Reaching a Campus

Youth workers constantly ask me, “How do I get on-campus at a public school?”

In my Connect workshops I always ask youth workers this question: “How many of you go on campus regularly and try to get to know unchurched kids?” “How many have ever done this?”

A few hands trickle up… usually less than 10 percent of the crowd.

As we talk about the subject more in the workshop, I find that this fact isn’t necessarily because youth workers don’t want to… a lot of it is they don’t know how.

In my book GETTING STUDENTS TO SHOW UP I devote a whole chapter to campus minsitry, and in my book CONNECT  I spend quite a few chapters walking through the process of meeting “unchurched kids” on their turf. We provide a few articles and podcasts on the subject as well on our website- talking about the process. Even still, we are asked the question frequently: “How can I get on campus?”

Todd Pearage, one of our THE SOURCE team members, answered that question in an email recently and I wanted to share one of his stories with you:

Four years ago I arrived at a new church in a new area and one of the first things I did was make an appointment with the school superintendent. I went in dressed professionally and introduced myself. After a few minutes of small talk he asked what he could do for me. (He was a bottom line kind of guy – most administrators are because of their busy schedules). At that point I said, “Absolutely nothing, I just wanted to say hello, introduce myself and let you know if there is anything I or my church can ever do for you or the district, please let me know”.

I expected him to give me the ol’ thank you, don’t call us, we’ll call you speech. But something amazing happened. He sat there, looking at me. Then he leaned back in his chair looked me right in the eyes and said, “Todd I’ve been doing this job for over 35 years and you are the first youth pastor, pastor, priest or clergymen that has ever walked in here and NOT asked for something”. With that he shook my hand and said, “I’m looking forward to getting to know you”

That conversation was the first of many. So as you go in to that meeting think about how you can serve the school, not how they can serve you.

I hope that’s a small help.

Todd

Keep up the good work!

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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7 Responses to Reaching a Campus

  1. Patrick Garrett says:

    I have to agree with Tood, my experieince in the local school went just as well…they principal is pleased to have us there and we are always invited to the thigns with staff and parnts too.
    Service speaks louder than having our hand out.

  2. Kevin Becht says:

    AMEN! When I arrived in a community in Ohio more than 15 years ago I was told by youth pastors that I would never be able to get on campus. Serving the campus opened up an opportunity to facilitate “support groups” for students whose families were going through a divorce. I was on that “closed” campus 3 days a week! (ironically, the story was that the campus was closed because a youth pastor would take off his hat when the principal asked him to because he “wasn’t a student.”)

  3. It’s good to hear that you guys are serving your local campus. My church was actually just asked by a local principal, “Please, can you send some people to help on campus.”

    A great opportunity.

  4. Sean H says:

    Todd story is a great one. In my small town in TX they only allow parents and grandparents in the school during school hours, so getting on campus has been challenging. But what I have found is to be on campus through other activities…award nights, band concerts, SYATP, FCA, or even coming up to the school to talk to teachers. Just seeing their student minister there often goes along way to building new relationships. Dont give up!!

  5. Erin says:

    As a long time Young Life leader, I have tried to get on quite a few Middle School and High School campuses in California. I completely agree that if we all take up the attitude of wanting to help and serve, we will be on closed campuses, even those in the strictest neighborhoods. (Don’t forget to go through the proper channels: fill out an application, get your TB test, get fingerprinted and always get a visitor’s badge.)

    GET ON THE PTA EMAIL LIST ASAP! They practically beg for help on campus. Some things I have found that schools are looking for: tutors, community service help, chaperones for dances or field trips, classroom assistance, school supplies, every 15 minutes, etc.

    One thing that I beg you, youth workers, if you go on campus, please go in order to greet, smile at, meet, and learn the names of non-churched students. I have watched youth pastors fly by students who are craving positive adult interaction to the students that they saw at youth group last night. We know those students. We know how to get ahold of them. We know how to take them to a game or coffee. We frequently underestimate how a pleasant hello might change the day of a student who is just dying inside. Those students are everywhere.

  6. Thanks Sean and Erin… great ideas!

  7. Cassie says:

    A few helpful things that have worked for our ministry:

    Last year, our church realized that a huge need in our area public schools was tutors. We set up a weekly tutoring program that equipped adults to go into schools once or twice a week to tutor in individual classrooms.

    Now in our second year, we have around 50 tutors who serve our schools–it has opened incredible doors.

    This spring, a middle school student commmitted suicide and the news devastated her entire middle school. Since we had been a trusted presence in our community, I immediately went over and helped counsel kids all day.

    After school, we hosted an open “Hang Time” where students could come and have a safe place to pray, talk, meet with a counselor, or just hang with other kids. Several area pastors, counselors, and our small group leaders showed up to help out. We had the information out on Facebook, in texts, and through our leaders–the school itself announced it at the end of the day.

    We had hundreds of grieving unchurched kids pour into our school. Many have come back to events at our church in the ensuing months.

    Being there for that school in that time of crisis truly opened the door for us to partner with our public schools in amazing ways. I go in and stay through the lunch periods to eat lunch with our middle school students weekly, and I now have a great relationship with not only the principals but several of the teachers and lunch staff (I help them clean the tables in between lunch groups–a simple but powerful statement of service!).

    Since then, we’ve jumped at the opportunity to host many events at our campus (concerts, fundraisers and benefits, etc.) We’ve seen amazing fruit from this partnership!

    I do agree–the best way to start is to go in with a very humble, Christ-like attitude. Administrators take notice of this, and it seems that most are more than willing to have caring, experienced adults teaming up with their schools.