Every college ministry team has staff meetings, but not every team has effective meetings.

Look at your staff meeting and ask yourself – does how we spend time during staff meeting reflect our overall values and goals? Does our staff meeting reflect what we want to be about and what is important?

So what is the purpose of staff meeting? Ask any staff and you will get a different answer. A few things to consider:

  • You likely only have one dedicated time a week where all your staff are face to face. How can you make the most of that time?
  • What can you ONLY accomplish in staff meeting (that can’t effectively be done via email, text, one-on-one coaching)?
  • A helpful way to ask- state it negatively: “What do we lose if we don’t have staff meeting?”

Whatever you decide on, communicate that purpose clearly to the team throughout the year: “We are spending the first 30 minutes of staff meeting connecting relationally and this is why. . .” Otherwise you’ll have some very frustrated staff (who have their own very strong opinions on how to better spend their 3 hours a week).


I spent my first five years on staff incredibly frustrated at our staff meetings. We spent the first hour hanging out, eating, and doing team bonding questions (and me looking at my watch dreaming about all I could be getting accomplished out in the free world). I would have been able to actually enjoy the first hour of staff meeting if I’d been mature/insightful enough to understand the importance of having good team relationships.

For our team, our staff meeting is split into two halves.

For the first half (9-10:30am), all of our teams are together –

  • CFM staff (focused on the general population at the University of Arkansas)
  • Athletes in Action
  • Bridges (International Students)
  • Impact (focusing on students of African descent).

From 10:30-noon we split into teams to plan specifically for each movement.

This is what we try to do every week:

  • First Half:
    • Time to celebrate what God is doing
      • This is easily the best thing we do every week. We spend the first 30-45 minutes of staff meeting sharing: “How have you seen God at work on campus this week?”.
      • It could be a student coming to Christ, a girl breaking off a bad relationship, a guy making significant steps to break his addiction to porn, a new Bible study in the Music building, etc.
      • It never fails. Every. Single. Week. It launches our staff meeting on a high note. We recount the wondrous deeds of God (Psalm 75:1) and He gets the glory.
      • Nothing inspires your team like:
        • Hearing that the Creator God is present and working mightily on your campus
        • Knowing that we get to be a part of it – we get to be used by God!
      • Don’t rush celebration to get on to ‘more important’ business items. Give time for people to share. Some people might be quiet, and you can’t force them to share each week. But hopefully a non-rushed space will help the team know that celebrating is important and not something to rushed through.
    • Devotional from the Word or from a book we are reading together (a few I’d highly recommend:
      A Praying LifeLiving the Cross Centered LifeDangerous Calling, The Dangerous Duty of Delight)
    • Staff Development (MPD, reading ministry/leadership articles together)
    • A little prayer (though not much – we have a different morning dedicated to staff prayer)
    • End on vision
  • Second Half
    • Focusing on what matters (discipleship/evangelism/Strategic Plan) – see more below
    • Clearly communicate staff focus for the week (all weeks should not blend together and look the same)
    • End on vision

OK – Now some practical details – here’s 10 Keys to Effective, Engaging Staff Meetings

10 Keys to Effective, Engaging Staff Meetings

1) Details = Death

I would guess that this is the number one killer for most teams – too much time is spent on details that should be decided outside of staff meeting.

When I was first on staff, I swear 97.35% of our staff meeting was debating the wording of our strategic plan:

Staff 1: “I think our first critical path step should be called ‘launching missional teams’ ”

Staff 2: “Technically ‘missional’ isn’t even a word and I think launching implies we are doing all the work when isn’t it God that works?”

Staff 3: “I agree, let’s discuss what missional really means”

Staff 4: “I have a tee time for discipleship in 10 minutes”

It was fun.

In looking back at staff meetings I led 15 years ago, this would be the biggest change: we used to spend the vast majority of our meeting talking about meeting details, specifically two meetings – our weekly training/leadership meeting and weekly Cru meeting. 2/3 of our staff meeting was taken up by evaluating last week’s meetings and planning next week’s meetings. Now we rarely spend anytime at staff meeting talking about our weekly meeting.

Tim Norman, Cru Regional Director and former Team Leader at Northwestern:

“I rarely planned events during staff meeting. I felt it was a dishonorable use of the talent in the room. Here I was with the Seal team of evangelism and discipleship experts for the campus and we’re talking about who was bringing the hot dogs to the bonfire.

Empower staff to lead. If you are in charge of the bonfire, you are in charge. Delegate to student leaders. Assign staff to tasks. Give people the authority they need to get their job done. Something might flop some day. But, I’d take that and more focused effort on evangelism and discipleship.”

