Archives For July 2014

One of the biggest adjustments we have made in recent years is leveraging technology to make our staff and students more effective in ministry.

All of the technology adjustments follow this principle – Build Webs not Wheels.

“We must foster environments of interdependence where folks are not just allowed, but encouraged to seek help from any and every source. A mentor of mine used to tell me that the job of a leader is to build ‘webs, not wheels’– an ever-expanding web of interconnected, interdependent parts, not a wheel where all the spokes connect back to me at the center” Jon Hietbrink (Intervarsity Regional Director) – source

For years, I would get multiple, daily emails/texts along these lines:

  • “Do you have the evangelism training notes we used last fall?”
  • “Who is in charge of reserving the Quads for the cookout?”
  • “Do you have Joe Freshman’s phone number?”
  • “Hey, where is staff meeting this week?”
  • “Do we have enough money to give students $100 for their dorm outreach?”

See the pattern?

I had created wheels of knowledge/information with multiple spokes that all ran back to me as the hub. It prevented our staff and students from really leading. And it sucked a lot of my time- chasing down old files and responding to unnecessary texts.

Here’s the technology tools that have really helped us in the past couple years:

Google Drive

Getting our whole team (and student staff) to use Google Drive this year has been a game changer. Everyone has access to all of the files – they’re no longer locked on my hard drive where only I can access them!

    • Everyone can see the budget. Everyone can see who’s discipling whom, who’s leading a Bible study in the Quads, what content we’re going to cover at our upcoming student Leadership meeting.
    • Google Drive is especially helpful for multiple people updating a document simultaneously. My co-leader/MTL couldn’t live without it in our weekly planning meetings as we both edit the staff meeting document. Our team uses it extensively in the months leading up to our Fellowship Dinner as everyone can update the same RSVP and Silent Auction spreadsheets (simultaneously!).
    • For Cru staff, this is a no-brainer because your team is already all signed up for Google Drive thanks to our switch to Google last year.

google drive


MissionHub helps us make sense of piles of contact cards AND mobilizes students to pursue evangelisticMissionHub appointments. MissionHub allows us to quickly search, keep notes on, and message hundreds of students (through group texts or emails).

You can, at a glance, see the spiritual progression of a student as they connect with various students and staff.

I’ve written more about MissionHub here: The Secret to Keeping Students from Falling Through the Cracks.


Google calendar

Keeping a team calendar has really helped increase our communication. Staff REALLY like to know what is coming up on the calendar (especially their release date in December/May!). Everyone knows where staff meeting is going to be. When the deadline is for STINT applications. When fall retreat is (and what time staff need to be there). We don’t (yet!) use this for student events, but it’s been invaluable in making all the J‘s on our staff team happy and decreasing unnecessary texts.

Team Calendar - sept2013


Facebook Leadership Page 

We have a private Facebook group for our Cru leaders with two aims:

    • Students sharing stories of God at work across campus
    • Students encouraging other students to engage in the mission

Here’s what it looks like as students share about God at work and challenge their friends to join in:

Facebook Wall

And this is what happens every week after our Cru meeting:

    • A few student leaders type all the contacts from Cru cards into MissionHub
    • That night, a student leader posts on our private Facebook Leadership page:

facebook mission hub post

Within 24 hours our student leaders are doing incredibly strategic and timely follow-up (which is 100% student-led).


If you want more info on how we use any of these tools, just ask in the comments.

What technology has your team found useful?



Some great wisdom from Brian McCollister here.

3 Keys for the First Week on Campus

    1. students on denver campusStaff must lead in evangelism. All else must suffer for the sake of getting face to face with freshmen. I tell our staff that your first six discipleship times of the year must be primarily spent in evangelism. If your upper classmen balk at this then that is evidence that you may not be working with the right upper classmen. There ought to be time to develop and teach but evangelism has to happen those 6 times.
    2. If you pay the price in the first six weeks of the year you will reap the rewards for the next four years. If you blow the first six weeks you will pay the price for the next four years. I can tell how well we did in the first six weeks of the last four years by looking at the size of our classes.
    3. Directors must mobilize their best people assets into evangelizing/gathering freshmen into freshmen groups (staff/ student leaders).

We teach that discipleship is doing the right things (doing ministry together, time in the Word, relationally connecting) with the right people (faithful, available, teachable).

