With college and university campus administrators all over the nation scrambling with how to support students in unprecedented times, religious chaplains and other spiritual leaders have been working overtime to help students in need of some hope. While social distancing and gathering restrictions have made for some challenges, creative thinking and the use of the internet have helped out. If you’re a student, preacher, faith-based volunteer, or work on a college campus, here are four easy ways to safely offer more on-campus religious outreach starting now.
1. Offering Students Free Tools and Resources
People, not buildings, make up churches and religious communities. Because in-person gatherings and meetings are challenging now, one way to reach out to students of faith is to provide them with resources. Whether making up packs of prayer cards, bibles, study guides, journals, and even the stray Jesus storybook bible or offering a digital handbook, you can help keep college students connected to their faith.
Now is the time to use that fundraising money you’ve worked so hard for and reconsider its purpose. If the youth mission trip was canceled, think about ways you could spend those funds to help students not only stay connected but get in those community service hours too. Maybe it’s asking college kids to cook and deliver meals for shut-ins or to volunteer in safe ways in their communities. Either way, they’ll need resources to help them. All of this will only work to strengthen your on-campus religious outreach services.
2. Online Venues for Staying Connected
The internet is great for people curious about reasons why people move to Florida. Palm trees, warm weather, and being near the water are all answers you might find. But the same thing goes for research on how to help student believers. You can use the internet as a way to keep support groups and even services going.
While Googling for that Florida retirement village, now is the time to also consider some research on how to help your students with more outreach efforts. Depending on how digital your college faith groups were in the past, you’ll want to think about websites, Facebook groups, and even a YouTube channel where students can maintain connections.
3. Peer Support Groups
Many students came to school with questions like do colleges run background checks on students? Now, well versed in how things work at university, their questions might be more specific to their faith-based extracurricular activities. Peer support groups will play a key role in helping students with issues like mental health, isolation, and feeling disconnected due to online classes and the overall pandemic. It’s very likely that they’ll look to campus faith leaders for answers. Part of your outreach should be about being prepared for this.
To best help students looking to stay connected, it’s time to use those peer groups more than ever. Setting up regular check-ins, encouraging outdoor meetings in small groups or group hiking trips with social distancing may be ways to keep students engaged. Faith groups are made up of people with shared beliefs and goals and have nothing to do with the buildings where people meet. The benefits to these groups are limitless, and this is a message you’ll want to repeat over and over to student leaders and those who attend peer groups. Do more than preach—show it too.
4. Networking with Local Churches and Pooling Resources
Online worship, outdoor or tiny gatherings, and more may not be enough for some students struggling with faith. One way to help students who crave the structure of a more solid religious base is to connect them to churches in the larger community. While on-campus groups and networks will help, being tied to a more established and structured group will help too. Have a list of places you can recommend students check out ready to go for when they ask. Doing this will help keep them hopeful.
Even if your outreach has nothing to do with the pandemic, and you’re just interested in putting like-minded students together, peer groups, resources, workshops, networks, and online platforms will all be important in campus outreach. If you tackle these things one by one, you’ll be sure to have a thriving campus faith community soon.