When we meet and welcome new people during important times of the year--not least during New Student Outreach--we participate in the great banquet of the kingdom that Father, Son and Holy Spirit have set for us! It is a great gift and spiritual practice to welcome others as we have been welcomed!
Follow up has these four basic components. Think of them as important values and guidelines but not a formula. There’s a lot we can’t control about meeting and welcoming new people, but if we are committed to these values and practices, we’ll be doing what we can on our end to start a new friendship.
- Jesus-centered hospitality: Ask God to help you share the welcome you received from him and his community to others.
- Face-to-face connection: Give them your attention and time--whether in-person or online (the best is both), take the time to get to know them, ask questions.
- Two or more times a connection: Continue to find small ways to connect with the new person. Creating two or more touch points of connection (even if they are over a video chat) really helps someone get connected.
- Web a community: Introduce them to your friends who might have similar interests by inviting them to a small group or weekly meeting.
God loves to use good follow up to change people’s lives, both face-to-face and online. They may not say yes immediately, but people like to be invited to connect and be seen. And, remember, everyone is looking for a place to belong. It might not be obvious all the time, but this is a huge need at the start of the year in the Fall and again after the new year in January.
Meeting new people is hard work! They may not share our same interests or may be different in other ways. As we meet and welcome new people, it’s easy to let it become pragmatic and we can grow to resent it. Don’t neglect how God wants to help you keep your mind and heart open to new people. Create prayer and rest rhythms that help you hear from God along the way and recharge spiritually and emotionally. Also, remember follow up is a team sport: go with God and a friend!
After we have received a student’s contact information, we want to contact them and meet with them in person or through a short video chat (5min is fine!). This is an opportunity to get to know them better and share about yourself as well.
Ask good questions
Ask open-ended questions that will give your new friend an opportunity to share:
- Tell me how you became a student at ________.
- What’s your experience at [school] been like so far?
- What is your spiritual background?
- Share more about InterVarsity and be prepared for questions about why you are involved in InterVarsity and the difference it has made in your life.
- Invite yourself back or set up another time to meet.
What not to do
Don’t "sell.” Focusing mainly on inviting them to the next thing (without investing in the relationship) communicates you have an agenda or are “selling” them on InterVarsity. Instead, take the time to build trust and get started with a real relationship by showing real interest in their life and story. It is sometimes a good idea to invite a person to the next event after just meeting them, but you should always make a real connection with them first.
Don’t just send mass emails, texts or other mass communications that invite new students to events. Making the effort to make a more personal connection through a phone call, direct message or video chat.
Two or More Times of Connection
Once you have met once, you want to continue to build the relationship by connecting two more times. Why? If we meet someone three times, it communicates genuine interest and allows us the time needed to really get to know one another.
Web a Community
We don’t want to be the only person who gets to know a new student. We want them to have a deeper experience of community. Invite new students into your world – your community. No matter where the new student is on their spiritual journey, it’s beneficial to have a community to support you.
Here are some good examples of how to invite into a community:
- “Do you have a place where you can get connected to a community that wants to be for real? InterVarsity is my favorite place to talk about real issues and faith. Would you want to come with me to the first online meeting?”
- “I’m building a community that talks seriously about justice and how we find hope in the midst of injustice. Come join my cooking and conversation group. We make dinner together on Zoom and have real conversations. Want to join?”
- “Every thinking person owes it to themselves to create an adult opinion about Jesus. Do you have a place to do that? I’m creating a community of people who consider themselves skeptics, spiritual seekers, and Christians to do just that. I want to hear your opinion as we take an honest look at Jesus. Would you like to come?”
Use our Compelling Invitation resource to help you bring your story, your community and an invitation together in a thoughtful and organic way!
Follow Up Sample Activities
1. Face to Face Connction
2. Two or More Times of Connection
3. Web A Community
Follow Up Pro-Tips
Tip #1: Improve follow up through social media.
Freshmen are often following Instagram and other social media handles for their campus in early spring before the school year starts. Take some time to think about how you could engage with them well. The best approaches combine in-person touches with online welcome, like sending them a welcome note or simple gift (stickers, food, swag). The key here is to mainly serve them and build a relationship. This is not the time to do lots of invitations. Imagine that when freshmen come to campus they recognize you because you’ve already welcomed them! This will really strengthen any future invitations!
Tip #2: Understand your context.
For residential schools, the first face-to-face meeting will happen ideally within 48 hours. For commuter schools, it may take a bit longer, but follow up with a phone call, email, direct message or text message within 48 hours to set a time to meet. If you know your campus will be completely online or that you won’t have access to campus in-person, try this online-based follow up resource.
Tip #3: Create a way to keep track of follow up progress.
This can be anything from a Google Spreadsheet to AirTable or another system, but the goal is to have a communal place where accountability exists for follow up commitments and to ensure everyone is being met in a timely way (as we say above, we strongly recommend a first contact within 48 hours of the event the new person attended).
Tip #4: Pray before you call, text, or visit.
We trust that those we encounter at an event or an information table are people that God has brought our way for a purpose. Pray that God would use our follow up as a way to communicate God’s love for this student in tangible ways and for supernatural insight into how we can be a blessing to those with whom we meet.
Are you a ministry leader or coach? Here are some tips for coaching best practices:
- Cast vision: Share the vision for follow up and share stories from your own experience.
- Acknowledge that follow up can feel awkward: Name the awkwardness, but also emphasize the impact we can have and our need for: continued initiative, courage and persistence.
- Give space for people to express negative emotions: There will be fears, concerns, negative emotions around follow up. Don't be afraid to give space.
- Group follow up times: Here's a simple structure: Gather, Share quick vision, Pray, Go do follow up, Return and debrief (ideally over food), Pray for folks they met, Make plans for the next time they will go out in pairs.
- Practice follow up using a role play: Have everyone practice taking turns role playing a new student or a leader. Practice asking good questions and making a good invite to your community--how InterVarsity made a difference in your life and why it could be good for them too (avoid just sharing an announcement). Remember to practice talking to Christians and seekers.
- Regular check ins on progress: Follow up is a discipline that requires regular check ins. Are they doing follow up? Is it working? What would it take for us to meet our goals? (We change strategies, not our goals.)
- Share testimonies at weekly meetings or small groups: Build ownership for follow up by inviting key students to share about how God has been working through follow up.
*Coaching tips adapted from Adam Croft, "Best Practices of Team Ownership of Follow Up"