Category Archives: Chris Brooks

Tips for reaching specific groups of college students

By Chris Brooks

One of the things I loved about my time in college was the incredible diversity found within various friendship groups. In high school, students drew sharp lines to establish a social hierarchy. But at a university, a lot of lines began to blur or even disappear all together.

Now that I’m a college pastor, I still revel in the diversity and inclusivity of many of the various friendship and social groups I see among my students. But this still creates a challenge for ministers: even with the lines blurred, how do we cross them to minister and make disciples?

Here are few things my team and I have noticed when we have tried to pioneer inroads with specific circles of people on campus.

The University of Alabama wheelchair basketball team. Photo by Alexandra Browning on Flickr.

Reach one to reach the rest – I have three young children and one on the way, so my time is incredibly precious. I try to integrate myself into the life of the university as much as possible, but the model of ministry where the minister is at every university event, recital, or game every night of the week is not only unsustainable for me – it is sin. It’s not healthy for my family, my ministry, my church, or me.

So how do we reach specific groups? Here’s an example: I started discipling a guy who is on the university’s wheelchair basketball team this year. He is much more equipped and able than me to reach other wheelchair athletes. He also lives to work out, so practically everyone at the recreation center knows him by name. He is a person of peace. This is an example of how you can reach the few to reach the many, and it’s a great way to reach into specific groups of students.

Go to them before you ask them to come to you – We try to get our students into the missionary mindset. I have come to love the fact that our collegiate ministry has no space of its own in our church building. We are like a bunch of homeless squatters. At first, I thought that would be detrimental to an attractional style of ministry, but then I realized that this has been our greatest asset in creating a discipleship culture to “go and do likewise.”

Now we assemble with the explicit purpose of scattering. Our goal is not merely to get students to come to our church’s campus, but to get our Christian students to fully invest in theirs. We don’t need more Christian ghettos surrounding our universities so that it is possible for Christian students not to make one significant relationship with a non-Christian student during their full four years.

For us, scattering meant cancelling our Sunday evening service so our students could be in their dorms, apartments, and fraternity houses doing laundry, eating dinner, and sharing Christ with their lost classmates.

Don’t always ask them to fit into your programs – I am pretty passionate about having a simple holistic discipleship strategy in our ministry, but we had to also realize when to make an exception. Here’s an example: We had decent number of sorority students in our leadership team who were ministering to their sisters, but we couldn’t seem to get breakthrough for them in the discipleship process because their schedules were so crazy and their loyalty to their houses was so deep. So my wife, prompted by the Holy Spirit, partnered with another girl to start a Monday meeting just for sorority girls to walk through the basics of the Christian faith. It was incredibility successful and fruitful.

Partner with your university – My buddy Ish says it this way: “It would be kind of odd if you were a prison ministry and didn’t partner with the prison.” Why is it then as ministers that we often overlook (or even view as adversarial) the very schools from which our students come? I am a creative who thrives on innovation, and this means I am often guilty of trying to create something new when the best thing our team can do is improve on or simply get involved in what already exists.

A case in point is our international ministry. We poured a ton of time and attention into reaching out to the international community by hosting dinners, fellowships, and Bible studies. We had one ice cream social where like five international students showed up surrounded by about 30 of our American students. We scared them to death. That’s not at all what I think the Lord or Lottie Moon had in mind in terms of reaching the nations. But then we joined up with the Universities Conversation Partners Program. Through this, our students formed one-on-one relationships with international students in a comfortable setting. Now we have substantial inroads with our international community – and with our university as well.

We want the faculty, administrators, and university employees to know that we are a church ready to love and serve. This works outside of college ministry as well. Our youth pastor coaches tennis at one of his local high schools. Our church partners with the mayor on several of his initiatives for community restoration.

So here’s the question: Where are schools, city, or other churches (gasp) already doing something to reach out to the poor, the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan? How could you help equip them for even greater Kingdom impact?

Put yourself out of business – I remember studying in a seminary class on foreign missions that the goal in planting a church internationally is to raise up indigenous leaders who can ultimately put the missionary out of business. We try to remember this goal regardless of whether the group we are trying to reach is an unreached people group in the 10/40 window or a group that has bars on every window two blocks away in our community. The goal is to make disciples who make disciples who know how to feed themselves and how to teach others to do the same.

