Going for Big, Quick Results Does More Harm Than Good

Flaming FireToo often our evangelistic approach looks more like a firework display than a simmering fire.

Campus Crusade National’s Leadership have asked every campus team to come up with an Evangelism Plan for this year. As we talked through this at UC Davis it became clear that we needed to think critically about the evangelistic culture we are trying to build. We need to have tactics for the year that flow from our overall vision of reaching the campus. Through this important and lively discussion, a few disturbing trends about our approach to ministry emerged.

From weekly, ministry-mode evangelism times (“Randoms”), to Campus-Wide Spring Outreaches, we too often go for big results in a short time, and the outcome is usually more harm than good.

We discuss how we are going to ‘reach the campus’ then we go out in a specific time-frame, hoping to see something radical happen. I want to establish that I am a huge fan of Ministry Mode evangelism…if it’s done well and with a healthy perspective.  There’s been some great discussion on that subject (check out this short video discussion titled Ministry Mode Evangelism is Not Dead), so i’ll address the negative things that come from how we do ‘campus-wide outreach’.

A few years ago we started talking about how to reach out evangelistically in the Spring. A few students had an idea for a big outreach involving plywood, sharpies, flyers, and many gallons of paint. The physical, emotional, and financial cost was pretty high and the return seemed to be pretty small. The students were well-meaning and I don’t want to disrespect them. Instead, I see how they were living out some philosophies that they have largely learned through us, CCC staff. While there are likely a few positive things that came from the outreach, we can learn more from the cost it had on the students, the movement, and our mission

  • So much time and energy went into it, that the capacity for living evangelistically afterward was pretty low.
  • We had something to ‘hang our hats on’, so the urgency of our need to reach out to the people around us was lessened.
  • The students had a “Copy/Paste” approach (heard of something that happened at a different campus and tweak it for our campus).
  • Creativity/Innovation were lost: Rather than thinking seriously about our own campus/surroundings, we tried to apply something from a totally different place. The campus likely saw how un-aware we are of our surrounding culture, or they just didn’t notice at all.

We celebrated with the students the effort we all put in, then invited them to do some serious evaluation. The decision was to put a freeze on such efforts in order to seriously consider how to see the gospel carried throughout the whole campus, and start from there. We’ve been implementing a strategy with that long-term goal in mind. We have used the ultimate goal as a measuring stick for what we want to do and what we need to not do.

This fall, we have started thinking about some evangelistic efforts that could be considered ‘campus-wide’. The Outreach is specific to the campus around us, and it makes a lot of sense for where the students in our movement are. Most of all, we know where we are heading, and we are trying something that will help us get there.  We would love to see some fire-works, but we realize that a constant smoldering of purposeful evangelism is where we need to be.

*Have you tried “Big Event” tactics, and what is usually the bottom-line outcome (cost/benefit analysis)?

*Have you seen ‘trying to do too much too soon’ hinder long-term effectiveness?

dave goffeneyDave Goffeney has been on staff for eight years and currently leads the Campus Crusade movement at UC Davis.

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photo courtesy of mikelduke
  • http://onmovements.com jay lorenzen

    Dave, very good post. Thanks. G. Boyd argues that the Kingdom of God is a “revolution”, but I wonder if that revolution really occurs in a evolutionary way…. as the result of 1000s of conversations. Thanks, jay

  • http://www.naucru.com Jeremiah Kepner

    Yeah Dave,

    I haven’t seen much ‘fruit’ in these large outreaches honestly. I’ve seen students take steps of faith with their friends, but then say, whew, I checked off the box of inviting my friend to something evangelistic. What if we instead pushed our students to get involved in the club associated with their major, took ‘CRU’ events off their calendar and freed them up to make real friends with people they will be in class with for the next 3 years. It produces the kind of disciples that will be able to reach their workplace for Christ and might even lead to the USA being reached with the Gospel.
    It produces slow growth, as we can attest to here at Northern Arizona University…but that’s the kind of culture I want to create here: thinking strategically about your relational capital with non-believers.