When we do talk about meetings we’re talking about strategic decisions and not details –

  • For the summer project dessert after our meeting, we are asking the team “Should we open it up to all of our sending partnerships or just on one of them” instead of “should we have cupcakes or cookies?”. We’re getting specific input on mission critical things instead of dealing with tiny details.
  • “You’re in charge of fall retreat – you have 10 minutes in staff meeting on Thursday to tell us the status of Fall Retreat and what you need from us right now” (we’re not going to talk through who’s going to give their testimony at Fall Retreat).
  • So for any area of responsibility:
    1. Give the team an update on where we are at
    2. What do you need from the team?
  • All details can be decided by student or staff leaders outside of staff meeting.
  • Let this nugget of wisdom sink in from Mark Brown, former Cru Team Leader at Miami, OH – “If students are truly leading, you won’t have much to talk about at staff meeting.”

Staff meetings are not an information dump. Think to yourself: “could I achieve this just as well via by e-mail?” We don’t spend time telling everyone what dates are coming up (prayer is at Julie’s house on Monday) – we just have it all on the Google Calendar.

2) Keep the meeting moving

Many staff meetings are rambling discussions on whatever subject comes along with very little closure and concrete next steps, and even less vision.

Chris Musgrave, one of the Cru Team Leaders at Florida, shares what changes they made on their team to reduce and rein in rabbit trail discussions:

I got tired of leaving staff meetings frazzled so we made some changes.

  • From nouns to verbs
    • We changed our bullet points from generic nouns like “Weekly meeting” to verbs “get input from the team on whether our room is too big for us now.” That keeps us moving and keeps discussion focused and profitable.
  • Putting things in Parking Lots and Farms
    • Parking lot- “Let’s table that and revisit that at the end of the meeting. If we don’t have time – we’ll talk about it next week.”
    • Farms= delegating – “you three find a time to talk about it this week and get back to us next week.
    • Those gave us language for anyone on the team to say “let’s put it in the parking lot”- to keep the meeting from getting bogged down.

I would add three things:

  1. In general, only discuss things that require everyone to weigh in on. Don’t make your entire staff team sit there while you and Joe Staff discuss what kind of food he’s planning on buying for Cru this week. Give everyone on the team permission to throw the “A-B conversation” flag if you or anyone else drifts into that.
  2. If you (or your co-leader) are not a good meeting facilitator (especially at keeping things moving), have someone else on your team lead staff meeting (and you can lead various parts like Vision and Direction).
  3. Sometime rabbit trails can be fun. We’re not running a business meeting. Have fun with your team! Ministry as a whole is very serious business. Sometimes what your team needs most is levity. Leave room to laugh together!

3) Focus on What Matters

Now that your staff meeting is not clogged up with all those details or bogged down by rabbit trails, you can focus on what really matters – what your team came on staff to do-

  • How’s multiplication/selection going? What are some best practices with helping your people multiply?
  • Are students sharing their faith? What is our next step this week in that?
  • How are staff spending their time? Is the bulk of it being spent multiplying and modeling ministry?
  • How broad have we sown?

You want to find out where people are stuck, and you want to find out about early. You don’t want to find that out in December – when there’s no one going to Winter Conference.

4) If you fail to plan…

Do not wing staff meeting! You owe it to the team to be prepared. Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing sums it up:

“People’s time is valuable. A meeting without an agenda is like a ship without a rudder. If you won’t take time to prepare an agenda, why should people take time to attend your meeting?”

Most weeks it takes me about 20 minutes to plan staff meetings. How?

The easiest and best way to plan your staff meeting is to copy and paste last year’s staff meeting agenda and tweak it to match your reality and needs this year. I see how it’s the easiest, but how is the best? Because you’ll be amazed at how insightful and on top of things you were last year (“I hadn’t even thought of ____ that we need to start talking about this week in the year!”). Because last year’s notes were the improvement on the previous year’s notes which were…

Don’t have typed up staff meeting notes from last year? Be the change you want to see in the world. Take good staff meeting notes all year this year – take a few extra minutes to write down your devotional for your staff team, to write pretty detailed notes on what you do in staff meeting. That way you’re not reinventing the wheel every year.  And in three years, you can recycle that devotional you used with your staff.


5) Eval early and often

Evaluate throughout the semester, not just at the end of the semester (and take copious notes so life will be easier next year). This is not a vent session or a 3 hour discussion. Spend about 10 minutes and quickly capture things that will help you improve next year.

Start on a positive note with “What went well? What do we want to make sure we remember to do again next year?”

Then more critically: “What do we need to do differently?”

Why eval?

Because just a small investment now will multiply your effectiveness next year. After you invest countless hours in the first few weeks on campus, take an extra 10 minutes and discuss as a team what you want to make sure do again next year, and what would have dramatically improved your outreach to freshmen.

