If it’s true that the big attracts and the small keeps, our ministries must be good at doing it big and making it feel small. I won’t spend time in this short article arguing why large group meetings for your college or student ministry are so important. Instead, I want to jump right into some practical things to consider in order to pull off your large group gathering.
- Welcome Wildly
What happens before your large group meeting sets the stage for what people will experience at your large group meeting. If the first person a student interacts with is the speaker on stage or the worship leader singing in front of a crowd, then you have missed a significant opportunity for ministry. Put priority on training a welcome team that will greet folks outside the venue and make people feel welcome from the street to their seat. Many student ministry spaces are tucked well within a church campus. Don’t expect visitors to find it without help from a welcome team of their peers.
- Plan for Visitors
Always plan for an overwhelming number of visitors, both in how you invite and in how you prep. Greet visitors at the door, from the stage, and after the service. Consider offering a small gift to every visitor in the room (link this with follow-up by making the gift a free coffee on you). Coach whoever is speaking on not using Christian jargon (walk the aisle, accept Jesus in my heart, etc.). Don’t use insider language or call back to events or experiences that not everyone in the room was at. Develop a culture where everyone wears a nametag. It helps you interact with visitors, and it helps visitors jump into relationships faster.
- Make it Fun
In what ways can you add fun elements to the service? Consider doing a pre-service game or video. Use technology to get feedback from the crowd and interact with it. Your service can and should be every bit as exciting and engaging as any other event these students go to.
- Develop a Strategy for Personal Follow-Up
Your follow-up begins before the large group ever starts. Plan on how you will get information to follow up with new people. I’m a big fan of everyone checking into service every week, in our ministry we use a service called Breeze. Someone needs to know everyone in the room and have a strategy to follow-up with them. Do you know which students came to your kickoff service and have not been back? Do you know which students haven’t missed a single large group gathering? You should, because if you don’t no one else does. Call or text every new person who comes to your service within 20 hours of them coming.
- Put the Right People on Stage
There are only two people in the room who everyone feels like they know: the person leading worship and the person speaking. Those two people need to be some of the most engaging in the room. Don’t let a student think your whole ministry is stand-offish because the speaker or worship leader is not willing to hang out and interact with the crowd before and after service.
- Help People Linger Longer
First, don’t let your service go on forever. If your large group is unnecessarily long, people will hesitate to come if they don’t know when they can leave. Second, help people linger after service. Offer snacks or yard games or something that will help people spend time together and form relationships after your large group ends. People who don’t stay long don’t stick long. Have your large group end in a timely way so that people can choose to stay rather than feel rushed to leave.
- Let Students Respond
Do not let students leave without having a clear opportunity to respond to what God is doing in their lives. This can happen in a host of ways: through a response card, during an invitation, in small groups or through you personally texting every student after service asking what God is doing in their lives.
A few bonus tidbits:
- I personally think many college ministry leaders spend too much time planning sermons that last too long. Some spend 15+ hours planning a message. Instead, spend 5 hours planning a message that will be half as long and spend 10 hours inviting more people to be there.
- The best next generation ministry leaders’ text a lot of people every week inviting and doing follow-up.
- Your space is a huge part of your large group. If you have 50 students, don’t meet in a space with 500 seats, it looks lame and new students will assume that a lot of people didn’t show up because what you’re doing is not worth showing up for.