  • Dave Goffeney

    Thanks for the comments. I’m really looking forward to continued dialogue on this:

    Jay, I think you are exactly right. We live day-in/day-out with a long-term perspective and focus on what God has called us to do. From there, He chooses to sometimes speed-up the ‘evolutionary process’ of revolution, but we musn’t force that.

    Jeremiah, “relational capital” is a great concept. While having the same ‘goal’ in mind, we need a great deal of discernment for understanding how much of what we’re saying is really being heard. It seems that relationship (whether through a ‘random’ conversation or with a family member) has a lot to do with it.

  • Steven M

    Hey, Dave

    Great thoughts. Though, I think I want to push back on the idea that a big/campus-wide outreach is bad. Not only are there plenty examples in Scripture, there are examples in our time of it being done well. Unfortunately there are plenty of bad examples out there, and we can easily throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Really, the problem seems to be two-fold:
    1) Being culturally irrelevant to our campuses.
    2) Failing to follow-up the big push with a sustained drive (whether because of low energy or “hanging our hats” on what we’ve done).

    To address #1, we obviously can’t just have a “Copy/Paste” mentality. We need to seriously think through how best to ENGAGE the campus, not just blitz it.

    To address #2, it’s more about the attitude of why we’re doing the outreach in the first place. Are we doing it just because that’s “what we do?” Are we doing in lieu of utilizing our “relational capital?”

    I really believe that the best outreaches do more to stir up conversations on campus. Ones that rely less on students running events, and more on students bringing classmates and friends into the campus dialogue. To maximize/break the ice for the relational capital to work. That could lead to a sustained drive, instead of a quick flash in the pan.

    I guess what I’m trying to get at is what if outreaches were more about stirring up campus-wide conversations and less about trying to get people to events?

    • http://www.timcasteel.com/ Tim Casteel

      Steven – good points. I’m not big on large outreaches. But the best I’ve seen on our campus was when we brought in Porn Nation and EVERYONE on campus was talking about it. The buzz (and resulting conversations) was far more impactful than the actual event.

  • http://www.brianbarela.com/ Brian Barela

    great post dave!

    thinking of these large group events in terms of resource allocation there is A LOT invested for a short-term and often unknown result.

    i don’t know of any staff (maybe they are in hiding) that spend their money that way–unless their dad was a Junk Bonds dealer in the 80’s 😉

    the reason many of these events have poor follow up is because the resources to put on the event tap out the money, time, and energy of the movement.

  • Dave Goffeney

    Thanks for the comments:

    Steven, I hear you…and way to ‘push back’ a little :).

    I agree with Brian’s last comment about resources being spent too much on the actual event, but if there was thought about how to do it well and purposefully from the front end, I am for that. My biggest concern is with ‘Cut/Past’ approaches that don’t make sense to particular campuses.

  • DJ

    I dig the discussion. One thought on all this:

    How we Nationally keep stats affect what “large-scale” outreaches we value. For instance, we only count events that have a “gospel-presentation” in them at the end. In fact, you CANNOT get funding nationally (or regionally I believe too) for a large-scale event unless there is a clear “bringing people to a point of decision.” We have found this true with doing Veritas at UofA.

    Steven, I find that this makes it tough to encourage more large-scale events that encourage dialogue, because our value is to get numbers to count, and we have to present the gospel and bring to a point of decision for that to happen.

    We do Veritas as our main “large-scale” event (with other campus ministries) because it seeks to create the type of dialogue around spiritual things, around the relevance of the gospel and Jesus that we desire, but Veritas events rarely seek to bring people to points of decision, because they aren’t trying to “close the deal” but to encourage dialogue. But that means National CCC won’t count it, and it doesn’t count towards “reaching the campus” therefore. And we can’t get any funding for it.

    This is a problem I think. If we want more events that create dialogue, then we have to value sowing and not just reaping events.

