College Ministry Leaders Work to Continue Outreach Amid Covid-19 Restrictions

College minister Noble Paddyaker meets with University of Oklahoma students from his work station at home.
Submitted photo

NASHVILLE (BP) — College ministry thrives in community. But the COVID-19 pandemic — and the resulting social distancing policies, including bans on large gatherings and campus-wide shutdowns — has in many ways severed traditional connections.

In an uncertain time, college ministries are finding ways to not only maintain community despite distance, but also working to foster an increasingly encouraging environment for the future.

A Heightened Focus

“Ministry looks like real life,” said Tiffany Hudson, director for Vanderbilt University Baptist Collegiate Ministry in Nashville. “It looks like helping collegians understand their need for community and providing space for them to continue to navigate life together.”

The correct focus of college ministry is leading students to the Word of God, where they can find true soul nourishment, Hudson continued. Even though most students have left campus because of the pandemic and scattered to their various homes, disrupting the traditional avenues for encouraging and equipping, that focus hasn’t changed.

“Ministry [now] looks like helping them relieve stress, worry and anxiety with online hangouts, fun activities, and opportunities to express their feelings,” Hudson said. “It’s about helping collegians walk through sorrow, but also find joy in a new normal.”

She said the pandemic is a call to ministry leaders to dig deep into the creative bucket for new and innovative ways to do outreach, discipleship and Gospel ministry. Around the country, college ministries are utilizing platforms such as Zoom, Facebook Live, Instagram, GroupMe and Skype to meet and maintain connections.

Morgan Owen, director BCM at University of Tennessee-Martin, said the staff’s biggest focus during the disruption of normal activities has been on using Instagram to communicate.

“BCM thrives because of the dynamics of community,” Owen said. “The obvious path to take was moving to a digital form of programming.”

Owen said BCM at UT-Martin hosts different programs with varying audiences and content focuses throughout the week, including: a weekly worship service, short devotionals hosted by Owen, men’s and women’s discipleship groups, prayer meetings and devotionals for the student leadership of BCM.

Hudson said Vanderbilt’s BCM has used Zoom for interactive meetings like Bible studies, but also for more laid-back sessions with the goal of simply building community.

“We host BCM ‘Cribs’ and each student gave us a tour of their home,” Hudson said. “We learned about each other, the things people collect, and even met some family members and pets of our students.”

A place to belong

Student leaders of collegiate ministries are also having to adjust to the now completely online platforms for ministry.

Elizabeth Schroeder, a sophomore elementary education major at University of Oklahoma, leads a weekly small group through the BCM chapter at OU. Schroeder said her hope in the Zoom meetings is to provide a comfortable space to engage, connect with each other and feel like they belong.

“I appreciate that we’re still making an effort to be in community and still grow together, even though we’re all spread out and isolated,” Schroeder said.

Joe Bouchard, a junior linguistics and computer science double major, also helps lead a small group at OU. He echoed Schroeder’s sentiments.

“We’re still having good conversation,” Bouchard said. “We’re still doing things as a community, together, even though we’re not physically together, which is a whole lot of fun.”

Bouchard said students are also finding ways to have fun together outside of the regular scheduled small groups meetings through avenues like custom Minecraft video game servers, challenges on social media and simply hanging out on Zoom calls.

But continuing the mission of ministry outreach is not as straightforward as it was in person and on campus, Schroeder noted.

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Source: Baptist Press