Campus Ministry



Five Proven Practices That Open Doors to Campus Access

I’m on campus at least twice a week. When youth workers hear this, I always get the same question: “How do I get on campus?”

As much as I’d love to share with you some “one size fits all” recipe to get on campus, unfortunately, each state, district and even school is different. But in my 14 years of ministry visiting campuses and serving on the National Campus Life Team where I network with others that do, I’ve learned five helpful practices that open doors to campus access.

This might not be an issue for small town youth pastors where there are just one or two high schools. But I’ve heard the excuse time and time again from suburban youth workers, “There’s just too many schools feeding into our church. I don’t have time to visit them all!”

So they visit none.

It doesn’t matter if you have a number of different schools represented in your youth group. Pick one school and invest heavily into that relationship.

Do a little research with your existing students and contacts in the community, trying to determine the climate of the school.

    • Do they have a Christian Club on campus?
    • Are there already non-faculty visiting the school?
    • Are your students aware of Christian teachers at school – if so who are they?
    • Is there a history of youth pastors coming on campus?
    • Was there a bad experience in the past?

The answers to some of these questions will help you determine which school to initially target.

Let me be clear. I don’t only target schools with Christian clubs. But the presence of one is usually an indicator of Christian faculty and students. That’s good to know, even in my desire to reach non-believers on a campus.

MY BAD: (How NOT to do it)
I work with a guy that has approached each and every school in his community. The great news is every school gave him permission to come at lunch – the bad news is that every school gave him permission to come at lunch! Now, four days a week he goes to a different campus…by himself. Each day he meets scores of new kids – all craving relationship – all with tremendous need. Each day he leaves knowing there’s not much he can do and begins to worry about the next campus he needs to visit. I had breakfast with him last week – he’s on the verge of burn-out and he sees no fruit for all of his hard work and countless hours.

Pick one campus and do it well.

Determine what role you’d like to have on campus. I often find that my local friends in ministry simply want to have lunch with their existing kids on campus. Others want to be a resource to the existing Christian Club – or have perhaps been asked by a student leader to speak or help facilitate the club. And on some occasions I see youth workers hanging out with outreach kids exclusively.

Funny, I don’t remember Jesus doing this. I seem to remember him rubbing elbows with all types, including the religious and notorious sinners.

If you want to make a long-term impact for the Kingdom, I’d suggest you look at the entire school as a mission field.

MY BAD: (How NOT to do it)
I remember the first time I got on campus 14+ years ago. I couldn’t wait to meet new kids, hand out my flyers, and invite them all to my program. I was still in shock that they allowed me on campus and I was going to take advantage before I got kicked off!

Don’t make this mistake! If your goal is to get on campus in order to hand out flyers and primarily invite kids to your youth group…that almost never works.

Treat the entire school as a mission field. Approach the campus with an attitude of service, not as a place to market “your stuff.” As you build relationships, ministry opportunities will emerge.

Back in the research stage you should have determined if you had any relationships at the school. Does the secretary, janitor, or any faculty go to your church? Have you heard that they are sympathetic to your desire to get on campus? Make use of these relationships and get the inside scoop on the school. Also leverage the parents of your kids – see if you have an influential parent or two that you can use as a reference.

Ultimately, however, you should end up in the school’s front office to ask for an appointment in person. Over the years I’ve learned that the secretary is the gatekeeper to the school. If you are respectful, prepared, kind, and upfront, it’s amazing how helpful the secretary and office staff can be.

“I’m Rob from 1st Baptist down the street and Jeff Smith’s Mom thought the school could use some help. Some of the kids I work with are students here. I’d love to offer myself as a resource to the school. I’m not interested in hitting kids over the heads with a Bible or doing anything weird…I’d just like to help. Not sure if you need dance chaperons, coaches, lunchtime monitors, tutors, or community service opportunities – but I’d love to be involved and help the school.”

And then you ask the most important question—a question that values their opinion:

What do you think the best way to begin would be?

