One of the things that gets me jacked up is when I see a ministry that embeds themselves into the life of a campus. That literally weaves themselves into almost every fiber, every pocket. Their influence is not only felt within the church walls, but throughout the college campus. One of the churches I’ve seen do this particularly well is Timber Ridge Church in Stephenville, TX. Their mission field is Tarleton State University and Ranger College. This town hosts around 10,000 students. They’ve made it their mission to be a presence in almost every part of the college campus.
I sat down and interviewed their two Collegiate Associates, Stephen Ellis and Jamie Potter, and asked them how they do it. They offered me their four principles for ministry.
Principle #1 – Go to Them
Go through the front door of your campus. Don’t be shady. Have students create an organization. Universities have done so much to influence culture. We want our church to be a place the University can trust, not distrust.
Meet on campus. “Within the first year we outgrew every available room on the campus. Going from 40 students at our midweek worship service to over 500 students.” Do anything you can to be on campus. Even if you have to host the worship service somewhere else, at least be on campus 2-3 times a week.
For example, TROC (the college ministry of Timber Ridge Church) has a donut board set up outside the library to handout to students from 9am-11am on some school days. This is a predictable pattern students can expect. They also engage with other organizations. Every year they have Meet the Greeks on campus. So what does TROC do? They feed them. They fed 1,500 students that night! One of the best ways to partner with other organizations is ask, “Can we feed y’all?” No one ever turns that down. There is hospitality in that. It makes people feel cared for by the church. Don’t be afraid to partner with other campus events that are happening. Most events will let you feed their people and hand out your information.
Principle #2 – Student Led
This is our structure. We want the ministry to embody the students. Their pastor is the gatekeeper and keeps the boat afloat, but his face is largely not seen until the Wednesday night worship service up at Timber Ridge Church. They hold it at the church, however, they still embrace the Timber Ridge on Campus brand because of how active they are working on the campus through outreach. They also have associates who are college age. They carry out ideas, volunteer recruitment, and logistical ministries. This is really where the vision and leadership is carried out. They also have an additional lead team that helps support the ministry. These leaders then lead a volunteer base that serves the ministry. They have several layers of student leadership the ultimately carry out every aspect of the ministry.
The purpose is that the students reach students. The students can create better events for students than anyone else. By dispersing leadership the influence is bigger.
Principle #3 – People not Projects
If people don’t feel valued or that they belong, you’re not going to reach them. This happens best when you develop relationships without an agenda. If you get to know someone because you love them not because you want them to come to TROC, it actually happens. If you meet someone on the court, get to know them on the court. Lose the agenda. As church culture has evolved, we have created an agenda. You don’t need to set up someone. Just be with them. If the gospel is a part of who you are and is living inside of you then it’s going to come out, you don’t need to set up a time for it.
Diversity is important to them. They’re a church built on diversity because the kingdom is diverse. Heaven is a diverse place. They want to have diversity in all areas of their leadership. They play contemporary worship songs, Gospel Songs, etc. They want all people to feel like TROC is a place they can belong.
Sexuality is another topic that comes up a lot. TROC donesn’t justify any sin, but they also don’t put any sin above another. The homosexual is just as guilty as the glutton and drunkard. For instance, here’s a scenario: there is a guy with the porn problem but he doesn’t have a “public” sin, so he can serve; however, the person who is in a homosexual relationship can’t serve because it is a public sin. For TROC, that doesn’t make sense. Anyone can serve in our church by pouring coffee, greeting at a door, or handling out a flyer. Our job is to make disciples not heterosexuals.
They do add that in their leadership they do not allow anyone living in sin to be a leader within their church. They can come, serve in some capacities, but they are not allowed to lead. Leaders are held to a much higher standard, which is addressed next.
Principle #4 – Reach. Raise. Release. Repeat.
They empower leaders. They ask people to intern. Interns are not only doing hard, grunt work, but they also are empowered and entrusted to lead in most capacities. TROC puts them over people as soon as they start leading. They call it “giving them the keys.” They give them a Carolla before they give them a Corvette. Unless there is a serious moral failure, interns are not going to sink the boat. This allows interns to make mistakes, and it’s okay. TROC is simply not afraid to give up the keys. They lean into this challenge.
Also, If responsibilities are going up on the ladder, then rights are going down. There is a different level of accountability you are held to if you are a leader. Legally you can do things, but that doesn’t mean you should do. If you become a leader, that means you are held to a higher standard.
Something unique about TROC is their process for assimilation. Most churches offer life groups as a way to get connected, then you serve. However, TROC reverses that. They have people serve first, then they can get connected to a life group. They believe life group time is important. However, their priority is that you lead and become discipled by doing. In everything they do they are outward focused. Inward focused, intense discipleship is a good thing, but we want to make sure we have a posture of facing those who are far from God. We want students to serve and then get into a group. They believe students learn to serve best by doing it.
Questions to Consider
- How can you help your students become involved in everyday campus life?
- Are there other organizations and events your church can partner with?
- Have you developed core principle that are non negotiable that your ministry operates from?