Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What Nick Saban Taught Me About Student Ministry

Whether you classify yourself as a Crimson Tide fan or not, you've got to admit that Head Football Coach, Nick Saban seems to be something pretty special.  He's the only coach in the BCS era to win 3 National Championships and two of them have been in the past three years.  He seems like he knows a thing or two about the game of football.

As I watched a recent interview with Coach Saban, I knew that he was wise in regards to the game of football, but I wasn't really prepared for him to teach me something about my own line of work; Student Ministry...

Here's what he reminded me of:  We're all in the recruiting business.  He was talking about the importance of recruiting.  For Coach Saban, he is focused on recruiting the top High School talent in the country and he went on to talk about how he gets these boys committed to calling his locker room home for the next several years of their lives.

The coach said, you aren't going to recruit top talent because you have these things:

1.  Fancy Facilities-- Many of us in ministry are guilty of believing that a better facility will bring more people into your church.  Afterall, don't we all want hudreds of thousands of square feet and new paint and fancy electronics throughout?  A nice facility is great, but as far as people actually showing up and getting assimilated into your ministry, a facility isn't going to make that happen most of the time.

2.  Sharp Jerseys & Logos-- Ministry Marketing are huge buzz words right now and many believe if you have a big enough marketing budgets or cool enough logos and graphics, than your church will grow and people will get plugged in.  It's a great advantage to have these things, but they're not the answer either.

3.  A Great Staff Team-- If a church has an incredible staff, it should explode right?  You would think so... but apparently just having a great team in place isn't what gets someone committed to becoming a part of your church.  Now, we all know that a great staff team is your best resource, but in the area of recruitment, it takes more than that.

4.  A Great History & Tradition-- Believe it or not, the past is the past.  Now, a great legacy is invaluable, but people really are concerned more about the future than they are the past.  Therefore, a great tradition or history isn't what it takes to get someone committed.

5.  Boosters & Budget-- Everyone would commit to going to a church that has a ton of money and a group of people backing it and supporting it, right?  Apparently that's not the answer.  There are many churches that have money and good support systems in place.  So, if that's not the key in recruiting, what is?

As I watched the interview, I was on the edge of my seat, because at times in my ministry career, I've bought into all 5 of these lies.  I've found myself envious of my Pastor-friends spending millions on incredible facilities and said to myself, "If we could only build a facility like that... then we would explode..."  I remember times in my past when I've thought, "If our website was cooler..." or "If I could just hire these guys..."  "If I only had a bigger budget..."  "If I only had the support of the finance team or the Executive Staff..."  If you've been in ministry any time at all, I'm pretty confident you can identify with these statements. 

So I'm sitting there, waiting to hear the secret to Coach Saban's recruiting success and you know what he says?  He says, "If you want to get a High School kid to commit to your organization... if you want him to be in your locker room, you first have to get in his living room."

That's it.  It's not Facebook contacts or writing thank you notes to your visitors.  It's not a phone call from a Bible Study teacher or a text blast from a Youth Pastor.  The secret is old school visitation.  If you want a High School student to be committed to you and your organization, you must first be committed enough to meet him or her on their home turf.  If you show that much commitment initially, the return on your investment is typically pretty good.

I'm not sure why it took a Nick Saban interview to jog this realization in my brain, because the Bible is full of examples that teach this very same thing.  If you are intentional in meeting people on their home turf, they're way more likely to embrace you, your story and the opportunity you're presenting them.  So, if you're really All-In... embrace what works, put a few extra miles on your car this year and hit the ground running in 2012.


  1. Two words: "wow" and "ouch". Great stuff, Jordan!

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