Archives For Reaching Freshmen

This year we are totally restructuring our Community Group system.

For decades we’ve had a pretty typical model – Freshmen studies, Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors.

From talking to Florida Cru, we really liked how their small groups are structured (with 650 students involved in 50 Community Groups, they must be doing something right!):

  • Intergenerational studies (freshman-senior all together)
  • Every group has a target area
    • A lot of them are dorms (80%)
      • The whole Community Group focuses on that dorm all year
      • Most will meet on campus in the dorms every week
    • Others are formed around affinity groups: Epic, Marching Band, Bridges, Greek, AIA teams, Majors (Kinesiology, etc)
  • Freshmen Groups meet for first 6 weeks then gets absorbed into an intergenerational Community Group
    • Freshman and CG’s meet at the same time and night

Intergenerational Community GroupsA few things we really like:

  • Our students leaders will just be in one Bible study – currently, all of our leaders are in a study AND also lead a study.
    • It looks more like life after college (mostly in that you are just in one study – even if you leading it, you can still grow from the community and be challenged by the Word as you process it together)
  • Everyone is engaged in pursuing freshmen (or other affinity group)
  • It makes it easier for students to invite their friends from their classes to the study they’re leading (because it’s not just for freshmen)

For us, what really prompted the change is that in the past few years are number of CG leaders has dramatically increased (like 4x as many), but the number of students in CG has not grown much. We want to be more effective in helping as many students as possible to experience life change through Community Groups.

Specifics on how the leadership of the groups is structured:

CG Coach (usually seniors)

  • Primary job= Coaching their 4 CG Leaders
    • Coach the CG they’re in as well as one other CG
    • Two separate coaching appts/month
      • With the 2 CG leaders  from their study & then 2 CG leaders from the other study they coach
  • Just show up to CG – Don’t necessarily lead – can lead in vision and mission and shepherding the group, but not the content and details of the group
  • Why Seniors?Wisdom and Experience

CG Leader (usually Juniors)

  • Primary Jobs= pursuing upperclassmen and leading the Community Group
    • in Content of the study
    • to stay on Mission (e.g.- reaching the Quads and upperclassmen peers)
      • set direction and plan details of outreach
  • Why Juniors?
    • Experienced leaders but not as much future pressures as seniors (not as focused on post-graduation yet)
    • More focused on what areas they desire to make an impact in while in college

Freshmen Leader (usually sophomores/first time leaders)

  • Primary Jobs= pursuing freshmen all year and being trained to lead CG next year
  • Lead the first 6 weeks of freshmen studies
  • Focus on freshmen throughout the year – connecting them to the Cru movement, doing follow ups, relationally pursuing them all year
  • Why Sophomores or First Time Leaders?
    • most connected relationally to on-campus
    • most excited and passionate, energy
    • Closest to just have gone through what it’s like to have been a freshmen (sophomores)

We’re hoping it gives sophomores a trial run at leading so they will be really effective leaders their junior year. And it gives our seniors a crucial role (instead of slowly fading out).

Here’s a one page summary of the intergenerational model.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes for us this fall!

What are your thoughts on this intergenerational model?



This is a great short video that explains Mission Hub – an app developed by Cru to make it easier to organize your thousands of spiritually interested contacts. As I explained in Leveraging Technology to Further the Mission, MissionHub has been an invaluable tool for us in making sure no students fall through the cracks.

To get your organization started on MissionHub (for non-Cru folks), just contact

Thanks Ryan McReynolds and the MissionHub team for putting this video together!

After you get thousands of contact cards, what do you do with them?

Alan Mitchell tweeted to me on Friday:

freshmen in dorm room

Question 1: How soon do you start following up?