Secondly, we eval because we will remember ZERO details next year. “What did we do for freshmen scholarships last year for fall retreat?” “How did we get so many freshmen there last year?” “Didn’t we say never to do ____ again?” No one will remember unless you eval and take notes AND put them in a folder where you can actually find them next year – save each eval as a separate google doc in a “Evals” folder in your team’s larger “Fall 2016-Spring 2017 folder”.

6) Set the norm that everyone focuses –

No laptops. No cell phones/texting. No side conversations. All of these things make meetings longer and less productive.” Michael Hyatt

7) Start on time (whether everyone is there or not) and end on time (whether you are done or not).

8) Periodically solicit input from the staff: “how could we improve staff meetings?”

9) Lead democratically

The Harvard Business Review article “From Chief of Answers to Leader of Co-creators” summarizes it well:

“The Social Era raises the pressure on leaders to move from knowing everything to knowing what needs to be addressed and then engaging many people in solving that, together. They should frame the challenge and point out the horizon, helping those involved know what matters and why. [It] requires: collaborating rather than commanding, framing and guiding rather than telling, and sharing power rather than hoarding it.”

10) End meetings on a high note.

Don’t end on details (which is the tendency as the clock counts down). End on two things:

  1. The Staff focus for the week – For Example:
    • “Remember – our #1 priority this week is following up new people who came to Fall Retreat (and take student leaders with you on your appointments!)”
    • or “If you don’t do anything else this week, make sure you meet with your assigned leaders to challenge them to Lead Bible Studies in the fall”
  2. Vision – college ministry is hard and can tend to zap vision/zeal. Vision leaks. Remind your staff what we are trying to accomplish.
    • Why are we going to strive with all our effort for the gospel this week?
    • How is what we are doing significant?
    • Our God is mighty to save. Our mission is sure. No one can thwart his purposes – Job 42:2.
    • The need for laborers and how what we are doing this week will contribute to that: “We are going into the dorms this week to find a freshman who is sleeping with his girlfriend, who has spent his first week in the dorms completely drunk – who will be the next great missionary to Ethiopia”
    • Tim Norman focuses vision on 4 things with the teams he leads:
      1. our glorious task in the Great Commission
      2. the greatness of our God
      3. the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and
      4. the freedom of living and leading under grace
    • You can read more of Tim’s wisdom on staff meetings here – and his blank staff meeting template is helpful as well.

What helps your team have effective meetings?

— Click here to get this post in downloadable, article form.

It’s December and maybe your fall feels like:

As Ive said before, College ministry is hard.


It can get discouraging turning over rock after rock with sometimes little to show for it. This fall I texted one freshman 6 times and got no response. On the 7th text he responded and we got lunch. I shared the gospel with him. I asked him how college has been for him spiritually – he said “I really feel like God is pursuing me since I’ve been in college. I mean – you’ve kept on texting me and I really feel like that was God pursuing me.”


In college ministry we’re constantly turning over rocks to see where God is at work. I love Winston Churchill’s “encouragement” – “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”


College ministry is hard emotionally. There’s something incredibly humbling about having a too-cool-for-school 18 year old freshman smugly shut the door in your face as you attempt to tell them how they can know the supreme God of all creation.


On a deeper level, working on the cutting edge of culture can be exhausting. For most Christians, dealing with complex issues like LGBTQ, racial inequality, suicide, transgender, Trump, depression, and mental health are distant hypotheticals to yell about on Facebook. For college ministers, you interact with students on these issues as part of your daily job. 


Paul Tripp summarizes well the difficulty of ministry:
“There are few things that will reveal to you the full range of your sin, immaturity, weakness, and failure like ministry will. There are few things that will expose your weaknesses to others as consistently as ministry does. There are few endeavors that will put you under public expectancy and scrutiny like ministry does. There are few things that are as personally humbling as ministry is. There are few endeavors that have the power to produce in you such deep feelings of inadequacy as ministry does. There are few things that can be such a vat of self-doubt as ministry is.”


There are a few things that help me keep going.
1) It’s December. You’re tired. And you should be. You are doing ministry in one of the most difficult environments, on the cutting edge of culture – the college campus. The reason there’s not many people up on campus sharing the gospel in greek houses, in the dorms, on practice fields – is because it’s hard!
A recent survey of a college ministry showed that
  • 80% of team leaders would say “I feel overwhelmed by my job”
  • 75% expressed feeling emotionally drained from their work
  • the majority have seriously thought about quitting their job
Hopefully you find this oddly encouraging. It’s good for me to be reminded that I’m exhausted because what we’re trying to do is hard. And you’re not alone. We all feel it. 


