My eldest son and I have been doing college visits this year. We been to large schools, small schools, state schools and private schools. The process of visiting these schools together has been great bonding time for the two of us. Although it has been overwhelming at times we both are getting a clearer picture of what might be the right fit for him (though our wallets aren’t quite so sure).
During these visits I’ve become acutely aware of some best practices that transfer into church practices. Although some churches do these things well, others could take some pointers from colleges and universities in order to reach more people. Here are just a few:
We started with the school website. If it was easy to navigate to the page for prospective students, then we had a great first impression. It just made life easier. The right kind of pictures also helped us to get a good feel for the culture of the school. The sign up process being simple was important but a reminder email with clear instructions on parking and where to go was a huge bonus. Best of all was any follow up from the school after the visit. So far we’ve gotten one who followed up with email and one who sent a hand written thank you note from the student tour guide. Interestingly those two are at the top of our list.
The first thing we noticed was the friendliness of the people we encountered. While the top administrators and professors are probably the highest paid and critical to the mission, the people at the check in desk, the parking lot attendant, and the student tour guides made the most impact. All locations offered basic necessities such as coffee (important if you drove a good distance for a 9:00 am tour) and water (important on a hot day with outside walking), but the ones who had people to show us where these were and to let us know we were welcome to them stood out.
This is what impressed me the most from every school. The schools are not just in the education business. They are in the education business to mold the future. They ask critical questions about what the future is going to be like and what people are going to need to know in order to get there. They look at the impact of self driving cars, infectious diseases, and worldwide politics. Thus these schools are not the same ones I visited when I was my son’s age. I wouldn’t want them to be.
But what about strategy? Some churches do a great job about mapping out a plan to get more butts in the seats in order to transform more lives. And those who do are seeing results. But go one step further. What strategies do we have in place for changes in our culture? How can the church transform lives that have already been transformed by the smart phone industry and telecommuting? What changes would we need to make based on self driving cars, health care, or world events? If schools are looking at these why shouldn’t we as a church as well?
I’m more convicted now than ever that we need to connect more with college students and universities so that we can better reach people in the future. One notable absence on our tours? The mention of religion or spirituality. Not even in a generic sense. Even on historically church affiliated institutions there was little or no mention of faith. We have to reconnect. We have to do better. Not just for the sake of helping people to connect to God but for helping people connect to God in the future. Things are still changing. How can be best connect others to the One who can transform lives?