Conference Leaders Work to Strengthen Collegiate Ministry
Fundraising for campus ministries, board development, and how churches can help students and families prepare for and choose a college were among the topics at a gathering of annual conference Boards of Higher Education and Campus Ministry and conference higher education staff.
Ross Loomis, a member of the Rocky Mountain BHECM, said he got a number of ideas for evaluating campus ministries and also learned more about the need to communicate with and about the United Methodist-related university in the conference, the University of Denver.
“Lots of specific ideas were given out for doing ministry. For example, understanding how ministry on a community college campus is different from ministry in a four-year university setting,” Loomis said.
A dozen evaluation methods used by different annual conferences were distributed for comparison, said the Rev. Michael McCord, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s director of Collegiate Ministry Resources and Training.
“Identifying ways to measure the effectiveness of collegiate ministry is important, especially with the increased focus on metrics,” McCord said.
McCord said the most important goal of the meeting in Nashville on Oct. 18-19 was networking, so that members of conference Boards of Higher Education and Campus Ministry could compare best practices and share resources.
The Rev. Sue D’Alessio, director of Leadership for the Cal-Pac Conference, found it helpful to learn about the scope, responsibilities, and authority of her role as the conference staff responsible for oversight of campus ministries.
“I learned a great deal from others about ways they are approaching campus ministry and its challenges and blessings,” D’Alessio said. While fundraising was clearly an issue for many campus ministries, she said all the issues are so intertwined.
“Finance challenges are the symptom of not having a clear enough message which is not being communicated effectively enough either to prospective students or to parents or to the conference and churches,” D’Alessio said. “These challenges are also exacerbated by the culture where religion doesn’t have as much prominence, where young people are inundated with information—and we don’t know how to break through to gain their attention—and on and on.”
McCord said most campus ministers have to raise at least half of their budget. He said in addition to fundraising resources already available from GBHEM, Webinars about fundraising are planned for next year.
In June, GBHEM will offer training for new campus ministers in Chicago, and the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association will offer training in July in Denver.
Most of the BHECM leaders said they have focused on campus ministries and are less clear about their role with United Methodist-related schools, colleges, and universities. One session focused on the importance of the church presence as students and families are making decisions about college, said Melanie Overton, assistant general secretary of Schools, Colleges, and Universities for GBHEM’s Division of Higher Education.
The group looked at recent research from the Higher Education Research Institute that indicates the ideal environment for faith development is a campus that provides a strong liberal arts curriculum with courses in religion and philosophy, opportunities for community service, mission, and study abroad, and encouragement from faculty to explore questions of meaning and purpose.
“As I work with the University Senate to evaluate United Methodist-related schools, I have been struck by how consistently our schools are providing this ideal environment,” Overton said. “In contrast to many other types of colleges and universities, students at UM-related schools frequently report being encouraged by their professors to explore questions of meaning and purpose.”
Several members of the BHECM said it would be helpful to have a set of expectations for members of the annual conference boards and Wesley Foundation boards.
The Rev. Keith Forkey, a BHECM member in West Virginia, said the West Virginia board is cutting back on meetings in favor of teleconferencing. “We save $6,000 not doing face-to-face meetings, and we put that money into new campus ministry.”
The Rev. David Fuquay, director of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, in the Florida Conference, told the group about Florida’s strategic planning efforts to launch new campus ministries.
“Local boards have been our weakness,” he said. “Campus ministers have no training in building a nonprofit board.”
Fuquay said closing a campus ministry actually turned out to be a good advocacy move. “We were willing to say we have a standard that must be met,” he said.
One thing Florida does not have is a local church-based campus ministry because the churches that are interested in doing campus ministry are near campuses that have active Wesley Foundations or campus ministries.
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.