2) Your job is complex. But that’s a good thing. You want some job complexity – it’s what makes your job fun. Meaningful work is always complex. You’re not screwing three screws into the back of a computer for 12 hours/day (as I did one summer in college).  In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says meaningful work has three distinct qualities:
  1. Complexity
  2. Autonomy
  3. And a clear relationship between effort and reward
You (and your team) need those three.
To embrace the complexity.
To have the freedom to innovate and really lead.
But the last one is key. If all you and your team can see is the complexity and your ministry’s shortcomings, THAT is when discouragement sets in. Your team needs to see that you are making real progress toward a tangible goal. Even if that progress was learning 4 ways of how NOT to reach freshmen, that is success! You stepped out in faith and are learning. Which leads to number 3…


3) Celebrate! Last week my regional director sent to our regional team leaders an email that spotlighted what God was doing through the Central Arkansas team to launch a new campus and raise up 4 staff from that campus. I emailed their team leader about how encouraging that was. His reply – 
“I had two thoughts when I read this. 1. I didn’t know some all that stuff. 2. I need to learn to celebrate more!”
In the midst of the craziness of fall it’s so easy to let your less-than-stellar weekly meeting or flaky leaders to hide the fact that God is using you in significant ways to change lives for eternity. You’re team is intimately acquainted with all the things that are going wrong in your ministry. We need to stop and raise our team’s eyes to all that God has done.
Bill Hybels has some wise words on celebration: “How do you inspire people to stay on the journey from here to there?
Refill their vision bucket. Everyone’s vision bucket leaks. You have to celebrate every mile-marker you possibly can on the way to the destination.”
More on celebrating here.


4) It’s good for me to be reminded that it’s worth it. We delicately talk through difficult cultural issues with students. We boldly proclaim the gospel and often endure contempt and rejection. Many of us raise support and trust God to provide 100% of our livelihood.
Why? In Spanish, if something is “worth it” you say it is “vale la pena”. Literally – “worth the pain”. It is worth the hardships so that hundreds and thousands of future world changers can encounter Jesus. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory thatfar outweighs them all.” – I Corinthians 4:17. Faith is believing that in the midst of the hardness of ministry, it’s worth it. Christ is worthy of our lives. And we know that this good news WILL be proclaimed to all nations. And we get to be a part of it. Ministry is hard. But es vale la pena.
If you’re anything like our team, after all the hard work of the first weeks of the fall, you feel like:
  • We worked our tails off reaching out to freshmen and, honestly, the results are not what we had hoped
  • Where are all the guys? We are terrible at reaching sharp, male leaders.
  • Our weekly meeting numbers are not what I hoped they would be at this point in the fall.
I think it’s the amount of work in relation to the payoff. The excitement and crowds of the first few weeks always seem like they will pay greater dividends than they inevitably do. We’re four weeks into the year and it seems like we are not having any effect on our campus.


The high energy of large numbers at our first week events (and the ensuing, inevitable numerical downturn) can cause us to forget what matters AND what ultimately will impact the world.


masterplanJesus’ “concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow.” Dr. Robert Coleman – The Masterplan of Evangelism


Movements are not built in the first few weeks of the fall. They take years. Movements are not built by the masses. Movements are built on the efforts of a small group of passionate followers of Christ. It only takes a handful of students to change the world.


Robert Coleman reminds us that Jesus’ first few years of ministry “had little or no immediate effect upon the religious life of his day, but that did not matter greatly. For as it turned out, these few early converts of the Lord were destined to become the leaders of his church that was to with the gospel to the whole world.”


In the fall there are two important stages of ministry –
    1. The first few weeks of reaching freshmen
    2. Selecting who you will invest in this year


Now is the time for Stage 2.
In light of that, this week in staff meeting we read this article by Brian McCollister- Going From Launching to Building Reproducing Movements (and here’s an abridged version I edited down to read in one sitting with my student leaders).


Brian is one of the best college ministry strategist in the world. Almost everything we do in reaching freshmen the first weeks is based on his model from Cru at Ohio University. It’s not a short article- we are reading it over two weeks at staff meeting – but it’s the perfect topic for your staff and student leaders to be talking through right now.


In addition to this article, this fall all of our staff are taking their disciples through The Masterplan of Evangelism. Here is a link to a week by week discussion of Masterplan.


What is your team talking about and doing right now?


An annual tradition on the blog – a ton of stuff you can use on campus these first few weeks. Hopefully it saves you some time or gives you ideas.

Cool Music

Here’s an all-new 2016 Spotify playlist that we use at all of our freshmen cookouts and our weekly meeting.

It’s a mix of Indie Rock, Pop/Dance, and Christian Hip Hop. This year it’s pretty much all Twenty One PIlots. But seriously.