Here’s the key: those three things – Ministry/Word/Relationship – don’t have to happen evenly over the year. In other words, the first 6 weeks of the year will be HEAVILY weighted toward doing Ministry together. Talking about life and their summer and the new year as you walk on the way to share your faith. That’s one reason a Leadership Retreat before move-in week is so crucial. It gives your staff time to connect relationally with student leaders before you jump in the trenches together.

I always try to grab one-on-one lunch (Relationship) with each of my staff guys in the calm before the storm of the first 6 weeks because I know that August and September will be heavy on doing ministry together and lighter on Word/Relationship.

What are your thoughts on Brian’s 3 Keys?


4 years ago I started blogging with this:3773116901_35e2eba130_m

“Inspired by others who have taken the time to share their thoughts/learnings/resources I thought I would stop mooching and start contributing to the conversation.”

2 years ago I challenged Cru staff to start sharing better (on CruPressGreen).

It’s time to beat the drum again.

Russ Martin brilliantly summed it up in this 2010 post that is packed with wisdom that has shaped my thinking and my calendar:

What if you spent 10% of your time online collaborating with others on how to get better at college ministry? Few people set on reaching university students view spending intentional time online to learn and share with others as a worthwhile cost/benefit.

I suggest every person who desires to see millions of students bringing the gospel to every corner of every campus should tithe of their time online to share tips, resources, ideas, struggles and stories. The mission can’t be executed by creating trade secrets, hoarding knowledge, or protecting resources.

The platforms exist, but a mindset of collaboration doesn’t. By spending five minutes to upload the presentation from your last small group leader training you could save someone hours. Tweeting the articles you’re reading helps identify valuable insights we can all benefit from.

Do you think the eternal rewards of investing 10% of your online time could be worth it and make the other 90% of time more effective? There’s probably someone who knows a lot more about reaching students than you. There’s probably someone who could really benefit from what you know about reaching students. If we’re all on the same team, for the same mission, for the same King, then why aren’t we talking?

“If we’re all on the same team, for the same mission, for the same King, then why aren’t we talking?”

Let that sink in. Why aren’t we talking?

5165377895_ccd93e6654_mIn the last few years I’ve been discouraged to see not more online chatter in college ministry but less, especially within my organization – Cru. There have been a few bright spots in college ministry sharing – I’m looking at you Arliss Dickerson and Paul Worcester – but we could do so much better.

We are all consumers wishing more people would share good resources with us.

We need more sharers.

Our Cru movement at the University of Arkansas has been the recipient of incredible sharing.

Nothing we do on our campus is original. Our ministry has benefitted tremendously from importing (and adapting to our setting) the best practices of campuses across the U.S. In the past few years we’ve implemented ideas from Cru movements at:

University of Arizona – Chico State – Ohio University – Penn State – NC State – Portland Metro – Ontario, Canada – University of Oklahoma – Texas Tech – Montana State – University of Florida – St. Louis Metro – Cal Poly SLO – Miami, Ohio – Michigan State – Northwestern

For years it was a one-way street – receiving great ideas but not reciprocating.

For me it came down to cost/benefit in regard to time. I didn’t do much about idea sharing because I wasn’t sure the time invested would be worth the pay off: if I start blogging, not many people would see it or be helped by it (i.e – it will take me 4 hours to write a post and 4 people will read it).”

Like all good investments, a minimal investment can have multiplying effects. It costs me some time to share on Twitter and my blog but I can save literally hundreds of hours for a multitude of staff to get on campus and spend time with students (instead of re-writing a talk someone has already given).

Let’s create a culture of sharing in college ministry.

2 steps to start sharing:

  • Start tweeting.Twitter seems to be the best pipeline for information sharing and distribution.4990131757_78e6180c2d_o
    • Set aside time every week to get on Twitter and not just consume but share.
    • Actively seek out twitter conversations with other college ministers.
    • Using the #collegemin hashtag is a helpful place to start.
    • Post your Twitter username in the comments so I and other college ministers can connect with you (here’s mine: @timcasteel)
  • Share what you’ve found helpful. Start a Tumblr or a blog. Share dropbox links to talks you’ve given or articles you’ve found helpful. Comment on the blogs of those who are producing and sharing. Join the conversation so that we can all learn from each other.