  • We start immediately. We do the majority of our surveys on Tuesday and Wednesday the first week of class – timed to coincided with our first Cru meeting of the year (on Tuesday) and our freshmen Bible studies in every dorm (on Wednesday). So as they are filling out the survey on Tuesday, we are inviting them to the Cru meeting that night.
  • On Wednesday we get as many student leaders together as possible for a Follow Up Party at 6pm. We feed them dinner and split into groups to pray for the freshmen. Then we hand each dorm (students leading freshmen studies in each dorm) a printout of everyone who checked “I want more info about a Bible study”. The students then call and text everyone on that list and invite them to the freshmen Bible study in their dorm that night at 8pm. At 7pm the students go (with a freshmen escort they’ve met during move-in week) into the dorms and knock on doors of everyone that checked “yes – Bible study” (as well as inviting anyone with their door open).
  • After that initial Tuesday/Wednesday push we spend every afternoon as a staff team in the dorms calling and getting appointments.

Question 2: How do you follow up with them?

Last week, Chris McKinney – Cru MTL (Missional Team Leader) at Mizzou – emailed along the lines of Alan’s second question:

We have had a really hard time getting appointments from cards. Even from the “Yes, Yes, Yes” ones. We text them, email, then text again and try and stop by their dorms. I’m hoping maybe MissionHub will help and it’s been a card organization thing
but I’m kinda stumped. We do about 2000 freshmen surveys at tables so we have a lot. 

I feel like it could be the evidence of a changing culture but also want to see what you’ve experienced and what works well for you. It’s to the point where we celebrate just getting an appointment.

Our team has had similar troubles and have experimented a lot. Let’s pool our wisdom – I’d love to hear what’s working for your teams (in the comments).

Here’s what we’ve come up with on our campus (with pretty good success).

Overall Goals in Follow up

  • Train leaders to do future follow-up (multiplication)
    • Staff do what we are good at – initiate and boldly share the gospel. So our first priority (more important than getting to the freshmen) is actually modeling to our student leaders how to do a follow up (AND how to set up an appointment by boldly making phone calls) so they can then do follow ups on their own and train other students.
    • We then pass off key contacts to students who are good pursuers. As we pair up with student leaders to follow up, the student leaders take the relational baton and are the ones relationally pursuing after the first follow up.
  • Share the Gospel with everyone we meet with (Either they don’t know Jesus or they’re a legit Christian and they want to know about Cru and here is the essence of what we are about)
  • Relationally connect new students to the movement and ultimate goal= get them in a Bible study
    • Getting them in a Bible study usually happens after several more relational touchpoint


Making the Call

  • Be bold, assume they want to meet with us (in how we talk to them)
  • Missed call, then send text and tell them you’ll call later (don’t leave a voicemail).
  • Sample:
    • “Hey is this John? Alright cool well this is Erik with Cru. I’m calling because you filled out one of our survey cards at the Chick-fil-A table. Do you remember doing that? Cool well on that card you said that you wanted more info about a Bible study. Are you around right now – I’m in the lobby and would love to grab 15 minutes with you.”
    • If no (insert lame excuse- “nah, I have a class in 40 minutes. I have to take a nap…”) – “OK- I will be on campus tomorrow afternoon and Wednesday. Which one works better for you? Sounds good I will see you then.”


General Tips

  • Go in pairs – always take a student with you
  • After modeling it with a student leader, challenge them to take another student tomorrow to do follow up
  • Smile- remember their name
  • Be confident- it’s only as awkward as you make it (you’re setting the norm for their college experience. Everyone in college talks about God!)
  • Have the student leader set up a second “appointment” – basketball tomorrow, “I’ll pick you up for Cru on Tuesday”, “we’re going caving this weekend – want to go?”

You can download our Follow Up Cheat Sheet. It has everything listed above, as well as what we actually say on the appointment (too much content to share here!). Feel free to edit that Word document and make it your own.

I’d love to hear what’s working for your teams – how do you get face to face with freshmen?


image courtesy of Zach Dunn

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?


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

shuttle launchI often get asked the question – if most of what you do is focus on freshmen do upperclassmen feel neglected (see this recent post on reaching freshmen over at Campus Ministry Toolbox)?

