How we minister now may look different, but our strategy remains the same.
When the COVID-19 situation escalated, in an instant and almost without warning, the world—including campus ministry—changed. Classes were suspended and graduations postponed indefinitely. Youth services were cancelled. We had to ask ourselves, “How do we do campus ministry without the campus?”
What this crisis has taught us—and continues to teach us—is the reality that the digital world is a significant part of the campus and it has a corresponding weight on the lives of students. It’s where they engage with each other, where their minds are being shaped, where worldviews are propagated, and where habits and behaviors are being formed.
We need to engage the new form that the campus is taking and the new challenges that come with it. But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to provide a comprehensive and foolproof answer as to how exactly we can do this. Things constantly evolve and, as we’ve seen, they can drastically change in the blink of an eye.
Amidst constant change, let’s go back to our strategy—the 4Es. We still Engage, Establish, Equip, and Empower. How we do it now may look different, but the principles remain the same. My hope and my humble desire is that the following insights based on these principles can help us take steps, however small, as navigate these uncharted waters together.
1. ENGAGE: Identify and Gather Your Flock
The internet is a vast and often cruel world. That’s why the first step you will need to take is identifying your flock. These are the students you are already discipling and those you are trying to reach. Just a gentle reminder: Don’t try to disciple the entire Facebook community.
Focus on the students who regularly attend small groups and youth services, who you’ve invited to hangouts and activities, and who you’ve been meeting one on one. Many of them may not be members of the church yet, but they’re curious. They’re open to learning more. They’re leaning in.
Once you’ve identified your flock, talk to them. Know which of your messages will be general Facebook posts for your entire Facebook following to read, and which ones will be addressed to specific people. Send personal messages. Reply to their posts.
You may want to provide a safe environment where they can experience healthy interaction and get godly impartation. You may create, for example, a private Facebook group where you and your student leaders can add their Victory group members, their friends, and their classmates. A private Facebook group will help you effectively reach the students, provide a safe environment for them, and easily disseminate contextualized content for them. This leads us to the next point.
2. ESTABLISH: Adapt to Digital Discipleship
We already admit that reaching students—or anybody for that matter—is simple, but never easy. Now imagine bringing discipleship to the digital world. Trying to wrap our brains around the idea of digital discipleship is difficult. How do we make disciples in a cold and seemingly detached online environment?
Here are some tips that can help you adapt.
The internet is a world on its own. The moment our students step out of the church building and log on to social media, they’re stepping into a parallel world with a lot of temptations and distractions. That is why we need to “plant a church” right in the middle of their online world and connect them to a life-giving community.
Imagine the private Facebook group as their online church community—that whenever they step into this group, it’s like stepping into a church building where they meet with their friends, get spiritual feeding, or use their gifts to serve God and others. It doesn’t replace the benefits of meeting face-to-face, but it’s a great measure to have during this time.
This is just like planning and identifying topics for our Victory groups or youth services. You can:
Consistency and effective contextualization are the key to succeeding in this online endeavor. Your students may be getting input from all kinds of sources, but there’s nothing that replaces hearing from their pastors, campus missionaries, and small group leaders.
Another friendly reminder: As an online church community, we need to promote genuine relationship, interaction, and participation, instead of mere entertainment or media consumption for personal gain. Instead of just looking for content to fill the space, we must look for interaction with one another. If you aren’t able to produce your own content, then feel free to grab from the many things produced by others, including our own ENC channels, and share those in your context.
Digital discipleship requires different dynamics in the way we disciple students. For instance, doing an actual Victory group is very different from the way we meet with our Victory groups through video call. While technology makes it much easier to contact students, it also presents a new set of challenges that we don’t experience during face-to-face communication.
Some things to consider:
Generally, we might want to consider keeping the “Word” portion shorter to make more time for interaction and prayer. If we will have a long teaching or preaching to study, consider letting them watch the material beforehand so your meeting is devoted to talking together.
Simply put, we need to think of new ways to effectively help the students follow Jesus, fish for people, and fellowship with other believers. We can’t be boxed by the way we do campus ministry on the physical campus. These changing times require agility, critical thinking, and sensitivity to God’s leading.
3. EQUIP: Use Technology for Learning
The internet has paved the way for distance learning and homeschooling. Because of the COVID-19 situation, many educational institutions have begun considering the idea of online education, which may actually revolutionize and redefine the future of campus ministry.
Having this in mind, we need to start exploring ways to equip our students to minister. This is why we’re launching these kinds of content now during this crisis, with a website soon to follow, so that you can be equipped with the resources you need to make disciples at this time. Feel free to grab and share these posts with your team. Invite them to discussions in your group chats. You can start compiling your resources and putting them in an online resource center so they can easily access discipleship tools and materials.
You can also explore how to train them in making disciples and establish them deeper in the faith by using online tools. Google Hangouts, Zoom, and StreamYard are some of the apps that I personally found useful.
Many students right now are open to learning more about God’s sovereignty, God and suffering, the role of Christians in today’s society, and much more. Let’s take advantage of the opportunity to speak God’s truth into these topics.
4. EMPOWER: Expand Your Online Presence
Expanding your online presence is establishing the presence of Jesus’ church on social media and the internet. As social media teems with dark and negative content that pollutes the hearts and minds of people, we need to shine God’s light in the midst of this darkness and empower the students to be “Kingdom netizens” who will act as salt and light in cyberspace.
Our campus ministry’s public social media accounts—our Facebook page and Instagram and Twitter accounts—are a good place to start. Instead of just using these platforms to announce upcoming series or to post recap photos and videos of our ministry events, we can utilize them to engage students and connect them to the church.
How do we do that?
What memes do they share? Which kind of posts do they react to? What messages and content do they post? What pages do they follow, which influencers do they subscribe to, and what content do they consume?
Empower the students to have a missional mindset and challenge them to represent Jesus in their social media accounts.
Identify and empower songwriters, digital artists, graphic designers, video content creators, filmmakers, and other creators among your community. Empower them to create their own channels or provide an avenue where they contribute their talents and skills to advance God’s Kingdom online.
This crisis has forced us to reimagine campus ministry, recalibrate our tools, and reignite the call to reach the students no matter how times may have changed. This is a time to innovate, to be creative, and to forcefully advance the Kingdom in uncharted territories. We don’t know how long this situation will last, although we hope and pray that a more normal pace of life will soon resume. But even when that comes, it will be a new normal, with newly-developed abilities.
But in any situation, let us remain committed to the call and bring the gospel of Jesus where the students are—whether in the campus or online. The call remains the same: Change the Campus. Change the World. Honor God. Make Disciples.