JEFFERSON CITY – COVID-19 restrictions are posing serious challenges for some college ministries in connecting with new students, reconnecting with existing students, and gathering students for Bible studies and discipleship. For other ministries, the new ministry format is actually providing opportunities for new, unexpected, and deepened connections.
Normally, Missouri State holds a student organization fair during Welcome Week to help students find the organizations and activities they want to be a part of. This year, instead of a big tabling event, they held smaller events tucked back in a small, out-of-the-way room on campus. As a result, instead of manning a table at the fair like normal, Campus Missionary Chris Wilson and a few of his students went out into the Student Union to invite other students to the BSU.
“Because of these extra efforts, one of our students made a new freshman friend who isn’t a dedicated believer but who wants to be part of our ministry and is now being challenged with the gospel,” he says. “I had a similar opportunity and have been meeting with a transfer student for a discovery Bible study as well.”
Wilson’s apprentice, Levi Springfield, started a Life Group in which students come hear him present a short session with a few questions. New faces are coming to the Life Group, which, he says, “is great because this is our way of funneling students into specific, single-gender discipleship groups.”
Christina Boatright’s returning students at North Central Missouri College have been consistently sharing the gospel and inviting others to join the BSU’s activities. “To see their love grow for the Word and community every week is beyond astounding,” she says. “It’s a huge shift from last year. The new students we have are inviting others every week and we are growing every week in students!”
For Kyle Rapinchuk at College of the Ozarks, “porch discipleship” has become a new staple of his ministry. “Despite students not being allowed to leave campus, our relationships with former students and church members has provided us with numerous opportunities for discipleship on our porch,” he says.
The beginning of the semester has been “way different, night and day, from a normal school year,” says Greg Xander of Truman State. The campus isn’t allowing tables or events, but the BSU sees those restrictions as an opportunity to bless other organizations, such as sororities, with the use of their building. “They are so grateful,” Xander says. “We are getting more and more requests because the rooms [on campus] are too small for them to social distance in comparison to our big room.” Xander is excited to see what connections and fruit come from sharing their space with other groups.
Some ministries are holding worship services outside as a way to adhere to guidelines and help students feel safe. The Lighthouse BSU at Southeast Missouri State (SEMO) has made some unexpected connections through their parking lot worship gatherings. The BSU building is located next to one of the most popular restaurants in the region. One week, a patron of the restaurant got out of his car, walked over and sat down for worship.
“He was broken over his sin,” says Campus Missionary Reese Hammond. “There was lots going on in his life. He said, ‘I knew I just had to come over here. I was going to drink, but I wanted to come here.’ We shared the gospel with him and exchanged numbers. We’re meeting soon for lunch to talk about the gospel. Us having an outdoor worship service enabled him to come,” Hammond says.
A girl from Iran has also been attending the worship services regularly. She’s not a Christian but joined a life group anyway. “The first group of community she met was us,” Hammond says. “She’d been the only student in her summer class as she preps for grad school. She’s starved for community. We offer it; she jumps on it.”
The Lighthouse at SEMO is continuing to meet new students, some international. While the numbers are still small, it’s something. “People are encouraged,” says Hammond. “We’re praying every time before, ‘Just bring one more.’ God has brought one more every week – maybe not the ones we’re thinking, but it’s who He’s thinking.” In the first few weeks of the semester alone, Hammond and his leaders had twenty-one gospel appointments – conversations with new connections specifically about the gospel.
While there are many things to bemoan about the challenges of ministry in a coronavirus world, there are silver linings, too. “Everything has to have a refocus on individuals and smaller groups because the university isn’t putting on big events,” Hammond says. “We’re emphasizing gospel appointments more and focusing on international students. Programs and events are nice, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s relationships that go into actual biblical discipleship.”