We pay $10 for the month of August to get Spotify Premium so you don’t have annoying commercials.

glow sticks and beach balls1

As I’ve said before:

While cool, upbeat music may be #27 on the list of important things about a Cru meeting, it’s important nonetheless.

What’s the first thing students encounter when they come to your meeting? Your music that you’re playing before the meeting.

And what happens when they hear Newsboys or Rebecca St. James pumping out of your speakers? You immediately confirm their worst suspicions that you are cheezy and out of touch with their reality.

As much as I am not a big fan of hip hop nor dance music, at our weekly meeting we include quite a bit of hip hop/dance. I run the music at our regional winter conference and can conclusively say that hip hop & dance makes a marked difference on the “vibe” of the crowd. It makes your meeting a party. Literally. People dance. Especially if you add beach balls and glow necklaces (we have our first 2 weekly meetings outside – beach balls may be a little less fun indoors).

Here’s a bonus playlist – Cru Hangouts – upbeat indie music to put on at more chill events (Leadership meeting, Leadership Retreat etc).

Spiritual Interest Survey

We’ve put a lot of effort into streamlining our Spiritual Interest Survey card. We do it with 3000 freshmen/students the first week of class – so we want it to be quick and effective. Click here to download the editable PDF (open in Photoshop – it’s set up 4/page and it uses “smart objects” so if you edit one flier it changes all 4 fliers). Click for an adapted version we use at a Community College – pdf or Photoshop. And here’s one we use with athletes for AIA – pdf or Photoshop.

1 Minute Questionnaire

And this is NC State Cru’s sharp looking survey card (click to download – unfortunately it’s in Apple Pages – so Mac’s only):

Cru Freshmen Survey Card (NCSU)

Cru Card

Our Cru Card that we use for our weekly meeting is similar but a bit different from the survey. You can download the editable PDF (open in Photoshop – it’s set up 4/page and it uses “smart objects” so if you edit one flier it changes all 4 fliers) file here.

1 Minute Questionnaire

Simple Cru Flier

Nothing special. But I always think it’s fun to see what other campuses do for promo. Here’s the editable PDF for the first (open in Photoshop – it’s set up 4/page and it uses “smart objects” so if you edit one flier it changes all 4 fliers). And the Photoshop file for the color version.

Dorm studies 2015

generic dorm studies 2015

We used to do them in color but have found that b/w is just as sharp looking IF:

  • You print them on card stock
  • Have them “cut to bleed” (so that there is no white border)

First Week Events Flier

A few ideas from across the U.S.:


welcome week events final

Florida Cru:

cru at UF welcome week events

Christian Challenge – Chico State – Paul Worcester:

worcester first week events

Fall Retreat Brochures

Here’s our 2016 Fall Retreat brochure (designed by Cru designer Jamie Wang).

CARK Fall Retreat Template 2016_outside

CARK Fall Retreat Template 2016_inside

Besides the basic flier that you can edit and make your own, Jamie has a folder full of goodies: Facebook profile pics, slides, etc.

For Printing Flyers: You should be able to fit four of the flyers on an 8.5 x 11″ page. Tell FedEx it has a 1/8″ bleed.

Here’s our 2015 brochure (designed by Cru designer Libby Slaughter). And here’s the photoshop files so you can edit it and use it!

Fall Retreat outside

Fall Retreat inside

Here’s our 2014 brochure and a post with 4 different (older) Fall Retreat Brochure designs we’ve used. Photoshop file

Just front of brochure

Campus Brochures

A leaving piece that explains everything we do offer in Cru. See here for more details and to download.Arkansas brochure

Arkansas brochure inside

First 4 Weeks Calendar

Always fun to see how other ministries operate. So here’s an overview of what our First 4 Weeks calendar looks like. Here’s a template you can use.

first 5 week calendar

Other Stuff

All this stuff is from Jamie Wang that she has graciously made available to all – to edit and make your own.

From Jamie:

1. Cru Campus Magnet -I made this for Arkansas last year. This was a gift to their campus supporters.
2. Cru Main Meeting Slides -These are generic slides for a main meetings. Keep in mind the difference between 16:9 and 4:3
4. Cru Photos -to use in promo pieces for your campus or prayer letters, etc.
    – The retractable banners are all in viewing options because the files are too big
    – jpg for viewing
    -.psd file including 8 photo options for poster
-for Pages and Publisher
-Great if you need some help kickstarting your newsletters!

What about YOU?

Do you have any stuff your campus uses that would be helpful to share? Link to it in the comments!


This semester, one of the critical steps for our movement is that our students (and staff!) would spend daily time in God’s Word. Of course, you might say, that should always be a priority. But we want to make a focused push this year to see if we can reset the culture of our movement.