    • http://www.brianbarela.com/ Brian Barela

      related to this dj is the fact those large scale outreaches that have a “point of decision” still get people checking boxes. even if 95% of those who check the box never respond to follow up (facebook, text msgs, phone calls, etc).

      i do think there are opportunities to count dialogue or discussed based outreaches–primarily through a facebook page.

      when chico state ran our month-long battle of the sexes (April-hem), we have over 40 new fans. the interesting piece was over 50% of those fans were non-believers or disconnected christians who were friends with someone in the movement.

      that’s a powerful stat to communicate–it’s quantifiable both generally (number of fans, and you can see the spike from the analytics), but also specifically (you can show how those people are connected to people inside the movement.

      this is huge because at the field level we know that if someone is relationally connected to someone inside the movement the chances that they will either trust Christ or grow spiritually are exponentially higher than if they do not know anyone.

  • Andy Brandt

    In Chicago we’ve moved away from large scale outreaches for the reasons you’ve described. Large scale outreaches (Porn Nation etc.) can make for great prayer letter fodder and even have gotten us news media attention, but for whatever reason tend to replace our students’ focus on reaching out to the lost around them.

    I like to encourage students to do smaller outreaches like Focus Groups or Short Film festivals that they can do in the context of their floor, or Greek House, or some other group they are a part of. I think we’re hitting on something when an outreach spurs on spiritual dialogue and the sharing of the Gospel throughout the year in a sphere of influence rather than just at one time.

    D.J. I hadn’t heard about that criteria for funding for outreaches. I wonder if some of us couldn’t push back on that some.

  • Dave Goffeney

    DJ: “This is a problem I think. If we want more events that create dialogue, then we have to value sowing and not just reaping events.” It sure seems like our options are to either do events and keep track of the stats that seem disconnected from what we’re going for, or we risk doing things that may not be too quantifiable in the short-term.

    Brian: “if someone is relationally connected to someone inside the movement the chances that they will either trust Christ or grow spiritually are exponentially higher than if they do not know anyone.” This is SO true and we need to really think about how to keep track of that… like DJ is saying.

    DJ and Andy: Have you asked any National or RD Staff about this? I still agree that the stats we are turning in feel disconnected from some of what we’re really doing.

    For example, Brian, how would we have kept track of Dan’s progression through the Stats? Once he was an ‘Involved New Believer’, we could have checked that, but it seems to really miss the whole progression before hand. Or, like you said about Aprilhem…Long-term fruit that is very hard to track right now.

    • DJ

      We found out first about the “no funding for outreaches that don’t have a point of decision” from the Veritas higher-level staff, who said that for years they have been seeking national partnerships with CCC, but CCC says that if there is no guarantee of “point of decision” then we won’t partner.

      Then we encountered it when doing “Jesus without Religion” with Rick James, when we applied for national funding. Here is what the doc said that we had to fill out:

      “Speakers must give a clear gospel presentation
      Students must be given the opportunity to receive Christ during the event
      Comment cards must be given out for student feedback and follow-up”

      So there it is.

      Alisha and I have had several conversations with National/Regional leadership about counting “sowing” numbers and not just reaping. I can recall conversations back 4 years. The response is always, “Go ahead and count those on your campus, but we are not going to do that Nationally yet.”

      This is a bummer, especially when the CCC Changing Evangelism Study (www.changingevangelism.org) made this one of their main suggestions. I can see why we would be afraid of losing our CCC core identity if we emphasize anything but “point of decision” gospel presentations, but I think it is needed. Hopefully we can keep pressing this issue to bring about this needed change.

      • DJ

        Oh, and our campus always turns in our Sowing numbers along with “point of decision” gospel presentations to our Regional Leadership even though they don’t turn them in, because our students are taking TONS of steps of faith with non-believers, they just aren’t always full gospel presentations. This might be valuable for other campus ministries to start practicing.

