Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What Being a College Admissions Counselor Taught Me About Effective Evangelism

I love my job. No, it’s not a job that will ever make me rich, and I highly doubt that it is a job I will do for the rest of my life, but I honestly love it anyway. You see, I am an admissions counselor at Bryan College, a small Christian College just north of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I spend my days recruiting and helping high schoolers walk through the intimidating application process and hopefully convincing them that Bryan College is the place they want to attend for the next four years of their lives.  I love my job because I get to persuade people to attend the school where I spent the four best and most formative years of my life, and hopefully the place where they will have the same experience.

Now I have only been an admissions counselor for about three months, but I didn’t have the job long before I realized that the desire I have to tell others about Bryan College and what an incredible place it was for me and my family (my parents are also BC Grads), is exactly like what our desire to share the gospel should be. The more I meditated on that thought, the more I realized how many lessons I was inadvertently learning about effective evangelism just from being an admissions counselor!

My job is to persuade as many students as I can that Bryan College is the best place for them to spend their undergrad education. Our job as Christians is detailed in the Great Commission, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NIV). We are supposed to spread the gospel (literally the good news), to all the world!

Just as in college admissions, some methods of evangelism are more effective than others.  As I have mulled over this parallel for a few months, I have managed to glean a few helpful tips for more effective evangelism that I would like to share with you below.

Care about the message: I have often wondered why colleges ever hire admissions counselors that never attended school there. Even before I was an admissions counselor myself, I pondered this question.  If I were to walk up to you in the park and say, “Some guy over there just payed me twenty bucks to tell you that Nike makes better shoes than Adidas,” but I was wearing Adidas shoes, you probably would just laugh at me and tell me to leave you alone.  But what if I walked up to you while wearing Nike tennis shoes and said, “Excuse me, I see you standing there looking like your feet were hurting and I couldn’t help but notice that you were wearing Adidas. You know, I used to wear Adidas too and my feet always hurt. Then my mom gave me a pair of Nikes for Christmas and my feet haven’t felt like I spent the day at a theme park since then. You ought to think about switching”? You might actually consider what I had to say (that, or wonder how you wound up in a Nike commercial while walking your dog through the park).

It is the same for colleges. Someone who actually attended the college they are trying to sell is going to have a lot more persuasive power than someone who graduated from elsewhere. I can’t tell you how often I get asked questions that would be impossible for me to answer if I had not attended Bryan College. It says a lot about a college when the people who graduate from it want to stick around to work for the institution as well. It shows that their talk isn’t cheap and they actually believe in what they are selling because it made a difference in their lives.

In the same way, imagine you were a nonbeliever and I was a Muslim who walked up to you on the street and told you that you should believe that Jesus was the son of God who died on the cross for your sins? You would leave the conversation with two conclusions. One, he doesn’t believe in Christianity enough to actually follow it himself.  And two, he doesn’t believe in Islam enough to try and convert people to his own faith. Neither result would be beneficial to either religion.  Or how about in more realistic terms? What would it look like to a non-believer to be witnessed to by a Christian who did nothing but complain about God? It wouldn’t be a very consistent message, would it?

Always be on call: One interesting part about being an admissions counselor is that I am always on call. When you work with high schoolers, they don’t operate in the normal hours that grown adults do and it isn’t uncommon at all to get a text from a student at 11 o’clock at night.  You see, from 8 AM to 3 PM, high schoolers are in classes and can’t be reached for the most part.  Many of them even stay up until ungodly hours as well. Sometimes I will wake up and see that applications were submitted at 3 AM the night before. If I have a student in California, that means that they don’t actually get out of class until 6 PM my time, so any calls that have to be made for interviews or the like have to be done sometime after dinner; even sometimes as late as 10 PM. I have students text and email me on weekends and holidays, nights and mornings. Really, any time is fair game.

