Though this fall semester will certainly be unlike any other, I believe there are unique opportunities for us to reach more students. Our campus team walked away from a brainstorming session with a long list of strategies that God is already using to bear fruit.
Christ’s words are as applicable during COVID-19 as any other academic semester:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matt. 9:36–38)
Most students are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” My heart breaks as I consider the brokenness in these students’ lives. The isolation of COVID-19 has only exacerbated these problems. Even though so many are lonely, broken, and lost, God is moving in students’ hearts. A recent study by Faithwire found that 21.5 percent of non-Christians have started reading the Bible or listening to online sermons during the pandemic. In God’s providence, COVID-19 has opened up many to the truth and hope of the gospel.
Here are three simple ideas for college outreach in a COVID-19 world.
1. Decentralize Your Ministry
Each year our ministry plans a series of “front door” events to welcome freshmen and new students on campus. We use these to build relationships, set up gospel appointments, and plug new people into discipling relationships and small groups.
Unfortunately, such large-scale events aren’t possible this fall. Instead, we plan to “divide and conquer” by hosting a multitude of small “socially distanced” outreach events. These will help new students connect with us and will provide our student leaders with an opportunity to set up gospel appointments. The events will also enable us to customize our approach to reach specific “people groups” on campus (freshman dorms, athletes, Greeks, internationals, and more). We plan to put together small teams and do these events daily for the first two weeks so that we optimize our ability to meet new students.
21.5 percent of non-Christians have started reading the Bible or listening to online sermons during the pandemic. In God’s providence, COVID-19 has opened up many to the truth and hope of the gospel.
The average student coming to campus is still looking for friends and fun. We want them to find that in our ministry! Our campuses and its organizations will be hosting fewer events than ever before, so there will likely be a massive gap in students’ schedules that our ministries can fill in with small, socially distant in-person events.
Our ministry is also launching an “interest group” strategy where student leaders will host weekly get-togethers based around common interests (Spikeball, art, disc golf, cooking, and so on). They’ll use these groups as “fishing pools” where they can build relationships and share Christ. We’ve also encouraged our leaders to form virtual study groups for their online classes. These have the potential to multiply the number of people we can reach.
Students are still those best equipped to reach other students. Challenge your student leaders to form small teams and launch their own interest groups or online “discovery groups.” When COVID-19 hit, our ministry challenged student leaders to gather in teams of two or three, make a list of 10 friends each, and invite them to a Bible study called “Discovering Purpose.” Geography was no longer an issue, since these were being held online. They invited friends from other campuses and from back home, as well as their peers on campus. In the Lord’s kindness, we’ve seen these groups proliferate. Most importantly, we’ve seen many students come to faith in Christ. Decentralizing our ministry has proven effective!
2. Continue to Value Contacts
One of the biggest blows to fall outreach this year is that we can’t host an information table and gather contact information from interested students. We’re usually on campus for four hours each day the first two weeks. This semester, however, our contact gathering will be completely virtual.
Students are still those best equipped to reach other students.
We are using social media—especially Instagram—to contact incoming freshmen and build relationships with them using Zoom and sharing the gospel as opportunities arise. This summer we’ve already met 15 incoming freshmen who have professed faith in Christ.
We also plan to purchase advertisements on social media. The great thing about advertising on Instagram and Facebook is that you can choose your target audience. These ads will promote our ministry and events in an effort to gather more contacts.
In addition to social-media presence, we’re hosting a raffle giveaway. To enter the raffle, students must fill out an online form (similar to our 30 Second Survey) that asks if they’re interested in hearing more about Christianity. If a student indicates interest, then we contact them, get them plugged into events, and set up a gospel appointment with them.
Last, another way we’re trying to generate contacts is by asking local apartment complexes if we can leave a flyer on students’ doors. These flyers will promote interest groups, our raffle giveaway, and Christianity in general. We include a code on the flyer so they can connect with us.
3. Remember That Risk Is Right
This fall, I want to challenge you to lead your team to take risks to meet students and share the gospel with thousands on campus. John Piper was correct: risk is right when we’re seeking to advance God’s kingdom.
I hope you experience some failure. If you aren’t failing, it probably means you aren’t trying hard enough. In my experience, God moves in the most powerful ways when we lead our team to the “edge of faith.”
God uses our weaknesses and limitations to demonstrate his power and glory.
I love the words of Hudson Taylor:
Many Christians estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources, and thus attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt. All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence with them.
God uses our weaknesses and limitations to demonstrate his power and glory. So let’s trust him. Let’s pray and expect him to move in mighty ways on campuses around the world. Let’s not settle for anything less.
The Gospel Coalition