Look which way the wind is blowing – This is our constant lesson. We have a surplus of great ideas, plenty of quality students eager to serve, and an ever-increasing amount of phone calls and opportunities to reach out to various groups. But we are doing our best to discern which direction the “wind of God” is blowing. The temptation many of us will face once we have developed a certain level of organizational and leadership skills is to think that competency is all we need. Our communities and campuses don’t just need restoration – they need resurrection. Only the Spirit of the Living God has that on his resume.

What lessons have you learned about reaching specific groups of college students – or other students, for that matter? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it.

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5 myths to avoid at your next large-group gathering

By Chris Brooks

I have been in a lot of worship services. Chances are, so have you.

I’ve spent the last 16 years of my life either planning, programing, or preaching for some sort of gathering.  These gatherings span all the way from youth to college age to twenty-somethings. And if I wasn’t doing these things, I was planning on planning.

But I when I joined a church staff as pastor to university students, I quickly realized that there were a lot things I needed to unlearn, learn, and relearn about large group gatherings.

Here are five myths I had to learn to avoid. I hope you can learn to overcome them too.

Myth #1: Every large group gathering needs to be exceedingly better than the one before it.  I naturally strive for powerful, creative, and innovative large group gatherings, but that can easily turn into worshiping worship. I want my disciples to be able to distinguish between creativity and novelty. After a year of running ourselves ragged trying to do something totally different an original each week, we came up with a policy: establish the template before you break it. For us, that meant that over time we developed a liturgy of sorts, a structure to worship that we will tweak here and there every week. Now that we have that established structure, on the nights when we do break our norm our students are freed to try new things because of the trust equity we have built up.

Myth #2: If you focus on discipleship, your large group gathering will suffer. In the last year, we have restructured our ministry in such a way that our large group gathering no longer monopolizes or gets the lion’s share of time and resources. We did this in order to focus on creating a sustainable and repeatable model of discipleship in which all of my team is personally involved. I was well aware that this might hurt our large group numbers. But the crazy thing is it has actually made our large group gatherings better. Why? For starters, we are gathering to celebrate the discipleship and mission that is happening all throughout the week, not looking for a substitute for it.

Myth #3: If its going to be good, you’re the one who has to do it.  While it may take some time to establish a culture of preparation, excellence, and innovation for your large group gathering, this does not mean only you can do it. I had to get to a place where I realized that if our large group gathering was ultimately contingent upon the leadership of one or two people (usually the preacher and the worship leader), then something was tragically wrong with my leadership — namely discipleship. I used to think “protecting the stage” or “protecting the mic” conveniently meant that only myself and a very few others could ever share or contribute. Now I try to get as many people involved as possible. I still use discernment and structure to set people up for success.  I realize this takes more time than if I just did it myself. But it’s worth it. One of our students’ favorite services (yes, I ask) is when we spend the entire night telling stories of our people, triumphant and tragic alike. Hearing this, I am thrilled and not threatened by the fact that God speaks just fine even without me preaching.

Myth #4: Being cheesy is the worst mistake you could ever make. Avoiding risk and playing it safe all the time is the worst mistake you can make. This goes for worship leaders who aren’t satisfied just singing songs but who want to lead, pastor, and teach students old and new forms and postures of worship. This goes for me as a preacher. I take risks by looking silly, by doing some pretty over-the-top object illustrations, and by making room in the sanctuary for a wide variety of tactile responses to God. I had to stop being paralyzed by fear of failure and become liberated, with the consent of my team, to risk making it memorable. We will try (almost) anything if it brings the text alive in a fresh way. Over the last couple of months, this has included: flying a kite in the room to talk about the Holy Spirit as wind, making it rain money from ceiling (only $100 in ones) for the parable of the treasure hidden in field, actually throwing pearls to a pig to talk about throwing pearls to pigs, doing the imposition of ashes on our Ash Wednesday prayer service (by the way, I serve in a Baptist church), taking communion by having everyone come forward and walk through a 40-foot wide curtain to experience the significance of Jesus ripping the veil in to the Holy of Holies, telling personal stories that include the ones where I don’t look very spiritual, and using cracked eggs to talk about brokenness.  And that’s not even the complete list. This leads me to the next myth.

Myth #5: By now this should be easy for you. It’s not! Leading the “assembled” requires an incredible amount of prayer and preparation. This is why I have to diligently protect my personal prayer and devotional life, as well as carve out creative times to stimulate thought and imagination. This is why I highly value collaboration, preparation, and evaluation. This is why half the creative things I described above were ideas I got from someone else and then adapted. Of course don’t be lazy, but please don’t be so prideful that you can’t use someone else’s inspired ideas. (After all, that’s what commentaries are, right?) I love creating and implementing original ideas that I come up with, but in my ministry setting I simply cannot focus all of my energies in that direction. The hardest thing for me is to simply determine a clear and concise direction or purpose for the evening and then center the whole night around that. If we don’t know where we are headed, then how can we expect our flock to follow us? Great spontaneity comes from great preparation.

