This is the final article in a three-part series related to high school seniors. The first two articles focused on “blessing them well” and “sending them well,” from the perspective of home churches and parents. This column will focus on churches and church leaders in college and university towns.
There is great uncertainty right now in your church. When will it be safe to open? How will we phase in the various programs and elements of our fellowship? What ministries are vital? How do we emphasize Christian community and fellowship and do it safety?
There is also a parallel course at your local college or university. Even if there are classes this fall, which ones will meet in person? What will class sizes look like? Which classes will meet online? How will students be housed? What will student life, outside of the classroom, look like? How will dining halls be different? Is social distancing even a realistic possibility on a college campus?
Finally, on yet another parallel course lives the college student – especially the ones who are about to show up for their first year. It can best be described as uncertainty in a time of uncertainty heading off to a place of uncertainty. College churches have often worked hard in the past to care for freshman and transfer students, but how will we “receive them well” this year?
So … is this “the perfect storm” or “a perfect opportunity?” Your perspective will make all the difference.
If you’re looking for a perfect opportunity, this is it. By August your church will be settling into your “new almost-normal.” Everything won’t be completely settled, but things will likely be calming down a bit. If your church has a history of loving collegians, this is a vital year to continue that tradition. These students will desperately need college churches that are ready to love them and involve them.
Here are some things to consider in order for this to go as smoothly as possible.
1. Just as everything in life around families and church has been through quite a bit of disruption, so it has also been for your local campus. Almost every campus is planning to open this fall – in some fashion. However, the opening of your college campus is going to look VERY different this time. The timing of “Welcome Week” may look more like “Welcome Month.”
2. Your local Georgia Baptist campus minister has been studying, learning, flexing, resourcing, and planning – all with the understanding that today’s plans may well transition into something that looks very different tomorrow. Like you, they are trying to stay true to their mission (Reaching Every College Student on Every College and University Campus) while adjusting strategy and plans as needed.
3. Plan a time to sit down with your local campus minister along with other churches that love collegians. He/She can keep you up-to-speed with changes on campus and network with your church and other area churches to reach out to all students – and especially new students. This is an important time for churches, BCMs, and campus ministers to work together.
4. Many churches have assisted in the past with “Move-In Day.” Students will still be moving in this August, but it’s probably going to look very different this year. Instead of a common move-in day, this process may happen over a number of days and at all hours of the day or night. Social distancing on move-in day will be a challenge. Your campus minister can help all interested churches be a part of serving the campus.
5. International students will likely be on your campus, but probably not in the same numbers we’ve seen in recent years. Some will need rides from the airport when they first arrive. Your campus minister can help your church connect with this need. These students will feel an even greater sense of chaos as they come on campus.
Some of your church members have a huge heart for internationals and for missions. Some have the gifts of hospitality and apostleship. There is no faster way for your church to participate in The Great Commission than to share Christ and Christian fellowship with an international student. You will find other resources at www.WelcomingTheNations.com.
6. “Welcome Back” worship services and meals are so important but will likely need to be very different this year. Your church will just be settling in to a new almost-normal by early August, and then the students will invade town.
Will you be ready for a new crowd to show up at your church? Will there need to be a worship service at your church just for collegians? Perhaps it will need to happen at a different time – like Sunday noon, Saturday night, or Sunday night? How will you feed students (still the best way to their hearts) in a new world of social distancing and food safety precautions?
When you plan meals, there will be new realities to consider. The days of putting out food with common serving utensils, stacks of plates and cups, ice bins with scoops, and plates of cookies may well be over.
7. Collegians love senior adults. Senior adults love college students. In a typical year, this is a wonderful thing. This year, we’ve got to think things through a bit more. Our senior adults are the most vulnerable group in the midst of COVID-19. How can these two groups, who really do care deeply for each other, interact in the future?
These are a few ideas designed to get college churches and church leaders thinking about August and beyond. Your local Georgia Baptist campus minister stands ready to be a resource to you.
Find contact information at www.gabcm.org or at www.gabaptist.org. Additional resources can be found at www.collegeministry.com. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will all do everything we can to help you and your church reach students this fall.
Joe Graham serves as Collegiate Ministries catalyst for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.