Our desire is to send out graduates with a conviction from Scripture for their personal responsibility in the evangelization of the world.

Dr. Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, asserts that “most of us gain our most fundamental convictions in this way— we hear them, see them to be truly revealed in the Bible, and then believe them.”

We need to help students see Christ clearly and understand the gospel deeply through seeing it for themselves in God’s Word.

My mother was involved in Cru 45 years ago. She just told me last week that the two greatest things she learned in Cru were:
  • How to have a daily quiet time (which she still does to this day)
  • And to not marry a non-Christian
I have benefited greatly from both of those. Her refusal to marry a non-Christian gave my dad a profound motivation to start going to a Bible study and to attend a Cru conference where he trusted Christ as his savior! And 45 years later he is radically impacting lives for Christ around the globe.
We want long term world changers. That will only come through deep Biblical convictions of Gospel Truths.
I’ve written a very short article that we read and discussed with our students. It’s by no means exhaustive. It’s skeletal and very practical. And hopefully it’s enough to get students pointed in the right direction and spending time daily in God’s Word.
You can download the PDF here. Or view it on Google Docs here.
One of my chief goals for this year is to read more. I wrote about why and how here: Read Less Blogs and More Books.
Very briefly-
The past couple of years I’ve made a conscious effort to shift from less input to deeper reading. Why? Because my voracious reading of new blogs and articles is actually making me less wise. I’m replacing those “must read” late-breaking-this-is-going-to-change-your-life blogposts and articles with the slow, harder work of reading a book. Books make me slow down and absorb information instead of just letting information go in one ear and out the other.
  • I’m tracking how many books I read each year
  • I’ve started listening to audiobooks. I’ve found one of the easiest ways to read more is to take advantage of dead time in my schedule – like driving.
  • I’m committed to reading every night before bed. A great side-effect: when my head hits the pillow I’m asleep in seconds.
It’s April and I’ve already read as many books as I read all last year.
One thing I’ve found challenging – where to find good book recommendations. So in the vein of “do unto others”…

Here’s a few of my favorite books I’ve read in the past year:

Historical non-fiction:

What are some of your favorite books you’ve read recently?

I recently gave a talk at our Cru meeting on Money (you can download, and freely use, my notes here).

4 Steps to Making the Most of Your Money

  1. Acknowledge your default – The American Dream
  2. Replace the American Dream with something weightier, something better
  3. Overcome any obstacle (debt)
  4. Live simply, Save wisely, and Give generously

The bulk of the talk was focused on debt – credit card and student loan debt.

I took a poll of the audience (using directpoll.com which worked really well for us – students could see the live results on screen as they responded). We had about 100 participate in the online poll. I thought the results were very interesting so I thought I’d share them:

expected income

62% think they will earn over $40k.

National surveys say that only 20 percent of graduates will earn over $40,000 in their first year on the job.
And only 59% will earn more than $25,000.

So our students are either REALLY gifted. Or a LITTLE over-optimistic.

scholarships pie chart

29% of our students have at least half of their college paid for.

52% have at least 1/4 paid for.

94% have at least some scholarship.

This wasn’t altogether surprising – our students tend to be pretty smart. For whatever reason we attract a lot of engineers and honors students.


giving pie chart

51% give less than $100/year.

81% give less than $300.

I admit – I thought this would be higher! Obviously something we can help our students grow in.

63% of tithers started tithing 10 percent or more between childhood and their twenties.

furture debt pie

51% will owe $0.

Only 12% will owe more than $20k

Nationally: Seven in ten college graduates have student loans. The average new graduate in 2015 walked the stage $35,000 in the hole.

Granted, I often hear from graduates that they didn’t find out until after graduation that their mom and dad took out loans for them that they themselves have to pay back. So some students may receive a not-so-fun surprise graduation gift from mom and dad.


how much current debt pie

65% have no loans.

Only 12% have more than $10k

I’m sure the Cru meeting audience skews toward freshmen (who naturally have less debt than upperclassmen). I would guess at least 1/3 of the students were freshmen.

How many hours work pie

61% don’t have jobs

Only 28% work more than 5 hours a week,

Credit Card Debt Pie Chart

92% don’t have any credit card debt! I admit. I was shocked by this number. Many said they don’t even own credit cards. Yet they don’t carry cash. Not sure how they pay for things!? Maybe debit cards?

Nationally – 68% of college students have credit card debt – with an average of $600 in debt.

The past couple of years I’ve made a conscious effort to shift from less input to deeper reading.

I’m reading less blogs, bookmarking less web pages and reading more books (yes, I appreciate the irony that you are reading this on a blog).