But you know what, it’s alright. I honestly don’t mind it. I was aware that something like this was a part of the job and I was okay with it. As a counselor, I try to respond as quickly as I can. Now to be fair, that isn’t always immediately. For example, last weekend I was in a wedding which meant my response time was a lot slower than it normally would have been, but I still did respond when I had a moment. Think about the last time you got stuck on hold waiting to talk to a help desk? Were you a happier customer when you were on hold for thirty seconds, or thirty minutes? The fact of the matter is that impatience and wanting answers quickly is just a part of being a human.

In the same way, as Christians, we should always be prepared to share the gospel. There will always be hurting people in need of a savior and you never know when the opportunity will arise to share the gospel with them. Those who work in ministry will often tell you that it is an exhausting job because hard things don’t wait for a convenient gap in your schedule to happen. At the drop of the hat, someone could fall ill, lose a family member, or simply just need someone to talk to. It is in those moments that ministry is at its ripest and the best harvest can be reaped.

It’s okay if you don’t know the answer: We joke that as admissions counselors, we are expected to know everything about the college, but what that really means is that we know who to ask. As an admissions counselor, I am the face of the school to my students. I represent Bryan College to them with everything I say and do, and I am expected to know the answers to any questions they may have. But the fact of the matter is that I don’t know everything about the school.

That isn’t to say that I know nothing about it, either. I joke that I had four years of training for this job as a student.  If you take into account the fact that I am a second generation Bryan Graduate and grew up hearing about the college, then I really had 22 years of training. In addition to my personal experience with the school, I also have worked to familiarize myself with our promotional material and the information on our website. Even if I don’t know the answer off the top of my head, hopefully I know where to look for it.

With evangelism, one of the biggest fears people tend to have is, “What if they ask me a question I don’t know?” There is a misconception that not knowing an answer could turn someone away from Christ. While we should definitely be as prepared as possible for questions by reading our Bible, even the smartest Christians will tell you that theology can be complex stuff and a quick answer might not always be available, or even best.  I can’t tell you the number of times a month that I tell someone, “You know what? I don’t actually know, but I will write that down and get back to you.”

Once I have been asked the question, it is crucial that I find out the answer as quickly as possible and keep my word about getting back to them. The longer I wait to respond with an answer, the more likely I am to lose the lead. Now, some answers do take longer than others to come up with, so it is alright to tell that person that you haven’t forgotten, but it is just taking some time to get a sufficient answer. Leads are never lost by not knowing an answer, they are lost by not taking the time to figure it out.

In the same way, nonbelievers will ask some hard questions on occasion, questions we might not always know.  But it is crucial for us to be familiar with our material, and to know who to ask if we can’t find an answer. And finally, when you say that you will get back to someone, you had better get back to them because not doing so will lose you the lead.

Treat everyone as equal: Romans 3:23-24 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (NIV).  Every single person, Christian or non-Christian, has fallen short of the glory of God. It doesn’t matter how they act or what they look like, they are all equally fallen.

As an admissions counselor, I have to treat every student as equal. That can be hard to do when not every student is easy to deal with, but each student deserves an equal opportunity at acceptance. When a student visits campus, it doesn’t matter how oddball they may appear or act, they deserve the same attention I would give my best friend’s brother if he were applying.

As Christians, it can be really easy to blacklist people who we have heard bad things about, or who don’t look like good people.  Celebrities or politicians that have a bad reputation or differing political views, sometimes aren’t deemed worthy of the same salvation that was offered to us, but the fact of the matter is that Jesus didn’t come to earth to minister to the perfect (of which there were none), rather the broken. In the same way, we have to give that same treatment to others. Who would have thought that the Apostle Paul who formerly killed Christians, would be the one who wrote a major portion of the New Testament? People can tell when they are being treated differently, so don’t let their turn off to Christianity be something as petty and simple to fix as that.

Build relationships: I have yet to be an admissions counselor for an entire year’s cycle, but I have been told that only about a quarter of people who apply to a college, will actually deposit/commit.  If 100 apply, only about 50 will get accepted, and about 25 will deposit.  Not all of that attrition is due to people not meeting standards, in fact most of it is just people deciding on other schools, or not getting you the material you need to accept them. I am told (and have recently been able to witness) that those who deposit, are most likely the ones who you have built a relationship with. The ones that saw the way your school treated them as different from how the competition did.  There are a lot of schools out there that all want to bring in students, so you have to stand out in a crowd for the student to want to commit to you.  The best way of doing that? Building a relationship.