  • Dave Goffeney

    Great idea DJ, i want to start accounting for that. I’d love to see any of your evangelism plans if you would be up for sending it to me…and i’d be happy to send ours. I too am pretty bummed though that we don’t get funding for things that seem to be more realistically ‘reaching’ our campus than general campaigns that (again) can do more harm than good.

  • Leo Mullarky

    OK I don’t read blogs or usually participate, but I wanted to weigh in here.

    My name is Leo and I’m an alco . . . .er . . . I mean . . . I like campus wide outreaches.

    I think the most important way to evaluate large outreaches are to first identify the goals. I agree that cutting and pasting something just because it worked on another campus won’t make it effective on our own target area.

    The following are what I think are the some of the goals and benefits of large campus wide outreaches:

    #1 Making the Gospel known and more accessible to EVERY student on campus, especially those we don’t know and might never come to a Christian sponsored event. Not necessarily just getting a lot of people to an event but talking to them about Jesus.

    #2 Making Christ an issue on campus/ challenge the status quo.

    #3 Help our students be a part of a quality event they can be proud of and would want to invite their non-Christian friends to attend.

    #4 Create synergy for evangelism in the movement :
    Students get more excited to reach out because they see they aren’t alone in reaching out. It’s often a great way to involve everyone in our movement, not just the most committed. For many this will be their first time sharing their faith. The event itself also heightens students desire for training both before and after the event.

    #5 Become a catalyst for more natural mode outreach on campus.
    Lots of natural evangelism happens with those we invite to the event. It becomes a conversation starter with the atheist, skeptic or apathetic student, etc. When we see that the goal isn’t a “packed out room” for the night of the event, but rather talking about Christ in our target areas then we win.

    Last year I told my staff and students that probably ¾ of the people we talk to about Jesus w/out Religion would not come to the event for whatever reason. The goal wasn’t just to get people to an event but to talk to them about Christ. The event helped us to do that. We had hundreds possibly thousands of spiritual and gospel focused conversations with students who never came to the event.

    And by the way the event was very quality, probably the best large outreach event I’ve participated in during all my years w/ CCC. Especially because the event was unapologetically about Jesus. Not porn, dating, illusions etc. We made Jesus the issue and it didn’t feel like people came to see one thing and we squeezed in a Gospel presentation. They came to hear about Jesus and we told them.

    In light of that we are exploring more ways to do Jesus focused outreaches. I’m talking to Matt Mikalatos about coming to UCI because of his new book, Imaginary Jesus. It’s a really neat concept he’s tapping into.

    • http://www.mattmccomas.com/ Matt McComas

      Highly recommend giving away Matt’s book on campus. It was super well received at Portland State University recently. People were intrigued by it.

  • http://www.dgoffeney.typepad.com Dave

    Leo, i’m glad you chimed in here! The things you posted offer some good reasons for them and show that you and your staff DO think critically about something before doing it. While I would challenge a few things you said (I’ll mention one below), I am encouraged by what you wrote…because it shows purpose and has goals.

    I’m not sure whether or not “making Jesus an issue” to the masses actually makes them consider Him or pushes them more away because it’s yet another time that the Christian community huddles together with a message of proclamation in a language they just aren’t speaking. I realize we could talk that over a lot…so i’m going to read the next Blog that Matt wrote to see if it takes us further in the discussion.

    With that, Matt, I agree that I really like Matt’s book. I’d give it to some people for sure…but passing out in bulk has really backfired for me before (with “Blue Like Jazz”).

  • Anonymous

    Dave – I’m curious what the outreach at UC Davis involving “plywood, sharpies, flyers, and many gallons of paint” was?

    DJ, thanks for bringing up Veritas. It’s s an outstanding ministry – my hope is that National rethinks the current position regarding funding and partnership.

    Especially in light of faculty. Veritas is the ONLY outreach that professors would ever consider attending. A non-Christian professor might come out to hear a heavy hitter like Francis Collins or Os Guinness or Mary Poplin . . . but not a Christian illusionist. Come to think about it, there are a lot of non-Christian students in the same boat –

    If the Campus Ministry is serious about reaching these students, as well as faculty, we REALLY need to rethink the current position on funding and partnership.