My experience is that often the secretary will offer incredible insight—who to talk to, or what the need really is, how to approach the situation –and sometimes even who NOT to talk to. Listen to the advice and follow it. Generally you’ll end up making an appointment with the Principal to get the ultimate go ahead.

NOTE:  Be prepared in case you are simply invited in to talk right then. Have a business card and a sense of how many kids you know at the school. Ideally you already have several suggestions of how you can help. Expect to start small – and over time build trust and you could see your role change.

If an appointment is made, be punctual and dress appropriately. Restate your desire to help the school. Make sure to acknowledge the fact that you understand there will need to be a background check and that schools can’t just let anybody on campus. Be respectful and understanding that schools frankly have no obligation to let you on campus. Come prepared with some statistics about youth culture from resources like the Youth Culture Windowpage on this website or Jonathan’s blog.  Bring up issues of bullying, cutting, and substance abuse – humbly and subtly set yourself up as a teen culture expert and offer to provide whatever needs the school may have.

If your request is denied – again be respectful. Send a thank you note for the meeting and begin to be a presence on campus after school, come watch games, watch practices, become a staple at the school and over time you may win the trust of the school, gaining another opportunity to get on campus. Truth is – after school and at games are great ways to connect with kids! If you had a secondary campus option, begin looking for relational leverage and start all over.

MY BAD: (How NOT to do it)
Don’t belittle the people in the front office. They are often your ticket into campus. I’ve seen youth workers try the “legal approach” where they cite legislation to try and “prove” that they are allowed by law to be on campus. This approach will never work. It will probably close the doors faster than any other approach.

Use any connections you have, get an introduction to school administration, treat the front office with respect, and be prepared to serve in any way.

Serve in whatever capacity the school asks. My experience is that if you are faithful with a little – the school will give you more opportunities (where have I heard that before?)  A few options could be…

·      Lunchtime monitor
·      Dance chaperon
·      Tutor
·      Coach
·      Library volunteer
·      Office runner
·      Roamer at large (ideal!)
·      Cafeteria clean-up

MY BAD: (How NOT to do it)
Don’t turn down a tutoring opportunity if you really want to be there at lunch. One opens doors to the other.

Be ready to serve where needed. Sometimes you have to pay your dues to open doors to bigger opportunities.

If you get the green light – proceed cautiously.

The principle of under-promise and over-perform has been successful for me over the years. Don’t tell them you’re going to come on campus every day; it’s just unrealistic. On the other hand, if you can’t agree to be on campus at least once a week, it’s difficult to be seen as a resource. Make sure if you commit to do something you follow through. If a condition to coming on campus was to not hand things out, then it’s simple – have integrity and don’t hand things out! Over time – trust me—you’ll have tons of opportunities to share with kids why you’re there.

Once you get on campus be prepared for interactions with students. Work on an answer for the inevitable questions like…

“Who are you?”
“Why are you here?”
“What are you doing here?”
“Are you a creeper?”

Jonathan actually spends multiple chapters in his book, Connect, giving you examples of how to connect with kids on campus, providing you with proven examples of what to and not to say when meeting kids for the first time in this setting.

Again, I’ve discovered that honesty is best. “I’m a local youth pastor and I’m here as a resource to the school.” Of course your role will vary a great deal and your responses should reflect what you told the school.

MY BAD: (How NOT to do it)
Don’t overcommit. It would be far better to tell the principal up front that you can only be there once a week than to over commit and under deliver.

Start small and be ready to deliver big! Be prepared with basic skills of how to connect with kids on campus.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy books like
Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, or the award winning book, Do They Run When They See You Coming?

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy

Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation


Rob Maxey

is a 20-year youth ministry veteran who has worked full time for Campus Life for the last 14 years. He serves on two campuses weekly and runs several campus ministries both on and off campus in partnerships with local churches. Rob has been interviewed several times in Jonathan's podcasts on and Jonathan drew from his expertise throughout his book, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. Rob serves on the national Campus Life team at Youth for Christ USA.

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