By Tyler Hoffpauir
College campuses across the state have resembled a ghost town since COVID-19 sent students and faculty home in mid-March. Usually, summertime for Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) Campus Ministers is filled with opportunity. A typical summer consists of many activities such as summer Bible studies and freshmen orientations, being involved at Super Summer and Camp Siloam, updating and maintaining BCM centers, connecting with alumni, local pastors and associational leaders, training student leaders for the fall, and building relationships with incoming freshmen. But what happens when campus shuts down?
“[In March,] we didn’t know what was going to happen with the fall or if there was even going to be a fall,” said Jeremy Woodall, Campus Minister at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. “After the initial shock you think ‘okay, let’s get to work.’”
The work Woodall mentioned involves Zoom Bible studies and texting students. It involves gathering information from pastors and youth ministers in order to connect with their graduating seniors. As restrictions began to lift regarding on-campus meetings, doing the work has meant coming up with innovative ways to reach and disciple students for the summer and fall.
“This may have been our best summer ever,” said Adam Venters, Little Rock Metro BCM Campus Minister. “This summer, because of COVID-19, some of our BCM student leaders are here that were going to go work at Camp Siloam or other places and it opened up an opportunity to connect with those students who weren’t able to really do anything,” Venters said.
Venters developed The Little Rock Project as a summer discipleship development tool. In partnership with local churches, forty students signed up for the summer-long intensive program combining virtual meetings with socially distant in-person fellowship. The students have spent the summer training in spiritual disciplines and learning to teach a five-week study including principles from Genesis to Revelation. Venters feels that all 40 of the students in the program are ready to make a difference and can teach new or young believers on their campuses in the fall. The impact of The Little Rock Project will be felt across the state. Venters has trained students attending other colleges who have come home for the summer and local high school seniors who will be freshmen on other campuses in August.
When the pandemic closed universities in Conway, Campus Minister Ryan Scantling got together with local college ministers to brainstorm what the fall could look like and came up with a plan.
“We are understanding that large group stuff may not be possible, so we are going to focus more of our time on training individual students to share the Gospel,” Scantling said. “We also realize the reality is there will probably be fewer incoming freshmen to UCA this year than at any other point in the last five years. So, for the first time it is conceivable that we can have a sit-down Gospel conversation with all of them within the first three weeks.”
The Conway ministers’ plan is to train students on how to do a “Gospel Appointment.” A Gospel Appointment is when a Christian student meets up with someone new for lunch or coffee then, during the meeting, moves the conversation toward faith. They share about their local church and BCM and in doing so have the opportunity to share the Gospel.
“I am extremely excited to train our students in what it looks like to make Gospel Appointments,” said Jackson Kennedy, College Minister at First Baptist Church in Conway. “The idea that our college students could potentially share the gospel with every incoming freshman is amazing! It’s going to take courage, obedience, and trust, but I think our college students are ready to step up and connect their head knowledge with God’s heart for their campus.”
Conway BCM is partnering with six local churches to train 250 student leaders over the summer on how to do Gospel Appointments. If each student shares the Gospel with seven incoming freshmen, then the entire freshman class at the University of Central Arkansas will hear the good news about Jesus in the first few weeks of school. This is crucial as students set the patterns and trajectory of their college years during those first few weeks.
“I’m proud of the way our team of BCM ministers has doubled down to reach and develop collegians,” said Bruce Venable, College and Young Leaders Team Leader. “This is a difficult age to reach in normal times. But we didn’t flinch, we leveraged technology and social media to keep our investment in students present. That’s what ABSC churches have called us to do.”