    Anonymous (above) = David ZagRodny

  • http://bobfuhs.typepad.com Bob Fuhs

    I don’t want to see us go “all bad” on larger events to help reach a campus. There are some positives and some drawbacks, just like there are with anything. I agree with Leo that they create synergy and get the movement moving together towards a common goal, but they take time and money. Many people might come, but oftentimes follow up is spurious. But, I believe that those check marks on a card are often either a genuine decision or at the very least are an indication that the Lord is doing something in the heart of the box checker.

    It is hard to argue with what the Lord did through Steve Sawyer just a few years ago. Just recently the Maze performed for over 1000 students and saw over 100 indicate commitments to Jesus. I believe that we need to incorporate these larger events into our campus plan (I would include Veritas as an example of a large event).

    But, it can’t be our one-hit wonder. That’s the beauty of the modes of evangelism. You need them all or someone will be left out.

    Now, you’ll have to excuse me because I’m going to go look for my copy of “Football Fever” and try and show it in the dorms…

    • http://www.brianbarela.com/ Brian Barela

      good thoughts bob. here’s my question based on your response:

      is there a critical mass in terms of movement size, health, and maturity that is necessary for having a large outreach be successful?

      a lot of my own negative thoughts about these large events is because movements don’t seem to have the capacity to

      1-promote, plan, and set up the event while maintaining the other critical areas of the ministry

      2-follow up the contacts generated from the event (i’m not assuming 100% either–even 50% would seem high and “successful” for most)

      movements of at least 300 seem to have this capacity–i know at chico when we were around 100 (and 20 leaders) we didn’t have the capacity.

  • chip martinson

    Hey Brian/Bob/Leo/FatherSonHS
    Great thoughts, I think a key element of a large outreach is not simply relying on it to produce fruit passively. THey are great if they are part of a multi layered strategy, they help:
    1) Students step out in faith, change their fb profile pics, out themselves in their virtual and interpersonal world about their faith
    2) Increase University community awareness of who we are on a campus
    3) Give us potential vehicles to partner with secular groups on campus, or even a potential inroad for future Gospel conversations. Example: we created the free speech forum, a Jew, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Pagan(ie nerdy gamer) made up our “outreach” THey were a panel and it was a great chance for us to partner with a variety of different organizations to increase our public reputation on campus as well as give us a venue to have a Jesus conversation with them. The highlight of the first year was the head of the Pagan group running up to me (she was gathering all the questions for Q and A and she said “You HAVE to ask the Jesus question, everyone is asking the question what does your belief system do with Jesus?” Fun to have a Pagan trumpeting Jesus.

    Second thought on Large Events:
    We just RIck James at Univ of Miami and saw 175 come out and we have MAYBE 90 really involved with us.
    THe win with Rick or other large group events is making them multi layered and not simply relying on THE EVENT.
    Example: when Rick came to Univ of Iowa we had facebook ads running all week prior and following the event.
    Dorm fliers and handbills of course (These generally suck but can create more awareness)
    We had RIck speak in a Marketing class on campus based on his previous experience in TV advertising. I did an intro and closing and Rick shared for 5 minutes (he was plenty nervous it was great though) and we gave copies of the book with a flier to all students in class
    We had Religious studies faculty offer extra credit for attending the event and writing 2-3 pages on the event.
    We hosted a Meet The Rick on campus for the movement the night before the event. This was great at making speakerguy seem more real and really connect with students and places less emphasis on THE EVENT.
    We also had student leaders in the dorms host a RickJames book party for those who attended as a venue to give the books away and let students resurface themselves after THE EVENT. (Not to be confused with NBC show by the same name, commercials make me think its a JJ Abrams wannabe)
    In the end I had new faculty friends, unique and broad exposure as well as localized exposure, a great event, students stepped out in faith, got to hear from Rick and build some rapport with him for future conferences, over 350 heard the Gospel and got the RIckBook, plus the exposure on facebook for 2 weeks, not bad all in all.
    Sorry for the ramblings, hope it makes sense Barela is really the social media genius just sayin.

