By David Fincher
Christian colleges want to work with local churches to enrich the school and its students, as well as the congregation and its members. Such collaboration helps our Christian higher education institutions maintain their core mission of training church leaders.
Most Christian colleges and universities work hard to recruit potential students from the church, provide professional candidates to fill staff openings, and send preachers or teachers when asked. Christian churches need to use these important resources, and Christian colleges need to clearly communicate theservices it can offer congregations. Here are 10 ideas for creative collaborationforChristian colleges and churches to consider.
1. Create Key Leadership Relationships
College presidents and senior ministers sometimes see themselves as rivals for limited resources: financial support, pulpit time, and even bulletin board space! But ministry staff should see Christian college leaders as an open door to a vast network of useful resources. And college leaders should see congregational staff as a window to local ministry needs.
These relationships won’t be created on Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings, but through personal visits over coffee or lunch. A new minister should try to meet the closest Christian college president. Those conversations will help foster another level of relationships: ministry professors with ministry professionals, admissions staff with youth sponsors, and fund-raising representatives with mission committees. Key relationships such as these will facilitate both core collaboration and creative collaboration.
2. Enrich Sabbatical Learning Experiences
Some churches give their ministers a sabbatical to increase ministry longevity. A Christian college might enrich the experience by providing guest housing, study space, and speaking opportunities for a week or two during the sabbatical. Providing a minister with opportunities to grow and build new relationships may lead to a variety of benefits.
Conversely, professors could use a semester away from the classroom every 6 to 10 years, but it’s difficult for a Christian college to cover the cost of replacement teachers. So, a congregation might sponsor a professor’s sabbatical by donating the cost of adjunct instructors for the semester in exchange for the professor coming to speak, mentor, and learn in the local congregation as “scholar-in-residence.” This experience would benefit the professor, congregation, and college.
3. Utilize Fresh Leadership Training
Every congregation needs to train staff and volunteers. Ministers can develop their own training material, but that takes time away from other ministry tasks. Traveling to high-quality conferences can be expensive. Meanwhile, most of our Christian colleges regularly provide leadership training through their own events and workshops, and these can be more convenient and less expensive than national conferences. The institutions often can arrange for housing on campus. Joining with other regional churches is a great way to compare strategies and outcomes while networking with other professionals.
4. Host Sponsored Regional Events
The school can cooperate on an event that would meet at a large church’s campus. The Christian college can help sponsor and invite regional participants, while the host church helps ensure travel and registration costs stay low. Perhaps the host church staff can attend for free in exchange for providing the venue. This model can be expanded into multiple regions a few hours from the school’s campus, with host responsibilities rotated among churches from year to year. Such a plan builds unity between congregations who attend these events and exposes more individuals to the ministry of the Christian college.
5. Build Custom Youth Trips
Many excellent youth conferences offer students an exciting program and atmosphere far from their hometown. But the downside can be large crowds, high costs, and nonnegotiable dates. However, most of our colleges will host a youth group for one or two days, providing overnight lodging, cafeteria meals, and a learning experience at little cost. Consider a youth trip to visit a Christian college that includes a service project, worship service, and biblical lessons. Instead of several hundred dollars per teenager, congregations and colleges can work together to provide a memorable and affordable experience.
6. Explore Joint Mission Trips
Most colleges expose students to ministry opportunities around the world through mission trips. Most churches are limited in the type of mission trip they can offer. But a church leader might work with a college’s missions professor to see if a few church members can join a trip. Church representatives could provide additional oversight to the college students while enjoying the opportunity to visit a mission or missionary they support without planning a separate trip. There are always logistical and philosophical matters to consider with mission trips, but the potential for an enriching experience at a reduced cost might be worth exploring.
7. Coordinate Resident Missionary Service
Sometimes it is difficult for missionaries to coordinate a season back from the field. Christian colleges like to know when alums who serve as missionaries are returning home for a few months, while congregations also appreciate knowing that missionaries they support are home. Colleges sometimes need a “resident missionary” to live near campus, help with the missions program, and motivate students to become missionaries. That can allow the family to build new relationships, find new supporters, and plan their next steps. Missionary families could benefit from college professors and local congregations coordinating these months of home service.
8. Support International Student Experiences
International students struggle to make the most of their time in America. College students from another country are lonely on weekends and holiday breaks because they are away from family. Sometimes such students can’t legally take jobs while here. Churches located near a Christian college (or campus ministry) could volunteer to “adopt” an international student and provide housing, meals, and friendship. This investment in Christian leaders from around the globe will result in kingdom expansion and unity. In the same way, church members who host international exchange students should introduce them to a local Christian college. In many cases, the cost of attending a Christian college will be lower than other private college options, while allowing such a relationship to extend for several more years.
9. Employ Worship Musicians and Technicians
Many churches would like to implement contemporary worship styles but lack the personnel to carry it out. Most of our Christian colleges have students who play instruments and understand the worship technology of a successful service. A congregation can budget a reasonable amount to hire some musicians and technicians for a few months. During that time, these college students can earn some money to help pay for their education while training people in the congregation to improve their own musical or technical skills. Such a transition will allow the church to take the next step in improving their worship service while providing valuable experience to students.
10. Recruit Service-Learning Teams
The concept of bringing in a team of students to a congregation extends beyond worship needs. Christian college students love road trips, but they need help paying for gas and expenses. Churches can visit their closest Christian college to recruit a group of students to come weekly and serve in areas such as childcare, cleaning, and hospitality. Service-learning teams working with adult leaders in the church provide extra horsepower and youthful ideas a church needs. In addition, these ministers-in-training learn firsthand that the work of the church is done mostly by key volunteers. By providing such basic benefits as fuel cards, lunch meals, or laundry services, a congregation can find many young people who will choose to help serve with them. Working together in a team helps students build strong relationships and mutual support to continue serving together.
Many of the ideas above have worked well for our Christian college. If your church will consider these ideas for creative collaboration, you can probably find a Christian college willing to help you succeed.
Dr. David Fincher serves as president with Central Christian College of the Bible, where he and his wife both earned bachelor’s degrees. They have three adult children: Adam, Anna, and Alex. David currently leads the Association of Christian Church Colleges and Universities.