Ministering to college students after everyone goes home

By April 27, 2020

USA (MNN) — InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has a goal; bring a campus ministry presence to every college campus in the United States with more than 1,000 enrolled students before the year 2030. They call it their 2030 Calling.

But that goal is much harder to reach when colleges and universities across the nation send their students home during a health crisis.

Going Online

“This disruption at first… created a slowdown or a pause in our ability to get to new campuses because you physically couldn’t go to campuses; they were closing,” says Jason Thomas of InterVarsity. “That had a significant short term disruption to our work, but we made a pretty significant shift fairly quickly to try to move ministry online wherever we could.”

InterVarsity has a specific team whose sole purpose is to consider effective online ministry, including small groups, prayer meetings, and leadership development. They’re even considering a large group meeting that would involve worship and a main speaker.

So when COVID-19 forced many schools to close their doors, InterVarsity stepped up to the plate with digital alternatives to in-person campus ministry. So far, students are responding positively.

“What we’ve seen, interestingly, has been a large number of new students getting involved with Intervarsity because they find that getting plugged in through digital means either is easier to do than walking into a new meeting or new dorm room or they’re hungry or eager,” Thomas says.

Screenshot of one online small group meeting (Photo courtesy of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

Students are looking for answers and community in a world without either of those things. InterVarsity wants to fill that gap for them.

What Comes After

Right now, the endgame of the U.S. response to COVID-19 is uncertain. Universities are still considering how to proceed on the other side of quarantine, and even if they deem it safe to readmit students to campus, they may not turn away from their current digital approaches.

If more classes go online and more students pursue digital education, InterVarsity wants to meet them there.

“As campuses get better at teaching, I think you’ll see a pretty significant jump into this space. At least that’s what we’re anticipating and trying to be prepared for both,” Thomas says. “We believe that we’re going to have to be ready to do a dual platform kind of ministry, the kind where we do it traditionally on campus meeting face to face in dorm rooms as well as have a second platform that’s online trying to reach students through digital means.”

Do Your Part

Want to help? You don’t have to wait for students to come back to campus. InterVarsity already has space for volunteers to provide online services and discipleship measures. Whether you’re partnering with InterVarsity or simply looking for ways to do ministry from your own home, InterVarsity has resources for you right here. If you want to connect with students directly, contact InterVarsity and ask how you could get involved.

Do you know high schoolers or college students looking for ways to connect during quarantine? Every Friday, InterVarsity hosts an event called InterVarsity Live to help people do just that.

An upcoming online student workshop (Image courtesy of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

But there’s one more group who needs help and prayer: faculty. Thomas points out that many faculty are experiencing their own challenges and fears. Consider reaching out to any faculty you may know to show them support, and even if you don’t know anyone personally, keep them in your prayers.

And whoever you are, have hope.

“We don’t know that we know exactly what will happen, but we’re really open to hearing and listening to what the Lord is doing in the midst of this,” Thomas says ”I think we’re very eager to see what the Lord will do to draw people to himself.

“We’ve invited folks to consider what other losses they’ve experienced and how do you lament those losses? How do you grieve those things? And in some ways, going through that door might lead you to increase hope over time, even though you might feel despair in the present.”



Header photo courtesy of Unsplash.

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