STARTING BIG WHEN YOU’RE SMALL: a step by step look at taking college ministry from vision to reality


  • Take a month or two to gather some key leaders and key college-age people to brainstorm and gather information.  You’ll want leaders with a heart for college-age ministry and with wisdom in general!  And you’ll definitely want a couple people in the actual age group you’re targeting.  They’ll have a quick read on what works and what doesn’t, especially in your context or community.


  • Are we focusing on a specific college campus(es) in our community?  If so, what are the different key dynamics there?
  • Are we planning on trying to reach college-age people who are not in college?  If so, what is unique to their situation?
  • What has God already given us with regards to resources?  Paid staff, good teaching, good worship leader, finances, a large home or room on church campus?  Some of the above?  None of the above?
  • Should we meet on the church campus, in a home, or on a college campus?
  • What key components are non-negotiables for our college-age ministry?  Corporate gathering?  Small groups?  Special events?  Missions?
  • Based on what God’s Word says and what uniqueness He’s brought to our inner circle, what should we emphasize and value most?
  • Are there any expectations, spoken or unspoken, by our church leadership that we need to honor and consider as we plan?
  • Which elements of our ministry should we tackle first?


  • After working through those questions, pray for and prioritize which areas you’re going to launch first, second, etc.
  • Realistically, if you have a no group at all currently underway, you’ll be looking at about 3-6 months between the first gathering of your inner circle, subsequent planning and prayer, promotion of the new group, and the actual launch.
  • Pay attention to natural starting times and bad starting times for new ministries.  Natural starting times would be as school semesters start – and maybe summer depending on your context.  Bad starting times would be mid-semester, especially around holidays or testing weeks.
  • If you’ve already got a smaller group meeting in some capacity, you’re probably looking at a similar 3-6 months timeline in transitioning to your new, broader-scoped ministry.  Understanding your current people, communicating vision, and getting existing people on board are crucial during this time.
  • I’d recommend starting with your bigger corporate gathering first, tackling a couple key special events second, launching into small groups or table groups third, and broadening to local outreach and missions fourth.
  • Realistically then, you’re looking at approximately 18-24 months before all these elements/programs fall into place.


  • Start big even though you might be small.  If you build leadership, structure, creativity, and vision small, you’ll tend to remain small.  Starting big with teaching series, music, leadership, etc. even when you don’t have many people, will allow for greater growth.  Lord-willing.
  • Communicate A LOT to people you’re trying to reach and to church leadership during these opening years.  It’ll breed trust.
  • Pray ALWAYS.  I believe the enemy likes to bring added attack and distractions during these opening moments of birthing new ministries.  Be on your guard and keep your ear tuned to His voice.  Lean on Him more than on a strategy or plan!

Here’s a snapshot of an actual timeline I used in the launch and development of our college-age ministry.  Keep in mind we were transitioning the ministry from a Sunday School class to something different, not doing a complete start-up.  Also keep in mind, timing and elements will vary depending on your resources and vision:


  • Build relationship with existing people
  • Identify inner circle
  • Do a lot of listening and understanding of past/culture/etc.


  • Begin to cast vision to inner circle, expanding to whole group by December
  • Listen for more feedback
  • Get more specific about launch of mid-week program AND new purpose of Sunday morning class
  • Give your ministry a name
  • Make the purpose and vision of this new ministry crystal clear
  • Communicate details to church leadership, seek feedback
  • Begin promo in November for mid-week program launch starting late January


  • Continue promo of Thursday night program launch
  • 2-3 soft start prayer/worship nights on prior to official launch
  • Late January officially launch with highest quality possible (starting big, even though we’re probably going to be small)
  • Continue Sunday class with different purpose than Thursday program
  • Allow Thursday to gain traction without changing too much


  • Do a couple key special events for summer
  • Begin out-loud evaluation of Sunday class with inner circle and other key people


  • Strong launch of semester series with small group emphasis
  • Host on-campus mini-conference to help gain momentum and launch small groups
  • Begin discussion of cancelling Sunday class with leadership


  • Communicate cancellation of Sunday class in light of new Thursday program, small group creation, and desire to connect college-age people into main church
  • Cancel Sunday class


  • Launch new year with strong push on Thursdays and small groups
  • Revisit core values/vision and celebrate past year with leaders and group
  • Strong investment and leadership development and appreciation


  • Increase in special events, missions trips, etc.


  • Strongest and best re-launch of Thursday program & small groups
  • Broader emphasis on mini-conference as a momentum builder
  • Evaluate key elements, needs, successes, failures and adjust accordingly