends using drugs all the way to loved ones in the hospital and grades. The vast majority of the students we reached out to took the event just as seriously as our club members took it. No one laughed or made fun; in fact, I sensed that there was a great deal of appreciation and admiration from the students we were reaching out to.
Many times after conducting our pizza and prayer event, new students have come to check out our club. They pick up on the sense of belonging, and they like that we are reaching out to others. It’s amazing and sad how many people are lonely in the middle of the crowd, especially during the high school years.
The Weekly Meeting Overview
Here’s the basic breakdown:
Start the meeting about 15 minutes into the lunch period so everyone has a chance to get food and get to the meeting place. This leaves only about 20 minutes for your meeting, so you have to keep it moving. About once a month, I bring pizza for the group so they can come straight in and start a little earlier.
Begin by going around the circle, having everyone tell their name and year in school. Also, ask for one unique thing about them that will help you remember them. Feel free to ask questions to help the students feel comfortable opening up. Remember, dialogue is better than monologue for lots of kids and it shows that you are interested in them. TRY YOUR BEST TO REMEMBER THEIR NAMES! This is always a struggle for me, but it is critically important for students to feel known.
The first few meetings, the check-in time may take the whole time if the group is large, so you can also include prayer requests with the check-in time (this also gives you more to ask and talk about). Otherwise, after everyone has checked in, open up the floor for prayer requests. After all the requests are taken, I always ask for a student to volunteer to pray. If no one does, I don’t force it. I just pray myself. But usually one of our club officers steps up and leads out.
After checking-in for a few weeks, everyone starts getting to know each other, so you’ll have some extra time. The extra time can be used to open up discussion about what the students would like to do with “their” club. Oftentimes you will get blank stares in the beginning. If that’s the case, I bring up the pizza and prayer outreach idea, sharing wristbands, etc. In time, the group will start to come up with its own ideas as leaders begin to emerge.
Somewhere early on, you can add some icebreaker games. There are dozens of good books on these—just look at any online bookstore. These games add a fun element, and some games really help you to memorize each other’s names. Be careful not to make your group all about fun and games, though. I suggest alternating the check-in time and icebreaker games every other week.
Another important element is a devotional thought. The devotional should be 2 to 5 minutes in length, no longer. Students don’t really want a Bible study in the middle of school, but they do need encouragement from God’s word. There are dozens of good books out there and, of course, the Bible is best. With this element, don’t get doctrinal. Keep it spiritual and relational in nature (things like how to connect with God, how much He cares about us, etc.). Most clubs will have students from a cross section of all the churches in town, so it’s important to keep your thoughts centered on the gospel that we all have in common.
Once you’ve developed a strong community and sense of belonging, it’s good to occasionally open up the entire meeting time for discussion. Choose relevant social issues and try to allow the students to suggest the topics. Be careful, though! If it starts to get controversial, turn the discussion in another direction. You don’t want to splinter your group. Once again, don’t let it devolve into doctrinal controversy. Most high school- age students, even the ones involved in church, are just trying to decide if they want to follow Jesus or if they want to go the way of the world. Topics relating to a foundation in Jesus and caring about others are the most relevant.
Finally, the outreach events will roll into your programming once every month or two. Pizza and prayer outreach takes the whole club meeting time. Be sure to develop a prayer group to email the requests to. My clubs are also involved in Club Rush at the beginning of the year. This is where each club has a booth to tell others about what we do during lunch. See You at the Pole is a national gathering of students in mid-Sep- tember where students from each campus meet 30 minutes before school to pray around the flagpole. Our group usually provides hot chocolate and student leaders to facilitate small group prayers. We also have adopted a planter on campus to keep cleaned up and free of weeds. The opportunities are endless; just be creative, and let the students lead the way with your support and encouragement.
Developing Student Leaders
The key to club growth and long-term sustainability is student leadership. This is always a top priority for the students themselves and a surefire way to keep your club relevant. As adults, we can love and care for students in a variety of ways, but there is no way for us to be on the cutting edge of what’s meaningful to them without their help.
When I was in seminary, I took a youth ministry-related class where we did research on Generation X (oops—I’m dating myself here) and the current culture. After putting together all our research and trying to develop meaningful ways to minister to Xers the professor told us to actually go out and ask the Xers what they relate to and which approaches would work best with their peers. What we found when we asked them was amazing—they actually told us! I sat there thinking, That was so easy, why didn’t I think of that? We often make things much harder than they have to be. Yes, do your research, but also remember that if you involve those who you are trying to reach, you will be much more effective much more quickly.
In order to attain club status on campus, you are required to vote club officers. Ask for nominations for officers and also for who would like to run. Put together a simple ballot and vote the next week. This is the best and easiest way the get leaders. On the campus where I don’t have club status, things limped along until the day a student showed up expressing an interest in helping out. She is now the unofficial president and the one who said, “Let’s get organized and start advertising our meetings in the bulletin.” She’s the one who came up with the ideas for icebreakers and devotionals that helped bring life to my other club across town. After the fact, I realized how obvious all these things should have been to me, but for some reason, it took a student with a passion for ministry to galvanize the effort.
My officers always want to run the weekly meetings, but often need help with getting the group’s attention and staying on task. So I’m often the conductor/director and let them know when to move on and what to do next. For example, as prayer requests are dying out I might say, “OK, and are there any unspoken requests? Who would like to pray?”
I’ve also found it is important to call or text (much more relevant) my leaders the day before our meeting and remind them to have the ice- breaker or devotional ready for the next day. If I don’t do this, it is oftentimes forgotten. This illustrates one of the most important responsibilities of a club sponsor: you are the key to the student leader’s success! This concept was drilled into my head as a student literature evangelist district leader—my responsibility as the one who trained student leaders was to make them successful.
You make students successful by setting them up for success rather than failure. Telling students that they are the leaders and to go out there and make it happen will unquestionably set them up for failure. I’ve written this manual because there are definite steps that need to be taken in order to establish a successful campus ministry. Most students won’t read this manual. Students alone can rarely make it happen on their own. That’s why it takes a caring, organized adult to mentor the passion of the students. Neither one can be successful without the other. Sometimes you trade off, and the students give some structure and the mentor provides some passion. But overall, typically, if you provide the structure as outlined in this manual the students will provide the fire and excitement that brings your mission to life and makes it possible to be the highly effective hands and feet of Jesus on a high school campus!
Download the entire book by: Scott R. Ward here.