The past few years have made ministry success hard to measure. Several institutions of Christian higher education didn’t make it through the pandemic. Several others have experienced precipitously low enrollment. Some have shifted away from Biblical conviction as a response to societal pressure. Still others are doing well, and some of those are doing very well, indeed.
A few years ago, we made significant changes to the way we recruit students and market our institution. We’ve never really marketed before, and we started doing so a little bit. We started focusing on the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, in addition to reaching out to AFLC congregations around the nation. We reemphasized the need for in-person, face-to-face visits with prospective students and congregations. We increased our recruiting staff and refocused our campus visit events toward excellent content with a college campus educational atmosphere. We were confident that the efforts would pay off.
Then everything changed. How do you measure recruiting success when most of your high-value efforts are cancelled for 18 months? It’s difficult. Students now decide on their pool of potentials 12-24 months out but decide where to actually enroll midsummer before their freshman year!
I’m proud of our recruiting and marketing staff. They have done a great job persevering, treating every lead as a precious, eternal human soul rather than a prospective student. I think our approach is the only one that ministers to students while recruiting them, then follows up “near misses” next year to encourage their spiritual growth and congregational participation.
For this reason, last week was very encouraging to our team. This past week we were able to see some fruit of our root-level efforts. I travel a lot for work and was only here for half of this, but I loved seeing social media posts and getting texts from people involved. It’s not often that parents who come along to campus visit days are positively impacted spiritually. That doesn’t happen at every college. It was a great few days. Here’s a smattering of highlights:
One major change we made a few years ago was to focus our fall campus visit event on those most imminently making college decisions. We limit that event, now called “UpClose,” to high school juniors and seniors, along with their parents or pastors and youth workers. We planned on a couple dozen students, but this year we had about 80, with nearly 130 total registrants. The campus was hopping Thursday and Friday, and one parent reflected how it was great to sit in on an actual class and hear the great content our students get.
The FLBC basketball teams faced select alumni Friday night. This event has become a season kickoff for our teams, and everybody warmed up for the full season, including our play-by-play livestream. I was gone already, but I saw pictures. The gym was packed. It is fun to see so many of our alumni enjoying our teams and new facility.
Our alumni basketball tournament moved to the fall a couple of years ago. The best part of the alumni tournament is watching children of alumni toddle around campus. It’s a bit of a homecoming, and we had so many people that we ran out of food! Side note, your pre-registration for campus events helps us make sure… we have enough food. But I digress.
Lutherans for Life
I joined several AFLC friends in Rockford City, IL, for the Lutherans for Life annual conference. I love LFL, as they do pro-life advocacy right: “Gospel-centered voices for life.” Three LFL national board members are AFLC members, as are three LFL employees. It’s a good group with which to be involved, and you can do so at your congregation.
On my way to my next stop I visited FLBC alumni who are serving a Lutheran Brethren (CLBA) congregation in DeWitt, IA. They were celebrating their 40th anniversary. FLBC graduates are investing in God’s big kingdom all over the world, and the CLBA, which no longer operates a Bible School, benefits from sending some of their students here.
I spent Sunday morning at Christian Free Lutheran in Wheatland, IA. They have been without a pastor for a few years, but the congregation is thriving. Be patient when calling a pastor. Find good preaching and lead as lay people, but don’t rush into it. There are worse things than not having a pastor. I heard a solid message, visited with some old friends, and met some new friends along the way. Plus, is there a more wholesome name for a town than “Wheatland, Iowa?”
Christ is working in His church. Everywhere I go people give great encouragement, and I am deeply motivated by seeing students established in God’s word serving in the local congregation. We are thankful to serve at the Free Lutheran Bible College and Seminary. Start here. Go anywhere. Grounded in God’s Word.
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