    • http://www.brianbarela.com/ Brian Barela

      great thoughts dude. and very practical for maximizing an event!

  • http://www.dgoffeney.typepad.com Dave

    Great thoughts on these things. Bob, Chip & David, you offer some great insights into evangelism and i’m really glad you chimed in. It seems like perspective has a great deal to do with it here. Much like with ministry mode evangelism, if we are mustering up some energy and doing some event-evangelism, in place of living evangelistically and thinking about reaching the whole campus, we will continue to be frustrated and over-worked. Too often, these events are put on in order to ‘proclaim’, rather than thinking through the follow-up (and the execution of the outreach) necessary to really move forward.

    Brian, the capacity question is a good one. Chip only had 90 students, but saw some success. I guess If you consider what you’re going for, and move ahead accordingly, that makes sense.

    One thing not mentioned much here is the potential harm that can be done in terms of our relationship with the University. Do you have any thoughts on this? It seems that we need to do more and more work, with real intentionality, to build relationships with the University. Otherwise, i’ve seen large campaigns push people away and build an ‘us vs them’ mentality on the campus.

    • Spud

      Hey Dave (et. al)

      I wanted to chime in on this one. We have sponsored a few large events at Stanford over the past ten years. A few were below average, but in most cases the benefits far outweighed the detriments. But it was important to realize what our objective was: to provide an event that would allow those who attended to view Jesus (and the gospel) in a more positive light. Most of our large events were intellectual, and we were careful who we selected to represent Christianity (someone whose scholarship Stanford professors would at least acknowledge and respect was one criteria, able to relate to people and answer questions compassionately and thoughtfully was another). Our movement never exceeded 60 people, so I don’t think numbers involved necessarily makes the decision for you. We would pull a student-leadership team of 8-10 people together, give them a budget, the parameters to work within, and a time-frame. Then we as staff would coach the student leaders of that team.

      Here were the positives of our events: (1) The student team got some real leadership experience, (2) It created opportunities for everyone involved in our movement to invite their friends and acquaintances to hear some “gospel content,” (but I can’t remember a time we actually had a “pray with me” because it wasn’t appropriate for that venue, (3) It improved our relationship with the university-they knew we could handle an event like this with sensitivity and professionally, (4) it gave our movement a focal point in our cycles of momentum in ministry, (5) our staff and student leaders were able to meet an established Christian leader, and (6) it created opportunities for some conversations that would not have happened otherwise.

      The downsides of the events: (1) It took time and money (but donors were motivated by the things that we did, so funding was never an issue, (2) follow-up was terrible (after one event, we changed our expectation from the possibility of ministry conversations to our student’s natural conversations–which aren’t that measurable).

      We really only did one event a year, and then focused on other things. I think that if we have a different goal (that we are altering the current that the students swim in every day to point it in the direction of Jesus) it takes the pressure off trying to squeeze the most “measurable results” out of something like this.

      2 cents

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl

    I have struggled over the past couple of years with the question regarding the large-movement or campus-wide activities. My main question has been “Does this result in spiritual multiplication?”

    On one of our campuses we regularly see over 50 people receive Christ through our orientation outreach. However the number of multipliers, and the number of students in groups has stayed pretty range-bound over the past few years.

    I think that the “law of 150” as mentioned in The Tipping Point may be a factor, and I wonder if the campus could be better reached by having smaller movements with more independence and greater relational focus? I have listened with interest to some podcasts from Slipstream (The Evangelical Alliance) talking about evangelism through mid-sized missional groups.

    The fact is that the answers to these questions require us to ask more questions of our initial data. In particular, we want more longitudinal data, so we can track to see the effectiveness of different techniques in the long-run.

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