These are some of the myths I am currently working through in my setting. How about you? Share them in the comments and we’ll talk about them.

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A Response :: Is youth ministry subtly sabotaging college ministry?

By Dave Rhodes

Last week was an interesting one here on the Wayfarer Blog. When my good friend Chris Brooks released his blog post Is youth ministry subtly sabotaging college ministry?, I knew it would create a response. I was pretty sure it would get people talking. But the question that stands in front of all of us right now is this:

Will it keep us talking?

I hope that it will.

Defining reality is a tough job. It is a job that requires stating truth, not only in ways that are pleasant for everyone to hear, but also in all its extreme forms. When we speak truth in this relentless manner, we get to the bottom of what the true situation actually is. This is the real gift Chris’ blog gave us last week.

Chris stated his opinion brashly. He is a college minister who is experiencing the ramification of unformed or malnutritioned students brought up in youth ministries that do everything but disciple students. We need him to give voice to his frustration. We need to feel the extreme reality that he deals with and lives in every day.

To confirm the reality of Chris’ voice, we saw many comments from lots of people who feel the exact same way — some who have even dropped out of church or discontinued faith because of the reality Chris wrote about.

But Chris’ blog also generated another response. This was the response of youth ministers who felt blamed for the problem, even though they have given and laid down their very lives for something exactly opposite of what Chris described. Exasperated by the desperation of the current generation, they felt undercut and unappreciated by one more person telling them how they were not doing their job — or at least not doing their job well enough.

They too used strong words and brash language to prove their point. And their words also gave voice to others who feel overworked and underappreciated, misunderstood and mislabeled. These youth ministers continue to press into the work and calling that they feel God has placed in front of them. I believe we need to hear their words too.

The truth lies not between these extremes but in both of these extremes. Until we hear the truth at both extremes, we won’t be able to define what the reality that all of us are staring at and working in truly is.

In my view, we must have venues where we can bloody each other’s noses a little, so to speak, in order to get to the bottom of the situation. It’s not that we act unchristian or mean-spirited toward each other; instead, we create room and space to vent our real frustration so that we can move toward reality and the solutions it requires.

Unfortunately, the truth that we all are staring at is that just 4 percent of the millennial generation is in church each Sunday and that many who are in church are dropping out the moment they get their car keys or go off to college. Even more, unlike past generations, this generation isn’t coming back when they have their kids.

There is plenty of blame and sin to go around. The truth is that there are many youth ministries committed to ministry models that leave students malnuritioned and unformed. It is also true that there are many youth ministers giving their lives away every day for ministries that want to see something different happen.

Some are caught in systems that undermine their best intentions. Others are misinformed and need the space to consider a different side of truth or a different way altogether. Still others are doing incredible work and the biggest problem they face is that no one has ever heard of them and too few have had opportunity to imitate their model of ministry.

(By the way, what is true of youth ministry is also true of lots of college ministries, and other age group ministries as well.)

Here’s the reality: The problems that Chris, and those who have responded to him, described this week is not a youth problem or college problem — it’s a CHURCH problem. Now that we have done the hard work of venting our frustration and defining reality, the real question is whether we will move out of our polarities toward a better solution.

We must recognize that everything in our society will try to keep us from doing so. We live in a world that thrives off of polarization. Polarization rallies. Polarization makes money. But polarization rarely provides real solutions. Polarization is not the answer.

The answer is not balance either. Balance fails to articulate the frustration of both extremes.

So what is the answer? I believe the answer is to start speaking paradox again. When Jesus was asked whether people should pay taxes to Caesar, what people were really asking him to do was choose sides. One side said yes. The other said no. Each had its theological reasons. Each was entrenched in its own polarity.

In this situation, Jesus was pressured to give an answer, and Jesus chose not polarity or balance but paradox. He saide, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God.” (Matthew 22:21) As he did, Jesus elevated the conversation and created space for a whole different kind of imagination to take place.

An Augustus Caesar Denarius, via dartmouth.edu

Last week we asked the  question, “Is youth ministry subtly undermining college ministry?” Some of us have said yes! Others of us have yelled back no! We have heard the truth of both of these extremes. This question has helped us sense and feel the depth and breadth of the conversation. We have pulled the quiet murmurs out of the closet and out into the open.