The answer is sometimes “yes” but it should always be “no”.

Yes, we have upperclassmen lament that they feel overlooked. And sometimes they are right. One of our goals this fall is to really invest in our upperclassmen Bible Studies because we DO feel like we have neglected those.

But here’s the thing: in reaching freshmen, we ARE developing upperclassmen in the most strategic way possible. Upperclassmen are getting an opportunity to lead and be developed and be stretched in ways that will pay dividends for decades to come.

What’s missing? Clear communication.

We need to help upperclassmen see that their primary need is not for “me-time” where we exclusively focus on them (see When Can Discipleship Actually Be a Bad Thing). They need to be pushed out of the nest to focus on others and be trained as a laborer for Christ.

Upperclassmen do need personal attention focused on their walks with God (first and foremost). But they also need help in becoming an adult which = the glad assumption of responsibility. And they need to take responsibility for the greatest need in the world – bringing the good news of Christ to the ends of the earth.

For us, that means communicating over and over to upperclassmen how they are benefiting from this indispensable training they are getting. Even though it may FEEL like you’re not the primary focus, in reaching others YOU are being developed.

The biggest “win” in our focus on reaching freshmen is probably that hundreds of upperclassmen are getting to taste the life-changing experience of being used by God to change another person’s life.

By reaching freshmen we are training up a new generation of laborers. And we want those freshmen being reached to turn the corner as quickly as possible: from being reached to reaching.

What do you think? Agree/Disagree?



table at cru2This is a snapshot of the transition we want every freshmen to make (and a true story):

It was John’s first week of school, and as he walked into the dorm cafeteria he passed a table where an upperclassmen with Cru offered, “Free Chick-fil-A if you fill out a quick survey!”

John took a minute to fill out the spiritual interest survey and went about his day.

A few days later a couple upperclassmen knocked on his door: They shared the gospel with John and ended with – “we lead a Bible study here in the Quads and would love for you to come tonight”. John started going to the study, went on Fall Retreat and started going to the bi-monthly Cru Leadership.

As he started the spring semester, John found himself again in front of the dorm cafeteria at a survey table. This time, he was on the other side of the table asking his fellow freshmen to fill out a quick survey (and later that week following up with them, sharing the gospel with them, and inviting them to the Bible study he was in).

[side note: we don’t usually do surveys in the spring but did in this case because they were trying to relaunch a struggling dorm Bible study]

John made the comment to one of the Cru leaders – “it’s crazy how just a semester ago I was the one being reached and now I am the one reaching out.”

Since that comment “getting freshmen to move behind the table” has become our mantra.

We want freshmen to quickly move from being reached to reaching others.

A few ways we do that:

  • Immediately involving them in follow up:
    • As you meet with a freshman during the first week of school and discover that they are a solid, missional believer challenge them to go do follow-ups with you.
    • They can just watch the first few appointments and then start owning more and more of the gospel conversation.
    • On our campus you cannot go into the dorms without a resident escort. Having a freshman resident go do follow ups with you is a door opener.
  • Use Biblical content (we use Gospel Centered Life) in their freshmen Bible study that helps them:
    1. Understand, for themselves, the radical message of the gospel (usually for the first time)
    2. Understand the Great Commission and their role in it
  • Talk often about your Community Group being a missional community, placed in the dorm to reach the dorm.
    • Challenge freshmen to invite their roommates, classmates, students on their hall.
    • As a study, brainstorm together how to reach more freshmen.
  • Giving them early opportunities to lead:
    • Every fall we have a Barn Dance outreach that is exclusively planned by a team of freshmen
    • We encourage them to lead on our “Cru Serves” team and to lead prayer movements.
    • By late fall start talking to them about leading a Freshman Bible Study next fall (so they start looking for opportunities to get experience as a leader – like leading content one week in their own Study)


What are some ways that you help Freshmen move behind the table?


