Starting Gospel Movements on Campus: Communities and Silos

by Paul on December 3, 2009

Every once in awhile I like to create scenarios that require me to think about implementing Gospel planting strategies and applying tactics in new environments.  This is this is the fifth of a 21 part series talking about ways to use Gospel planting strategies with online and offline tactics to catalyze Gospel Planting Movements on a University Campus.

Other posts in this series:

As more people join a space (like a city, university, Twitter and Facebook), like-minded people gather and naturally form groups within that space that eventually become large enough to be obvious to outsiders. These segments have distinctive boundaries, but are open to input and output.  These segments are often called ‘silos.’  Think of these silos as the collection of communities within a city.

silo1

How these silos gather and organize differs from space to space.  Sometimes they gather along racial lines.  In some places they gather along socio-economic lines.  They can also organize around affinity (although some affinities are more available to specific cultures or socio-economic segments).  Families are also a micro-silo.  Sometimes silos overlap.  Often, people live, work, and play across multiple silos.  There aren’t any hard and fast rules about silos; you have to spend lots of time researching and watching people within a space to see how they gather.  Eventually, you see the patterns and identify the silos.

Personal Evangelism, Church Planting, and Silos

Personal evangelism focuses on an outside leader (church planter, evangelist, missionary) who shares the Gospel with anyone who listens.  If they pay attention to silos, it is usually to figure out ways to access a group of people that hasn’t yet been reached by the Gospel and to repackage the Gospel message (called contextualization) to make it easier to share with people in that silo.  Typically, they focus on reaching individuals and bringing them out of their silo into a completely separate silo called ‘church.’  Churches formed this way are full of people from multiple silos.

silo2

This approach isn’t bad.  People dedicated to this approach have to be extremely strong leaders capable of relating to people from multiple silos.  Since they are creating a new silo, they have to invest hours keeping the silo together.  Much of this time goes to creating a leadership structure for a silo that didn’t have one already in place.

Unfortunately, this approach isn’t conducive to catalyzing Gospel movements.

Making Disciples, Gospel Planting, and Silos

In Gospel Planting, the outside leader focuses on planting the Gospel in each silo within a given space.  Rather than specializing in personal evangelism techniques, a Gospel Planter focuses on leading families or affinity groups within each silo in a Discovery Bible Study process that allows them to discover God as they read Scripture.  Following the pattern established in Acts, family/household evangelism is the norm and personal evangelism is the exception (More on this in a future post).

silo3

The Discovery Bible Study process encourages evangelism, obedience, ministry, and leadership development.  Consequently, we have groups that replicate within silos and jump the natural barriers between silos to replicate in other silos.  The outside leader facilitates and guides the discovery process, models leadership, develops leaders, and encourages obedience, ministry, and evangelism – without creating a ‘church’ silo.

When groups come to the same realization Peter did, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16) and are baptized like Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:47-48), they continue to meet within their silo.  Baptism signifies the reality that these groups within these silos have become communities of Believers.  In other words, they become churches. (For more on church and how we talk about church, read http://www.davidlwatson.org/2009/12/03/when-is-a-church-a-church/.) As they grow in knowledge and obedience to God’s Word, these churches grow and replicate within their silo.  In cases where they have relationships in other silos, they replicate across those relationships and start Discovery Bible Study groups in new silos.  They don’t bring friends from one silo into another for a ‘church experience.’

silo4

Discovering Silos On Campus

When I walk on a campus and search for silos, I ask several questions:

  • What percentage of students on this campus commute?
  • What percentage of students on this campus live in dorms or campus housing?
  • What percentage of students on this campus are full-time? Part-time? Have jobs?
  • What are the major student organizations?
  • What are the fraternities and sororities?
  • How are the dorms organized? Random? Gender? Major? Sport? Year?
  • What are the extra-curricular activities on campus?  Which groups attend which activities?
  • What activities or events draw attendance from commuter and resident students?
  • Do commuter students participate in evening activities on campus?
  • Is there a campus online social network?  Who uses it? What other online social networks are popular on campus? (See how campus organizations communicate with their members – phone, email, newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, weekly meetings, Skype, etc.)
  • What businesses and clubs are popular with each student organization, fraternity, sorority, etc?
  • What causes are popular with what groups of students?

The answers to these questions will help you identify major silos for your university.  Additionally, they may tell you where, when, and how to communicate with, and access, these silos.  (I’ll unpack ways to access silos in a future post.)

Mapping Silos

A friend of mine (http://www.tonystewardblog.com) pointed out a neat online mind mapping application.  It is called MindMeister (http://www.mindmeister.com).  You can use it to map silos that you find and keep track of potential contacts within those silos.  You can also use this map to inform your prayer partners to pray for God to move within specific silos on campus.

University_XYZ

Barriers to Discovering Silos on Campus

There are many barriers Outside Leaders have to overcome as they seek to catalyze Gospel Planting Movements on Campus.  Some of the initial barriers – in terms of silos – Outside Leaders face:

Person Perception of Success

A lot of outside leaders feel successful when they have a large crowd of people listening to their teaching and following their lead.  To catalyze Gospel Planting Movements on Campus, however, outside leaders must give up the spotlight.  They have to teach people to listen to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit for answers, rather than being the person with all the answers.  They have to raise up inside leaders quickly and let them have the reigns of leadership from the beginning.  Outside leaders must be satisfied with leading through leaders rather than relating to each group personally, or even each person within the group.

They have to change their perception of success.  They have to measure the number of leaders they train, the number of leaders those leaders identify and train, the number of silos they engage, the number of groups they start, the number of groups that replicate, and the number of groups that come to Christ and are baptize.

Outside Leaders cannot base their success on the number of people in their group, listening to their teaching (no matter how good it is) and expect to catalyze Gospel Planting Movements on university campuses.

Expectations

People who pray for you, support you financially, and partner with you have expectations of what you do and what makes you successful.  If you partner with a church, you have to help them understand that your work will grow their university department (we know this from experience with churches in similar contexts) but it won’t look like it at first.  Additionally, you may work a year or two before you see the exponential growth of a Gospel Planting Movement.  You need to think of ways to educate your partners about what you’re doing and why.

Unrealistic expectations, or unaligned expectations, will create major problems for you if you want to catalyze Gospel Planting Movements on university campuses.  Educating people about your vision, and getting them to buy into the process, is a headache and may seem pointless.  Developing relationships with people and partners who understand your vision and support the process is vital for long term ministry.

Identification

Identifying silos and understanding their characteristics and boundaries will take time.  You can identify some almost immediately.  Others may take more time.  Just remember, you don’t have to have all the silos in an area (on a campus) mapped before you begin the process of planting the Gospel within them.  Silo mapping is something you will do all the time, as you minister.

Identify a few silos and get started.  Write down others you find along the way.

We will talk about planting the Gospel within silos in future posts in this series.

Firsts

Planting the Gospel within your first silo may take awhile.  Figuring out how silos work takes time.  Developing your team and training them how to engage silos takes time.  Don’t get discouraged.  Stick with the process and you will see fruit. (We know this from experience from working with silos and training teams around the world.)

We will talk about ways to access silos to plant the Gospel in future posts.  We will also talk about how to measure success in a way that leads to the right activities rather than compounding frustration and feelings of failure.

Questions

What thoughts and questions do you have?  How does this line up with your experiences?  How will this concept affect or change your ministry?

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