Now we must work just as diligently to move out of our polarities to hear the paradox that Jesus is speaking to all of us. My hope is that the Wayfarer Blog will be devoted to this endeavor and that you will continue to join us in the conversation.

Some have suggested that the test of Christian love is the tone we speak in. But I think maybe the best test of Christian love is whether we just keep talking.

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Is youth ministry subtly sabotaging college ministry?

By Chris Brooks

(From Wayfarer Blog editors: This post starts off pretty fiery and says what some might say are some pretty incendiary things. We promise that it’ll be worth the read if you stick with it through the whole post!)

According to a USA Today article a few years back, 70 percent of Protestants between the ages of 18 and 30 drop out of church before age 23.

I also saw a stat a while ago that said 89 percent of youth group kids leave the church after they graduate high school and never come back.

Most church leaders are aware of the staggering statistical evidence that college-aged students and young adults who grew up in the church are evacuating our churches and ministries at alarming rates. But as a college minister, I find the responses to this data in the church at large highly problematic.

They are problematic because, first, the church for the most part paints the “secular” university (such as the University of Alabama, where I minister) as some sort of devilish adversary and depicts professors as intellectual predators from whom we must protect our vulnerable youth.

Second, this crisis is like the national debt. I didn’t create it (most of it, at least), yet I have to pay for it. Quite simply and bluntly, it’s not my fault.

Well, whose fault is it? I’m glad you asked, because I’m happy to answer.

Fault lies with the guy sitting across the table from me in staff meeting. You know who I’m talking about – the happy-go-lucky youth guy whose biggest problems are pimples and prom. He or she is the one who is always with kids at camps or with other ministers at conferences. He or she is the one who produces the coolest Wednesday deal night going down in your town.

I’m talking to you, and I’m calling you out. This is your fault. You think you have a successful ministry, but you don’t. You may think you are making a difference, but according to the numbers, your ministry isn’t making a difference no matter how many were in attendance last week or how many cool (or uncool) the T-shirts you made were.

When the youth bubble bursts and you ship them off to college, I’m the one who inherits your discipleship debt crisis. I am the one who has to set up triage for your students who are lining up in droves to liquidate their thin excuse for faith.

(If you are youth minister, please keep reading. I promise it will come full circle.)

Don’t just take my disgruntled word for it. Barna’s got my back. Here is what one of their studies cites as one of the five myths about young adult church dropouts:

Myth: College experiences are the key factor that causes people to drop out.
Reality: College certainly plays a role in young Christians’ spiritual journeys, but it is not necessarily the ‘faith killer’ many assume. College experiences, particularly in public universities, can be neutral or even adversarial to faith. However, it is too simplistic to blame college for today’s young church dropouts. As evidence, many young Christians dissociate from their church upbringing well before they reach a college environment; in fact, many are emotionally disconnected from church before their 16th birthday.

Told you.

“The problem arises from the inadequacy of preparing young Christians for life beyond youth group,” writes David Kinnaman, co-author of unChristian. He points to research findings showing that, “The university setting does not usually cause the disconnect; it exposes the shallow-faith problem of many young disciples.” (Emphasis added.)

The only logical deduction we can make from that statement is that our current discipleship models (if we even have them) are not working.

Of course, we can’t simply blame youth ministers. The truth is that this faith crisis is not just the fault of one particular ministry age group. (Certainly, parents abdicating their role as the primary disciplers of their kids also plays a role!) Moreover, it will take every age group to get us out of it.

So don’t pass the buck. Instead, here are five quick suggestions:

Take a deep breath. Since the Holy Spirit’s last name literally means breath or wind, breathe deeply of his presence, his peace, and his power. If you see that your age-group ministry is on life support and/or that your church is dead, dying, or decaying like dry bones, remember that same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead lives within you. Seriously. Don’t be scared to channel your inner Ezekiel – Prophesy SON OF MAN! Don’t forget that God is in the historical habit of redeeming and resurrecting. That’s evident in the Bible; now make sure it is evident in your life.

Define the win. If you see your age-group ministry as “successful,” then that presupposes you have a definition of success. Write it out, and then ask yourself three questions: Is it yours? Is it God’s? Can it be sustained and reduplicated without me? If all you’re counting is attendance or conversion hands in the air, that’s just not good enough because it never once seems to be the thing that Jesus is counting. Are you counting disciples or the numbers that make you feel good about yourself?