On my Stuff You Can Use for the First Week on Campus post (which has spiritual interest surveys, fliers, brochures, and other free & helpful stuff on it), a recent commenter, Ron Cram, wanted more details on how we do spiritual interest surveys. And since I love data analysis I couldn’t resist sharing what the data tells us.

I think it’s pretty interesting to see what correlation there is between

  • number of surveys done the first week of school AND
  • number of freshmen that actually get involved (in Bible studies)


So here’s Ron’s comments/questions and my answers:

Tim, I am interested in an analysis of the data on the card. It sounds like you got 3000 students to complete the card…

We do about 3000 surveys over the first few weeks at various events. The stats below reflect the 2500 surveys we do at tables we set up outside of dorm cafeterias on the second and third day of class. Why not the first day? Because our Cru meeting is on Tuesday, and Dorm Studies on Wednesday. When we do a survey with them we give them a “Free Chick-fil-A Sandwich” card and a flyer for Cru and Dorm Bible Studies (and we say, “you should join us tonight at Cru/Bible Study”)

How many of them indicated an interest in Cru?

1 Minute Questionnaire

Click to see full size

To download a Photoshop file you can edit to use on your campus, click here.

We don’t keep stats specifically on each question because it doesn’t affect how we do follow up. We follow up anyone who checks “yes” on either question.

70% of students checked “yes” on one of the two questions.

30% of the respondents answered “no-no”. Not interested in Cru nor Bible studies (we don’t follow them up at all).

Here’s the breakdown of how they answered:

“How interested are you in exploring spiritual matters in college (1- not interested 5= very interested)?”

1 = 7%
2 = 13%
3 = 29%
4 = 21%
5 = 24%
No answer = 6%

So on our campus, about 25% of students are not interested in spiritual things. 75% are at least mildly interested. How does that compare to your campus?

How many actually got involved?

We noticed this a few years ago: it’s not important how many spiritual surveys we do, as long as we’re doing enough to have a plenty big pool of contacts to follow up (I’d say around 1000-1500). Doing more surveys does not result in more freshmen getting involved (at least for us).

That being said, we do feel that it is good to do surveys with as many freshmen as possible for several reasons:

      • Every person we do a survey with, we get face to face with and invite them verbally and with a flier to a Cru event. And they get something free (Chick-fil-A card or sunglasses) – hopefully a very positive first experience with Cru.
      • If we can do surveys with a high percentage of the freshmen class, we have a baseline understanding of where A LOT of students are at spiritually. As we bump into students later in the year (or the next 4), we can quickly look them up on Mission Hub and know “Michael was not very interested in spiritual things at all in August 2012 – he put 1-yes-no. Joey Smith met with him and invited him to a Bible study but he never came” 

Here’s what our stats showed us:

surveys vs freshmen involved

You notice from 2008 to 2009 we doubled the number of surveys we did. But it has zero impact on getting more freshmen involved.

Here’s what matters and causes more freshmen to get involved:

    1. Having more student Community Group leaders. You can see how the growth in Freshmen in studies correlates with (and I would say is caused by):

      study leaders

    2. The quality and thoroughness of follow up


How many people (staff or students) were involved in collecting this data? How long did it take? Was it all done in one day?

We do tables for two days at five locations (4 dorm cafeterias and the Union) from 11am-1pm and 5-6:30pm.

Our 10 staff are at the tables both days at lunch. Students are present at the tables for both lunch and dinner. I would guess that we have 30 students at lunch and 30 at dinner each day. Maybe a total of 50-75 helping during the two days?

Right after we collect all the cards we divvy up the cards among students and they enter in the information into Mission Hub. I have no idea how long that takes. I would guess 5 hours for about 20 students?

We also do spiritual interest surveys at two big freshmen cookouts during move-in week, a midnight “Frisbees and Flapjacks” event, and our Cru meetings.


Hopefully that data/information is helpful for you as think through a gameplan for getting in contact with (and reaching!) freshmen in the Fall.

Would love to hear from you what you have seen on your campus – what has resulted in you getting more freshmen involved?