It started in 2011 when I read Tim Challies’ book The Next Story. He illuminated a huge idol in my heart (and I believe a chief idol of our age)- informationism:

We have begun to believe that the accumulation of information somehow leads to wisdom, that more information will solve society’s ills and improve our lives. We place our faith in information.

We find joy and life in that information – not in using that information or turning that information into useful action, but simply in its constant flow.

Without the distraction of dealing with vast amounts of information and without overtaxing our brains with hundreds of sources of information, we will have the time to know more about less.

Success in life “is not in the accumulation of facts, but in living a life marked by wisdom, by the application of knowledge.”

What we are finding is that more information does not necessarily lead to more wisdom. In fact, the very opposite may be true.

More information may lead to less wisdom.

That last sentence rocked me. My voracious reading of new blogs and articles is actually making me less wise.

I want to know more about less. It was actually the very secular BBC that reminded me that, primarily, that means I need to read less “news” and soak in God’s Word more:

One of the more embarrassing difficulties of our age is that most of us have quite lost the ability to concentrate, to sit still and do nothing other than focus on certain basic truths of the human condition. We are reluctant to admit that we are simply swamped with information and have lost the ability to make sense of it.

The prestige of the news is founded on the unstated assumption that our lives are forever poised on the verge of a critical transformation. Contrast this with how religions think of what is important. The great stable truths can be carved into stone rather than swilling malleably across hand-held screens. Rather than letting us constantly catch up on “news”, religions prefer to keep reminding us of the same old things.

It is not by reading more, but by deepening and refreshing our understanding of a few volumes that we best develop our intelligence and our sensitivity.

We feel guilty for all that we have not yet read, but overlook how much better read we already are than St Augustine or Dante, thereby ignoring that our problem lies squarely with our manner of absorption rather than with the extent of our consumption.

This clip from Portlandia was me in 2009-2013 (and probably me still!):

Here’s what that has looked like for me. I have over 3,000 unread pages saved in Pocket (a save-to-read-later service)!

Not sure when this “later” is when I’m going to find time to read them.

In 2013 I bookmarked 1,500 sites that I never got around to reading. At that point, I was literally checking 75 blogs every week. I even blogged about why you should read a lot of blogs http://www.timcasteel.com/blogs/how-and-why-to-subscribe-to-blogs/! I still read blogs but almost exclusively blogs related to college ministry (my field of work)

In 2014, I had 1,000 unread bookmarked pages.

And 500 in 2015. If you do the math, that’s not exactly a trickle – I’m still bookmarking almost 2 pages a day. But it’s progress!

I’m replacing those “must read” late-breaking-this-is-going-to-change-your-life blogposts and articles with the slow, harder work of reading a book. Trading candy for meat. Books make me slow down and absorb information instead of just letting information go in one ear and out the other.

Randy Gravitt says:

If I could choose only one habit to pursue growth it would be to develop a love for books. Reading requires focus and commitment. But the payoff is huge. If you want to jumpstart your leadership growth, spend at least thirty minutes a day reading

A few steps I’m taking to read more:

  • I’m tracking how many books I read each year
  • I don’t necessarily want a goal of number-of-books-read because, again, the goal is not more information input. It’s deeper, slower reading. Last year I read 17 books. And I want to read more this year. But I feel like a goal will make me rush through books instead of slowly absorbing them.
  • I’m not finishing every book I start
  • I’ve found one of the easiest ways to read more is to take advantage of dead time in my schedule – like driving. 15 minutes here and there really adds up. So I sucked it up and subscribed to Audible.com (a ridiculous $22/month for two books). I listen at 1.25 speed and can get through two books in a month.
  • I’m committed to reading every night. A couple of years ago my wife introduced the new rule of “no blue light an hour before bed” = no checking twitter or reading online. I’m thankful for God’s grace through her! It made me take up the habit of reading before bed every night. A great side-effect: when my head hits the pillow I’m asleep in seconds.
  • The trick is finding when to read the right kind of book:
    • In the morning I read a spiritually developmental book (right now I’m reading John Piper’s Bloodlines on ethnicity and racial reconciliation). I need to carve out more time for this category. I rarely read during the day.
    • In the car on audiobook I can’t listen to any book that I want to take notes on. I need a book that can just wash over me. That’s more of a story/biography. Shadow of the Almighty – the story of martyred missionary Jim Elliott was perfect. Though there’s plenty of quotes I’d want to underline, I’ve read it enough times that I can just let the story and Jim’s singleminded pursuit of Christ and the Great Commission wash over me. How We Got To Now was also a great one for audiobook. VERY interesting stories of the 6 most important innovations – great stuff to inspire your thinking and own innovation. But nothing much that I’d need to write down to remember.
    • At night, again, I can’t read any book that I’d want to underline or take notes on or that will get my brain’s gears turning. At night my goal is to unwind. So I stick mostly with biographies that inspire. “Readers of good books, particularly books of biography and history, are preparing themselves for leadership. Not all readers become leaders. But all leaders must be readers.” Harry Truman
    • Bonhoeffer was a great nighttime read. Or my current bedtime book- River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. On deck:
  • I’m keeping an Evernote on books I want to read in each of these categories (audiobook, morning, and night reading)

What about you? What helps you read more books?

