Living in the Future of College Ministry

Review of Stephen Lutz’ new ebook


Go read Stephen Lutz’ new ebook The Future of College Ministry. It’s short (10,000 words and 30 pages), free, and insightful. The first third is an update of his 2010 book College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture, in which he re-examines his earlier predictions. The next section presents competing metaphors for understanding how college ministry will respond to the challenges and threats developing and anticipated. The final section is a list of the 7 points of greatest vulnerability for college ministries, with corresponding suggestions for becoming “antifragile”—which he defines. I’m not going to give away any of the content at all. I’ll restrict myself to this cursory glance at the structure, because you should read the book yourself. What part of short and free didn’t you understand? The last section is the most valuable because Lutz pretty much nails it (except for #5, but my critique is too long a discussion for this post). What makes it remarkable is that he’s describing how my church has been working in the college ministry sphere for decades. I wonder if Lutz understands the implications of what he is saying.

  • Anti-institutional. By my read, Lutz has advanced an anti-institutional manifesto. His suggestions are bad for business as usual in the college parachurch institutions (e.g., Cru, Intervarsity) and the church denominations (see also Benson Hines’ Reaching the Campus Tribes for an indictment of the institutional church’s apathy and neglect). Ministries that rely on professional adult leaders organizing programs and performances in church buildings and large reserved auditoriums are the most endangered by both the threats and solutions he describes. Well, I drank that cool-aid almost 20 years ago, and I was late to the party! His solutions would be easily realized in a house church planting movement that focuses on discipleship, body life, and hordes of indigenous leaders. In a way, it recalls Wesley’s early Methodism. To see this happening in college ministry in real life, check out Xenos Christian Fellowship in NE Ohio or Columbus (unless your time machine can dial in an example from the Jesus Freak years).
  • De-coupling ministry from the American educational system. If Lutz is right, then college ministry will be less connected to and dependent on institutions of Higher Education in the United States. I think this should be taken even further. American youth (and adult) ministry categories are defined by the educational system, and although this is not arbitrary it is somewhat of an unexamined mandate. I understand that kids organize and perceive themselves through the hierarchical grid of grade cohorts (e.g., junior high, high school), but by the time they reach college they’ve entered “emerging adulthood” which lasts from about 18 until perhaps 30. They do not all attend a residential college campus: that is now the minority. Why not adjust ministry models to reflect the developmental trajectory rather than the academic aspirations of America’s youth? Many of the “students” in our “college ministry” are not in college at all. And many “college students” themselves are “non-traditional” in terms of being older, employed full-time, and commuting. The national graduation rate is only about 50%. Why allow up to half of your group to exit the flock just because they aren’t persisting in their education? Furthermore, most parachurch college ministries have absolutely no plan for the transition from college to adulthood. All this underscores the potential in Lutz’ suggestions because they lend themselves to ignoring the “student status” of the emerging adults, or at least allowing that not to define college ministry.

So if you are interested in college ministry, go read Stephen Lutz’ new ebook The Future of College Ministry. He suggests adopting his suggestions cautiously, perhaps one at a time. I suggest using them as a blueprint to overhaul your entire approach. After all, we’re living in the future.

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