Would love to hear what you think-

College Ministers, what steps can we take to share more?


images courtesy of Toban BlackEmilio Quintana, & C!…

Here at the University of Arkansas, pretty much everything we do in the first week to reach freshmen was gleaned from Brian McCollister. Brian is a national director with Cru who is one of the best in the world at reaching freshmen and building a movement. He served for over 20 years as a Campus Director at Ohio University.

The basics we do to reach freshmen the first week:

  • During move-in week we have big cookouts in front of the big freshmen dorms (and have them fill out a spiritual interest survey as they get a burger)Cookout 1
  • On the first day of school we set up tables in front of every dining hall on campus. We hand out something free (sunglasses, free sandwich coupon, etc.) in exchange for students filing out a spiritual interest survey (click here to download a sample jpg or Photoshop file you can adapt for your use). Between the Cookouts and Tables we do about 4,000 of these spiritual interest surveys.
  • Have co-ed Bible studies in every dorm the first week of class

Here’s the key: our staff and student leaders then follow up, one-on-one, with as many of these students as possible. We share the gospel during EVERY appointment and work hard to connect these freshmen to Bible studies. In the previous spring most of our leaders had been through training on how to share their faith. We share the gospel with every student, despite the fact that our University is in the “Bible Belt,” because the vast majority of students do not have a clear understanding of the gospel of grace. Many times we see students trust Christ for the first time.

Here is much of Brian’s wisdom on the critical first weeks of reaching freshmen –  in 2 parts:

  • A 15 minute talk from Brian McCollister walking through how to reach freshmen the first few weeks. You can download here.


  • A step by step of how to reach freshmen. This how-to was put together by St. Louis Cru which is great because it applies to the wide variety of contexts they serve in (community colleges, elite private schools, large state schools). It’s not exactly what we do at Arkansas, but very close.

Download the PDF file .


Both of these are great resources to walk through with your staff team.

What are some key things your team does to reach freshmen the first week on campus?

I love reading articles together as a staff team. There are few better ways to align your team and learn to speak the same language.

They’re short and to the point (at least the good ones are!).

And the articles can be the bad guy- they can speak authoritatively on a topic and staff don’t hear “my director is trying to get us to _____ (share our faith more, do more work)” they hear “that author who is infinitely wise is saying that we should ______”.

Whether your senior staff are reading these ideas for the 10th time or it’s a new staff reading it for the first, foundational ideas need to be over-communicated repeatedly.

It doesn’t always have to be articles, I’ll often print up a bog post (even my own!) to read with our team.

Here are some of the staple articles (all found on CruPressGreen) that have shaped our team (and that we’ll likely be re-reading this fall):

  • The First Two Weeks– our team reads this every year in preparing for the fall. Really short and to the point. Sets your team’s expectations for the first weeks (16 hour work days!):
    • Gathering Christians, reaching non-Christians…or both?
    • What to do on appointments
    • What to do with returning students
  • Building Movements on a Staffed Campus – this article has shaped our movement more than any other. Jim Sylvester shares his considerable wisdom in what it takes to build a thriving movement. An abridged version of Jim Sylvester’s epic source material on how to do College Ministry. Principles God Honors, the original, is 134 pages of wisdom on how to build a movement that will reach an entire campus with the gospel. Building Movements on a Staffed Campus is 8 pages and a great introduction to this phenomenal material.
    • Two shorter adaptions of Jim’s wisdom:
      • Going from 20 to 200 – Bob Fuh’s shorter and easier to read version of Jim’s principles. 5 principles to grow a small ministry into a thriving movement. This one might be better to read with your team or students than Jim’s.
      • Brian McCollister offers a slightly different take on the same principles here.
  • Hearing the Music Of the Gospel – a longer article but so good. Are you carried along by the rhythm of God’s Spirit through his Word or doing the mechanical dance steps of behavioral change? This is a good one to have your team read over an hour of time with God and then come back and discuss as a team.
  • Empowering Staff thru Staff Jobs– great wisdom from Eric Swanson on empowering staff to lead as directors. This fall we just quoted from this article and used the ideas as we communicated to our team on staff jobs – but a great read for team leaders.
    • “Each job is “director level” in that the other staff are subordinate to him or her in this area.”
    • “Each job is “owned” by the staff in charge and is autonomous in its responsibility. If the staff does not carry it out or motivate others to do so, it simply doesn’t get done. No one bails him or her out.”
    • Each staff is expected to be an “expert” in his/her job. He needs to read books, articles, magazines, listen to talks, and interact with other staff from other campus to develop expertise. He or she becomes a resource for the other staff in their area of expertise. You and the other staff may be purposefully ignorant: “I don’t know, but Rabs is the expert in that area.”

