What matters most
“What can I do for that Christian student when they are away at school?” It’s a question with which parents, pastors, and congregations certainly wrestle. And there are many answers, but can I suggest a starting point based upon experience?
The WELS Campus Ministry at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh was in a tough spot. The 2019-20 school year began with a pastoral vacancy before COVID came and shut ministry down completely through the 2020-21 school year. When a new pastor arrived and began looking at the 2021-22 school year, there were some daunting realities: a building that looked abandoned, no core group, no established relationships, and continued restrictions for on-campus student interaction.
Where to start? Missions always depend upon people, and for the coming school year, finding a core group would be the focus. It would determine whether this ministry could move forward. But how would this group be found? Going door-to-door in a dorm or setting up shop in a student union are not advisable for a middle-aged pastor. Ultimately, it was an online database that would determine if this would work – what else could be used to reach students and determine if there was interest?
Armed with a Google Voice account, the text messages began to fly. . . a hope and prayer that a college student would respond to a text message from a complete stranger and then agree to meet for an open house. And while there were plenty of text messages that received no response, there were many thankful for the invitation. There were others that said they would come. And still others who said they knew fellow WELS members and would invite them too.
The first open house welcomed 19 students! When they were asked what they desired campus ministry to be, the overwhelming response was Bible study. An opportunity to gather and be fed by the Word of God. In fact, it was the only response. As so for each week during the 2021-22 school year, a time to gather for Bible study was offered. And the students came. . . with one big caveat: most needed a personal invitation through text message. When the week got busy or assumptions were made and personal texts didn’t go out, our numbers plummeted. It was a tangible reminder that relationships and personal invitations matter most.
And that takes this conversation back to that database, and with that I repeat an often made request. The online campus ministry student database depends upon home churches and pastors, area Lutheran high schools, parents, and students to provide information crucial for campus pastors to do their work. If you have a connection to a college student, please reach out to the local campus pastor and make sure they have the information (and even better, an introduction) they need to connect with that student. It’s where it all starts, and when you are thinking about what you can do for that student, it’s awesome to think about where it might lead!
The format for Bible study each week was simple: we started by sharing moments from the week that struck them as Christians, then we would study the Word, and finally there was an opportunity to ask any tough “apologetics” questions that were on their mind. Faith was strengthened and relationships were built. There were also numerous times during the year when students invited and brought others (WELS and non-WELS friends).
The majority of that core group is back again for the 2022-23 school year and as they gather this year, they are the ones who are asking what’s next. They want to start to work on the building that needs work both inside and out. They are organizing get-togethers at the house to enjoy fellowship and fun. They are doing together what the Bible tells us will result when Christians form their relationships around the Word of God!
Written by Rev. Thomas Voss, WELS Campus Ministry pastor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
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