Which Yields More Laborers: Academically Elite Schools or Party Schools?

May 20, 2015 — Leave a comment


This is the part 1 in a series of posts summarizing key findings from researching 17 of Cru’s Top Sending Campuses in the nation.

See the intro for a full list of all the campuses profiled (and links to each).

How important are campus dynamics?

One of my theories going into researching the Top Sending Campuses was that campus dynamics are very important – that it’s easier to send from a Midwestern State than it is from Northwestern.

So is it easier to send from a less academically rigorous school where most students don’t have specific plans already for post-college? The answer is yes it’s easier, but not necessarily more fruitful.

Let me explain.

The reality is that it IS easier to send from the big state school that’s not academically rigorous. My alma mater Texas Tech and current ministry location – University of Arkansas would fall into this category. And God has used these schools to produce many laborers. I heard from many schools (see Cal State Chico, Missouri State, Oklahoma State) thoughts along these lines:

  • We’re a state school – anyone can get into it
  • Students are here because they wanted to party or they didn’t get into their #1 school because of grades or they did not have a plan for their life – they have no clue
  • Students have no career plan
  • Not a lot of our students are doing summer internships, a lot of them are doing victory laps (5th year)
  • It gives us the ability with a clean slate to cast vision for Summer Missions, Internship, and STINT

But here’s the thing: it may be easier to send from less academically rigorous schools, but that doesn’t mean those schools end up being more fruitful (in terms of numerical sending). Just taking a rough look at the Top 25 Sending Schools in Cru, it’s pretty evenly split between elite schools and “easier” school.

I was really surprised by that – that half of the best sending schools are academically rigorous schools (see Northwestern, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio State – others I didn’t interview include UCLA, UNC Chapel Hill, Boston). Here’s why:

  • Elite schools can actually be incredibly fruitful despite the challenges because they ARE challenging. Elite schools are filled with leaders. Leaders respond to challenges. They may already have huge plans for life post-college. But once Christ gets a hold of their life, they develop huge plans for Christ. Students at academically rigorous (and often very secular) schools have to count the costs early on and decide to truly follow Jesus. They often instantly face persecution from classmates, parents, and professors. They have decided that Jesus is worthy of their lives.

Kim Johnson (Cru Team Leader at Northwestern) has some wisdom on sending from elite schools (and I heard similar things from the team at the very liberal University of Wisconsin):

  • You have to get it out of your thinking that “it’s just different here”
  • You can’t go in with the mentality that it won’t work here – you’re lowering your faith – “Oh, my students are different so it just won’t happen here”
  • You have to look at it – “Oh, I have more potential than other campuses because once they buy in, they’re all in”
  • We’re at an advantage at an academic school, because if they really make Jesus Lord of their life they’ve bought all in
  • Getting them on Summer Mission is huge – seeing other campuses – that this is normal

If you you do college ministry at an elite school, you should read the full posts on Northwestern and University of Wisconsin


For those of us on state schools that are less academically rigorous, what is the takeaway? For me it’s pretty challenging and inspiring to hear what elite students are “giving up” to go into full time ministry. A few random thoughts:

  • It makes me think we are underperforming in the area of sending. We need to step our game up. We have an incredible stewardship and opportunity that many of our students ARE a blank slate coming into college with no clear career plan. Friends on Cru staff at Harvard tell me how they have students involved who since they were 6 have wanted to go to Harvard and become a doctor. On our campus, most of our students are lucky if they know what they’re going to do this weekend. We can be and should be a pipeline for sending out hundreds of laborers.
  • I think it’s sometimes the case that some students from easier schools will go into full time ministry because they really don’t many other options. They’re not super ambitious and so they kind of back into full time ministry. Raising support is a great filter because it tests this crowd and their determination and initiative and faith.
  • Our staff need to pursue the “elite” students on our campus. The ones who ARE getting multiple job offers. We want the best and brightest to join us in full time ministry. I think we often gravitate toward “easy targets”. We buy into lies- “Well, she’s got a 6 figure offer from Google. She’s so smart, I’d hate for her to pass up that opportunity.” “He’s got a 4.0, and a free ride in grad school, I don’t want to ask him”. What do we believe about our jobs (full time ministry) when we see it as “less than”? We don’t REALLY believe that we’re offering an incredible opportunity to be a part of fulfilling the Great Commission. We need brilliant leaders to solve the greatest problem in the world – how do we get the good news of Jesus to every corner of the world?

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Whether you serve on an elite campus or the biggest party school in America, I’d love to hear your thoughts and learn from your experience.


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