Whatever It Takes: 3 Simple Fall Outreach Ideas During COVID-19
This fall semester will be unlike any other but I believe there are unique opportunities for us to reach more students than ever! At first, our staff team was disappointed to learn that Chico State made the announcement that their classes will be online only this Fall. Immediately, our staff team rallied together to pray and discuss what that would look like for our ministry. I believe that God gave us multiple ideas and we walked away with a long list of strategies that God is already using to bear eternal fruit for His glory. We always want to be “extra” in our fall outreach efforts so this year is no different! We created a Plan A, B & C depending on what our campus will allow!
A passage of scripture that has been foundational for our ministry applies just as much now as ever. “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.’” (Matthew 9:36-38) Even though classes will be online this Fall there will be thousands of students moving to Chico to get set up in our college town and many others who are already looking for friends and connections online. Our estimate is that less than 3% of students at Chico State and Butte College are followers of Christ. Most students are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Our heart breaks as we think about the brokenness in these students’ lives. The isolation that COVID-19 has forced on many has only served to exacerbate these issues in students’ lives. These realities break our hearts and it moves me to tears right now as I write this. There is hope! Even though so many are lonely, broken and lost, we have discovered that God is moving in many students’ hearts. A recent study by Faithwire found that 21.5% of non-Christians started reading the Bible or listening to online sermons during the COVID-19 crisis. Students are open to talk to anyone about anything! Studies show that people tend to come to Christ in trouble and transition and these students are experiencing both.
The truth is that the harvest is still plentiful and the laborers are still few! God is working in hundreds of students’ lives on our campuses and it’s our joy and privilege to discover them by building friendships and sharing the gospel with them! Here are 3 simple ideas for fall outreach on a COVID-19 conscious campus.
1. Move From Centralized to Decentralized
Each year our ministry plans a series of large “front door” events to welcome freshmen and new students on campus. We use those events to build relationships, set up gospel appointments and plug new people into discipleship relationships and small groups. We want our ministry to be where the party is at on campus! Last year, our ministry did 17 large outreach events in the first 18 days last Fall! Sadly, these large scale events are not possible this Fall. Lord willing, we hope to “divide and conquer” and host a multitude of small “socially distant” outreach events that help new students connect with us in person and provide our student leaders with an opportunity to set up gospel appointments. This enables us to customize our approach to reach specific “people groups” on campus (freshman dorms, athletes, greeks, internationals, and more). Instead of 150 people at one large on-campus event, we could potentially have 200+ people at 20 events all at the same time. We plan to put together small teams and do these events daily for the first two weeks so that we have the maximum opportunity to connect with new people. It will take a lot of work and coordination but it will be well worth it!
Social events are more important now than ever! 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 other organizations on campus will be hosting fewer events than ever so there will likely be a massive gap in students schedules that our ministries can fill in with small socially distant in person events (if allowed).
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, etc.) and using that as a “fishing pool” where they can build relationships and share Christ. These weekly social events actually have potential to multiply our impact and the number of people that we reach! Check out more here.
Students are still the best people to reach students! If you have a handful of student leaders you can challenge them to form small teams to launch their own interest groups or online “discovery groups” for those exploring faith. Right when COVID-19 hit, our ministry challenged our student leaders to get together in teams of 2-3 and make a list of 10 friends each and call each person inviting them into an investigative Bible study called “Discovering Purpose” for those far from God. Doing these groups online meant that geography was no longer an issue! They invited friends from other campuses and back at home and all over our campus. We ended up seeing over 14 of these groups start up and have had a many students come to Christ as a result of this decentralized strategy. We plan to launch many more of these discovery groups this Fall! In addition to challenging student leaders to each develop a personal ministry target on campus, one other way we are encouraging our student leaders to build relationships is to start a study group for each of their online classes. This will provide an opportunity to get to know people in their classes and to share the gospel with them.
2. It’s Still All About The Contacts
One of the biggest blows to our fall outreach this year is that we can’t host an information table or do 30 Second Surveys on campus to get interested contacts. We usually table and survey from 10am-2pm daily for two weeks straight at the start of the semester and we will not be able to do any of that this year. Our contact gathering is going totally virtual this semester!
We are utilizing social media especially Instagram to direct message incoming freshmen and build relationships with them using Zoom and sharing the gospel as opportunities arise. This summer we have already watched 15 incoming freshmen indicate a decision to make Jesus the Lord of their lives! We developed a comprehensive Instagram strategy that you can read about here.
In addition to “sliding into the DMs” of every freshman we can find, we are doing a big “Back To School Giveaway” including Airpods Pro and about $100 worth of other swag. To enter the raffle they will fill out an online form alot like our 30 Second Survey that ultimately asks if they are interested in hearing more about Christian Challenge. If someone indicates they are interested then we will start texting them, get them plugged into events and set up a gospel appointment with them.
We will also spend a good amount of money on targeted social media ads. The great thing about advertising on Instagram and Facebook is that you can target for example “18-20 year olds in Chico” and get in front of hundreds of students for a relatively low amount of money. We will heavily promote our “Back to School Giveaway” to generate more contacts as well as any events that we have coming up. We have been using social media ads for a few years now and they have increased in effectiveness over the years. We are meeting more and more students who discovered us online before they check us out in person.
One other way we are trying to generate contacts is that we are asking local apartment complexes if we can leave a flyer on each student’s door. Several have said YES! These flyers will promote our interest groups, our “Back to School Giveaway” and Christian Challenge in general. We will include a QR code on the flyer so that they can connect with us!
3. 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 of students on campus. Make some “faith goals” that your team can rally around and pursue them with reckless abandon. John Piper was correct when he said “Risk is Right” when we are seeking to advance God’s kingdom. Will you experience some failures? I hope so! If you are never failing, I wonder if you are really trying hard enough to engage the lost on campus? Craig Grosechel says that when innovating “failure is not an option, it is essential.” From my experience God moves in the most powerful ways when we lead our team to the “edge of faith.”
In what ways is God calling your ministry to be “extra” in your efforts to reach freshman this Fall? Here is one thing our ministry is trying out, we created a “Harvard of The West” meme account on Instagram and are trying to build relationships with students that way. We don’t know if it will work or not but ya know… “we out here!” Get your team together and spend an hour or more simply generating crazy ideas for how you can reach more students than ever this Fall. Our team came up with far more ideas than we could possibly do including creating an “Succeeding In Online Courses” ecourse to present to various groups on campus.
Your students are looking to YOU to lead them into a gutsy strategy to engage the campus this Fall. Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Do what you can! This is a perfect time to apply the “Do What You Can” principle. I love this challenge by 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.” Hudson Taylor
Our weakness and limitations are God’s opportunity to flex and show off His power and glory! I am praying and expecting God to move in incredible ways on campuses around the world. Let’s not settle for anything less.
I am here to help! If you have any questions feel free to email me at PaulRWorcester@gmail.com