COVID-19 definitely brought some challenges to the Lutheran Student Center at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. But Rev. Jon-Michael Schweigert, who spearheads the campus ministry there, said they used it as a “bridge year” to get back to a more normal situation. In spring of 2020 students didn’t finish out the year. Fall of 2020 students were back in person, but with restrictions. One example was trying to gather for meals. Schweigert got creative and installed partitions so that students could still have that fellowship while maintaining college guidelines.

Top Tips for Campus Ministry

Schweigert notes that his years of campus ministry experience has taught him “don’t be afraid to be less than perfect.” Sometimes an event or ministry effort may have a poorer result. But it’s okay to try something and do it differently the next time. He says it’s also good to consider your goal. If you’re having a fundraising event, have a fundraising event. If it’s an outreach event, have it be an outreach event. Advertise well and don’t bait-and-switch. He reminds that it’s also important to respect the rules that the organization you’re serving has in place. And, ultimately, equip and empower your students to do the ministry. “Students become the lifeblood of the church,” explains Schweigert. “They stay with [campus ministries] 4 or 5 years, but then where do they go? To the congregations.”

Reaching new students can be challenging, but people wish to feel heard and connected. Ministries should remember to be interested more than interesting. Genuinely care about the people you meet. Schweigert also notes that it’s important to use language appropriate for your community. “I have students who don’t know what ‘Lutheran’ means, who think we’re associated with Martin Luther King Jr.” Ultimately, be real with the students: open and forthcoming. “You’re a ministry,” says Schweigert. “Don’t trick people and then work in Jesus later. The current generation is very hungry for truth and we have the truth from which all truth stems. Lead with Jesus... In the end, God and that person already have a relationship, even if it’s just being created in his image. So lean into it.”

With the new school year approaching, Schweigert’s final advice: respect the seeker. “Especially for people who are wanting to have a serious, deep conversation. “You’ve got to start with care and compassion for the other person,” says Schweigert. “Remember ‘it’s no longer I who live, but He who lives in me.’” Schweigert notes that during COVID-19 student centers and clubs didn’t experience growth, but “interest in God has skyrocketed in the 18-20’s age range, including in religious traditionalism. The current generation has seen ‘anything goes’ and it’s bad.” So they have a big recruitment year planned and are hopeful to do more targeted outreach. Plus, if all goes according to plan, they’ll have the fan favorites like the ice cream social and welcome back BBQ during the first week of school and pumpkin picking and visiting an apple orchard in the fall!