KANSAS CITY – The beginning of the fall semester is the busiest time for college ministries. And for good reason – the first few days on campus have a profound determining effect on the trajectory of students’ college years.
“Students typically find their college friends within the first 72 hours of being on campus,” says Travis Hamm, MBCollegiate Strategist. “It’s critically important that our ministries engage those students in that window of time.” The stakes are unequivocally high.
Campus missionaries know this, which is why their summers are usually spent meeting incoming freshmen and transfer students at orientations and planning a robust lineup of Welcome Week events. Building relationships with students during those critical hours – or better yet before they even reach campus – provides spiritual continuity and solid community.
COVID-19 is putting campus missionaries at a serious disadvantage in connecting with new students for the fall. It’s a loss that they feel acutely.
“Connecting with incoming students has been especially challenging this summer,” says Jeff Carson, University of Missouri-Columbia. “Campus is still largely shut down, so the summer welcome events where we’re able to get face time with new students aren’t happening on campus. They’re happening virtually, which means we’re not really connecting at all.”
Some ministries rely on religious preference information the university collects at summer orientations to connect them to incoming students who may be looking for a campus ministry. At Missouri S&T, the switch from in-person events to online means that information has taken a hit. “Although the campus included a clickable link religious interest survey, there has been a disappointing response,” says Bruce Wade.
Collegiate Week has been one way some ministries establish relationships with incoming students before the semester begins. The four-day Lifeway event held each August “was like giving [freshmen] a semester head start on the social and spiritual transition to college,” says Jon Smith of Missouri Southern. “We were able to connect with some students before they even came to campus and connect others who were transferring away from us to a ministry on their new campus.”
At the end of June, Lifeway announced the cancellation of the event due to coronavirus. “It’s a big blow,” says Smith.
Aaron Werner, Crowder College, concurs: “We would always use our August trip as a hook to get new students interested. With that trip gone, it takes that away.”
Campus missionaries are doing the best they can to adapt, but the uncertainty makes it challenging. “The general mystery of what returning to campus is going to look like is making it hard to plan,” says Kale Uzzle, University of Missouri – St. Louis. “My school still hasn’t even released a potential plan for reopening, so we have no idea how to organize for Welcome Week.”
Missouri State’s reopening plan has “eliminated all welcome weekend activities like the New Student Festival, Bear Bash, and Belong-B-Que that got us in front of students,” says Chris Wilson.
If events are allowed, the virus may make on-campus meeting rooms and event space a rare commodity, a problem Tim and Theresa Toolen foresee at Maryville University. “Space/rooms are at a premium considering social distancing requirements,” says Tim.
In light of these added obstacles, MBC churches and church members can serve as conduits between college students and on-campus ministries. “MBC churches play a vital role in connecting the students they have invested countless hours in discipling to our ministries,” says Austin. “We need the over 1800 churches to let us know where their students are going, so we can accomplish the ministry God has called us to perform.”
By connecting MBCollegiate with college students around the state, churches can help reach students in a time when they need the anchor of Jesus Christ more than ever.
“Churches have invested so much time and effort and emotional and physical energy into these students,” says Carson. “I know they want to see them continue in their faith. Taking those extra few minutes to help them connect to a campus ministry before their schoolyear starts would be really helpful and super important for them.”
“MBCollegiate ministries can walk beside students during this transition, but only if we know who they are,” says Austin.
If you know college students who attend a Missouri college or are connected to your church in some way, even if they attend college outside of Missouri, please get us in touch with them. Our ministries have opportunities for community and discipleship both in-person and through online formats. Call Tamara Parry at 573-636-0400 ext. 365 or visit https://collegiate.mobaptist.org/graduates/. ν