ATHENS — On Monday evening, Kenneth Brock strolls into a room full of University of Georgia freshmen to introduce them to the Baptist Campus Ministry. Some are Georgia Baptists, some are members of other faiths and, unfortunately, a growing number claim no faith.
BCM is open to all students and encourages them to continue to develop their faith during that important transition from high school to college … away from home and the ever-present eye of their parents. A preliminary report shows just how strong of a ministry the group has among the state’s 50 educational institutions where Georgia Baptists have a presence.
To many of those fresh-faced freshmen, Brock is their first encounter with the campus organization as it puts its best foot forward. But Brock is not alone; dozens of other groups are also at the event, ranging from fraternities and sororities to fly fishing groups, petroleum geologists, and LGBTQ fellowships.
All total, there are 846 student groups available to the nearly 40,000 UGA students.
Nearly 200 miles to the south in Tifton, Ashley Perl and Josh Odom at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College stuff 800 brown paper sacks with welcome treats. Within days the “goody bags” will find their place on the dorm beds of freshmen. Campus Minister Penny Chesnut says the students’ first impression of BCM will include a bottle of water, brochures on local churches, information on restaurants with coupons from merchants, and other items.
In Americus in Central Georgia, plans are being finalized for the crush of students who will descend on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University. As with other BCM groups, Welcome Week in the second week of August will be packed with high-energy events, free pizza, and inviting students to a variety of activities.
“The first three weeks of the Fall semester are crucial for us, as well as all campus organizations,” says Campus Minister Brian Puckett. “The majority of students connect with somebody or nobody in those opening days and we want to be sure they consider us as part of their college experience.”
Saturday, August 11 – “move in day” for the Fall semester – is fast approaching and BCM groups statewide are in the rush to put their best foot forward. As the saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
That’s why, at 9:30 p.m. on a balmy July night with the heat index pushing 100, Brock strolled into the campus building at UGA to meet a few of the thousands of incoming freshmen for the Fall semester.
Orientation for the next academic year is in full swing at the nation’s first public university, which has been welcoming students since 1785. All across the state, Baptist Campus Ministry presidents and representatives like Brock have been showing up at campus gatherings to build a presence and introduce newcomers to their fellowship.
“College students are the best way to reach college students,” Brock says as he reflects over his time in BCM. Staff can do a good job of giving direction but its one-on-one sharing through small groups that builds discipleship and a lifelong bond with others.”
The BCM booth was one of many competing for the attention of freshmen who were looking to break the ice on their new adventure and find some common ground with others of similar interest.
Brock assured the students, who only a few months ago were high school seniors, that BCM is a place to build friendships and cultivate, if not explore, their spiritual side to life.
The Toccoa native has been serving as president of the group since April and, through his three years on campus, knows BCM as thorough as anyone. He has participated on Send Me Now summer mission projects, has led Bible study groups, and rode a bicycle 300 miles with others from Athens to Jacksonville, Fla. to raise funds for missions.
“BCM is important because college students are searching for truth and purpose and this is the first time they have had to shape their worldview away from parental oversight. We want to be a positive influence as we share Christ with unchurched students and continue the discipleship process of those who are already believers,” the senior added.
That includes two weeks of a high-energy time called Dawg Fest where students receive help moving into their dorm, sponsoring an Open House, Carnival, and a game night.
BCM is important because college students are searching for truth and purpose and this is the first time they have had to shape their worldview away from parental oversight.
The UGA BCM averages 150-175 students on Tuesday night events. Those large fellowships break down into Dawg Pack small groups during the week which center around Bible studies. The group has 47 members on its student leadership team that oversees the outreach under the direction of Campus Minister Franklin Scott.
A legend among Georgia Baptist campus minister, Scott will be retiring in December just shy of 29 years with the Athens university. That long tenure will be profiled in an upcoming story in The Index. Jerry Johnson, campus minister at Georgia Southern in Statesboro, who assume his responsibilities.
“It’s always an exciting time to get a new crop of freshmen on campus,” Scott says from his office. Fortunately, the BCM building is conveniently located a block from the Tate Center and Zell Miller Learning Center where many of the orientation events are being held.
“The first few weeks can be very intimidating and we want to be sure students have a smooth transition and let them know we are here to undergird their search for spiritual truth.
“There are about 70 Christian groups on campus … it truly takes a village of believers to reach nearly 40,000 students. We want to do our part in that outreach to build a base of spiritual fellowship and lasting friendships,” he explains.
At ABAC, Chesnut and her students are also gearing up for an intense time of outreach and building visibility for local churches.
“We always feed community assistants in these opening days – the new name for resident assistants in the dorms – a couple of times to build our network with them. These are important members of the campus and, through their work in the dorms, frequently know of students who are searching for truth or just need a friend. We get many referrals where we can step in and offer assistance, discipleship, or a listening ear,” she says.
And, to be sure, the nearly 40-member group loves the legendary home-cooked meals provided by Chesnut and her team.