What are some of your favorite articles?

I was recently looking over some notes from a talk given by my friend Brian McCollister, a national director with Cru and a guru on how to build a college ministry.

He asserts that, in college ministry, the two most important days of the year are:

  • The first day of school
  • The first day of fall retreat

CalendarThe First Day of School

Really, it’s whatever day you do your big push to do as many spiritual interest surveys as possible. So for us, it’s actually the second and third day of school. On that Tuesday and Wednesday we do around 4,000 spiritual interest surveys (in exchange for a a free Chick-fil-A sandwich card). Why Tuesday and Wednesday? Because our first Cru meeting of the year is on Tuesday and all of our freshmen Bible studies (in every dorm) are on Wednesday. All 4,000 students who fill out a survey get a brochure (about Cru), a flier (with first week events on it), and a personal invitation from a student. Click here for more ideas on what the first week looks like.

The First Day of Fall Retreat

“The second most important day of the year is the first day of our Fall Retreat.  Why is it so important?  Because it is then that you find out how well you have done in the first six weeks.  If there are a lot of enthusiastic freshmen and a lot of tired but eager upperclassmen, then you have done well.  You can enjoy the weekend!  And you have just greatly increased the number of potential laborers in the Harvest.  You have great momentum and can focus great energy on reaching lost students on your campus.”

What do you think? What are your most important days of the year?

And, more importantly, are you investing your resources (time/money/leaders) in a way that reflects their importance?


image courtesy of Dafne Cholet

Fall Retreat Brochures

July 16, 2014 — 5 Comments

Fall Retreat Profile Picture

Just wanted to share the past few years of brochures/branding for Fall Retreat for anyone to use. No sense making your own stuff if you can use ours!

For each brochure design, there are also name tags, programs, powerpoint slides, Facebook stuff, websites, etc. that you can have (just comment and tell me which one you want stuff for).

If you need help, just leave a comment and I will give you more details (on how to print them – linen cardstock, cut to bleed, etc). We print the brochures at a local print shop and they look very professional (full bleed, scored down the middle). They end up costing around 25 cents each.

You’ll have to have Photoshop to adapt them for your campus – or if you ask real nice, I bet our campus could edit them for you with your info and send you a PDF.

Would love to see any designs you have been pleased with – that you’ve used for retreats or other events.

Link or share them in the comments.


2013 (bi-fold brochure)

photoshop inside – photoshop outside

Fall Retreat 2013 Outside final2


FR 13 inside final

design idea from Abduzeedo

2011 (bi-fold brochure)

photoshop inside – photoshop outside

graphic via the amazing church website: Stuff I Can Use

2010 (bi-fold)

photoshop inside – photoshop outside

unfortunately I can’t recall where I found those two pictures or I would give credit!

2009 (vertical bi-fold)

photoshop inside – photoshop outside

unfortunately I can’t recall where I found the background textures or I would give credit!

2008 (accordian z-fold)

photoshop inside – photoshop outside

colored circle image from

2014 is half over and here’s my top 5 albums of 2014 so far and my favorite songs.

Top 5 Albums of 2014 (so far)

Click to open in Spotify

  1. Lykke Li – “I Never Learn”
  2. Sohn – “Tremors
  3. Phantogram – “Voices”
  4. Bombay Bicycle Club – “So Long, See You Tomorrow”
  5. Wye Oak – “Shriek”

Not a bad year for women in indie music – 3 of my 5 top albums. And St. Vincent is many folks’ #1 album – though I couldn’t get into it. Much preferred her last release.


Top Songs of 2014 (so far)

Click to play in Spotify


If you want to dig deeper into some good music, here’s a list of my Spotify playlists for each month so far (anywhere from 20-50 songs/month):

Would love to hear what you’re listening to.

What have been your favorite albums and songs of 2014 so far?