In what ways have you bought into “informationism”?

Would LOVE book recommendations. List some of your favorites in the comments.

Fresh off the virtual press, Shane Sebastian (Cru’s Global Missions Executive Director) has released an article with a powerful vision and challenge: trusting God to send 10% of our involved students each year to bless the nations.

10% of our students each year would go to the world on vision trips, Summer Missions or STINT. If you have 100 students involved with you, 10 would go on Global Summer Missions or Vision Trips. If you have 400, 40 would be sent.

God's Heart for the World

National Current Reality= 3%

What is the current reality on your campus? What % are you sending to the world each year?

We have a tremendous stewardship to send. Laborers come from the college campus. And the U.S. campus ministry is exponentially larger than any other country.

By far, the vast majority of laborers within Cru come from within the U.S. Campus Ministry. May God use the U.S. campus ministry to send generously. To send at least 10% of our movements every year to reach the world for Christ.

Shane asked me to partner with him in writing this article and to share how sending to the world has benefited our local ministry. I echo this from Dan Higgins: “If you just go after a campus, you’ll get nothing. But If you go after the world you’ll reach the world and get the campus thrown in.” This has definitely been true for us. The campus is too small a vision for students. As we send more and more to the world, our local movement expands.

world map

I’d encourage you to read and discuss this article with your staff team and student leaders. The number one determiner of whether a school sends a lot of students to the world? Whether the staff really buys into sending. You won’t send if your staff team doesn’t bleed for the world.

Download it here:

God’s Heart for the World or here on Google Drive.

If it’d be helpful, I’d be happy to skype into your staff meeting to share some of the best practices of the best sending schools in the nation or what has worked on our campus to send more. You can email me at tim dot casteel @cru.org.


Top 5 Posts of 2015

December 29, 2015 — Leave a comment
This year on the blog was dominated by a series on sending. I’ve written on other topics on Collegiate Collective and Campus Ministry Today. You can see a few of my top Collegiate Collective posts here.
A few years of research culminated in a series of posts on sending in a few broad categories:
So all 5 of the top 5 posts of 2015 were about sending. Here were the top 5 in order of popularity (The top two earned FAR more views than any of the next 3. Triple and double the number of views, respectively.):

1) Cru Staff Allocation vs. the Need

Cru is divided into 10 regions in the U.S. Where is the greatest need for laborers? Where are the hardest places to grow a movement? Where are the hardest places to raise up laborers? Fascinating stuff, imho.

2) Learning From Cru’s Top Sending Campuses in the Nation

Detailed interviews with the directors of 17 of the best sending campuses in Cru. 
389 of the 918 full time laborers sent into the Cru Campus Ministry in 2014 came from just 25 campuses. So 4% of the Cru movements send 42% of the laborers.
What do the Top Sending Campuses have in common? Are they all large movements? Is it because they have large staff teams? What made students want to join the mission full time?

3) We Are Losing an Entire Generation of Laborers to Student Loan Debt

“The greatest enemy [to sending] other than Satan himself is educational debt.” Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary
Seven out of ten students that we are challenging to full time ministry are carrying a crippling weight.
Seven in ten college graduates have student loans. And their average debt is $29,400.
This post looks at the issue of student loan debt, how it prevents students from going into full time ministry, and what we (in college ministry) can do about it.

4) Stats on Cru’s Top 25 Sending Campuses

What can we learn from the top 25’s sending stats? A few highlights:
  • The Top Sending Schools Need to Send More Than They Keep
  • These are large movements. I think we can confidently say that big sending comes from big campuses
  • Make a goal as a team to send a 1 to 1 ratio for every staff on your team. Do you have 10 staff on your team? Make it your goal to send 10 students into full time ministry every year. That’s the average on these Top Sending Campuses.

5) The Top Two Barriers to Sending — Part 1: Parents

It’s been estimated that 3 out of 4 laborers come straight from the college campus. The next generation of pastors and missionaries will come from college ministries.
So what’s stopping this flood of laborers from being sent out from college campuses?
Overwhelmingly, there are two barriers holding college students from being sent into full time ministry:
  1. Parents
  2. Money (student loan debt and fear related to raising financial support)
This post addresses why parents’ disapproval is crippling to today’s students and what we can do about it.