The same goes for Christianity. Most of the people I have had the privilege of leading to Christ have not been people that I had never met, but rather people that I took the time to foster a relationship with; people who have hopefully been able to see first-hand through my life, what Christianity is all about. The problem is that this takes time and commitment. Sometimes they will need help or inconvenience you, but that is a byproduct of any relationship; familial, romantic, or platonic.

As a counselor, you know when you have had a good call or meeting with a student when you have really felt a create a good connection. It doesn’t happen every time, but when it does, we counselors get pretty excited about it. It’s not uncommon for one of us to walk into someone else’s office just to tell them about a cool conversation or funny interaction with a student. The reason this is so exciting to us, is because these interactions are the building blocks to a good relationship that will hopefully bring them to Bryan College long term.  If we strive so hard to build these relationships in admissions, why then shouldn’t we strive to build them in evangelism?

Don’t drop them once they commit: So many Christians treat evangelism with a tag ‘em and bag ‘em mentality. Do whatever it takes to get them to become a Christian, and then forget all about them so that you can either move onto the next one or rid yourself of the inconvenience.  What this does, however, is cause a number of young believers to fall away from their faith when nobody shows an interest in them. Most pastors will tell you that discipleship is one of the main things that the church is really lacking.

Once a student deposits to Bryan, I still can’t write them off and forget about them. I have to maintain that relationship I built, not only to remain consistent, but because I am the only connection to Bryan most of them have. They don’t have the luxury of knowing which professors to take through word of mouth. They don’t know anything about the dorms or campus organizations. Granted, not every student wants the same amount of help, but we have to at least be there if they need it.

We are told on occasion that we are doing something wrong as counselors if we don’t have at least one student stop by our office on occasion just to talk. How do you think it would look to a student who is so impressed by the way people in the admissions department of Bryan College treated them, if they came to school and nobody, student, faculty, or staff, showed any interest in them? What would they do? Transfer. They would determine that they were given a false impression of Bryan College and that the relationships built were simply phony and meant to bait them into paying the money to come.

I am not saying that you have to remain in the lives of every person you share the gospel with in the same exact fashion that you came into it.  While it would be preferable, that frankly isn’t always an option.  You must at least remain in their life somehow until you are able to get them settled in a good church with other Christians that will pour into them. (And even after that, you can’t forget about them entirely.) Just like, as an admissions counselor, we pour into our students until we are satisfied that they are sufficiently plugged into a friend group and have good professors pouring into them.

In the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4, we hear about a man who plants a bunch of seeds. Those that fall on rocks never grow. Those that fall among thorns grow but are choked out, and finally, those that fall on fertile ground grow into strong plants. In the same way, at Bryan, new students fall into three categories. The ones that come and either don’t connect, or didn’t actually commit to the community life standards that our students abide by and thus wash out without ever spending much time. Another group comes and does really well at first, but falls into negativity, inspired by the complaints of others, they soon decide that Bryan isn’t for them and transfer out. And finally, you have the group that just falls in love with it.

It is no different with Christianity. You have those who never actually gave their lives to Christ or are never accepted in by other Christians. You have the group that does great, but then are turned away from Christianity by Christians themselves. And finally, you have the group that received the nourishment they needed and just blossoms into strong Christians.


When I started this job, I never thought that I would learn not just one, but six different lessons about effective evangelism. I didn’t even expect to learn one! But I am so very glad that I have. After all, Jesus’s final command to his disciples before he left for heaven was to share the gospel so that all might partake in the salvation he came to offer.

So to my fellow Christians reading this, I leave you with the words of Paul in Colossians 4:2-6:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (NIV).

To those of you who may be reading this and have never made the decision to accept the gift of salvation that Jesus offers to you, let me encourage you to click here to find out more.

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