Burst your own bubble. Take a hard, humble, and honest look at the numbers – not only at the national trends but local patterns and your church’s patterns. What do they say about your effectiveness? Never ignore or justify stagnant spiritual growth. Continue to support one another, but challenge the process. For instance, in my church, we are significantly intergenerational. But is it enough to call a college student staring at the back of someone’s gray head for one hour in worship intergenerational worship?

Stop, look, and listen. Ask the Holy Spirit for eyes to see and ears to hear the hidden rhythms of unique Kingdom impact he wants to release in you and through you. Then do something unheard of these days: Stop comparing yourself to other ministers, other churches, and other ministries. If you are reading this, chances are your next worship gathering will not look like Passion 2012. That does not mean it is not valuable or significant for Kingdom expansion. That does not mean you are not valuable or significant in God’s Kingdom. As one worship leader so honestly put it, “Today I rise above flattery and frowns. I know who and whose I am” (Coincidentally, that minister was at Passion 2012 – thanks Charlie – but you get the point.)

Invite people in. Learn how to invite people strategically and intentionally into your life. Literally. Pretend the front door to your house is the new front door of the church. Open it wide and open it often. There is something mystical and holy about your kitchen when it is crowded with people whom you are discipling and with whom you are on mission. The best people I have seen at this are Mike Breen, Dave Rhodes, and the team at 3DM. They live and teach in ways that you and I can both sustain and exponentially reduplicate.

I am committed to not letting statistics like the one I started this entry with deter or deflate my hope in the gospel and the ministry of reconciliation that has been commissioned to us. Let’s try and reverse the grueling blame game that our adversary loves to get us to sink our teeth into. I like that guys like Rick Lawrence want to challenge the validity of the “70 percent” stat. (He calls it the vampire stat because it just wont die.)

Regardless of the actual percentage, the end result is not what Jesus intended for his bride. But for argument’s sake, let’s just say that 70 percent of young adults are in fact leaving the church. And let’s just assume that the problem is systemic and that, even though we shoulder different amounts of the blame, we all equally share the responsibility to respond.

Could a possible solution to the 70 percent dropout rate be as simple and as true as starting to take the time to disciple the remaining 30 percent with the crystal clear imperative to multiply and divide?

I hope so – because what is more troubling to me than the 70 percent of young adults leaving the church is the fact that 30 percent were content just to stay there without growing or changing.

Chris Brooks is a college minister for The Well, a ministry that reaches students at the University of Alabma. He wants you to know that he likes his church’s youth minister, who approved this message.

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A glimpse of YEC

Last weekend, the Wayfarer team contributed to Youth Evangelism Conferences in both Alabama and Mississippi. We want you to see how Dave Rhodes, Chris Brooks, Chad Norris, David Walker, Dawn Sherill, and the whole Wayfarer team contributed to this great event. So we filmed several short YouTube clips that will give you a glimpse of YEC. Go to www.youtube.com/wayfarerblog to see what God did at YEC. And feel free to subscribe and follow our YouTube feed for more glimpses of the intersections that Wayfarer designs to help people collide with God.

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YEC Weekend

The Wayfarer team has already had a busy week, with visits to WinShape Boys and Girls Camp, Dave Rhodes speaking at Student Life Camp in Orange Beach, Alabama, and Chad Norris speaking at Student Life Camp in Sherman, Texas. But this weekend, the whole team hits the road to head to two YEC events.

Wayfarer has worked over the past year with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions’ Student Ministry department on YEC, a weekend event that hundreds of Alabama students will attend this weekend. Chad Norris, Dave Rhodes, and Chris Brooks will be speaking, David Reichley will be working to make sure to execute the program, and the event will use art created by Blake Berg and Valine Mullen. In addition, every student that attends gets a follow-up evangelism challenge that Wayfarer created. It’s exciting for us to see all this work come together in person.

In addition, Dave Rhodes will commute over to Mississippi for the weekend to speak at that state’s YEC Friday and Saturday night.

Please pray for the entire Wayfarer team on the road this weekend.

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Two new camps this week

Wayfarer’s team of speakers hit two new camps this week. Dave Rhodes, after a great weekend in Panama City Beach, Florida with Christ Chapel’s students, moves on to the Texas Baptist Encampment to speak to East Bayou Baptist Church’s group. You can follow Dave on the road via Twitter.

Chris Brooks, meanwhile, is with our good friend David Walker at Student Life Kids Camp in Talladega, Alabama. You can track them and even watch worship all week long on Student Life’s site.

Please pray for Dave, Chris, and David as they’re ministering this week.

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