As Ole Miss moves all classes online through at least August, campus ministries have been figuring out how to continue to engage with students while they are not allowed to meet.
Many of the campus ministries have transitioned large group services to live streams on Facebook and Instagram. Small group leaders have begun hosting Bible studies over Zoom calls, and staff now calls students to mentor them over the phone.
Shelby Smith, an intern for Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, said that this transition is new territory for the ministry.
“We are really focused on that eye-to-eye and person-to-person contact, and this is all new to us,” said Smith. “Of course we’ve done online things in the past, but we’ve never put all of our focus in on it.”
The campus ministry Cru has been making an effort to actively engage with students through different platforms. In addition to holding their weekly meetings through Facebook Live and hosting Bible studies over Zoom calls, one of their staff members began a series of videos interviewing pastors from around Oxford.
Clark Bartholomew, a senior political science major and emcee for Cru, said that the series has resulted in a high level of interest among students.
“Our first online Tuesday night meeting went really well, and students engaged with the interview and left a lot of positive responses,” said Bartholomew. “The stream itself got quite a few eyes on it.”
Brian Sorgenfrei, the campus pastor for Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), said that he has also been doing live streams on Instagram and Zoom calls in place of their large group meetings. However, fewer people have been participating online than in person. Whereas around 200 people would typically attend large group services, only 75 people attended the live stream on Instagram.
According to Sorgenfrei, it’s harder to form new relationships online, compared to making connections in-person.
“I think it’s harder to build new friendships over Zoom,” said Sorgenfrei. “I think it’s kind of easy with people you already know, but it’s challenging to do with people you don’t know.”
Mack Clements, the campus pastor for Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, agreed.
“Trying to create and maintain community without proximity is extremely difficult,” said Clements.
While the transition does pose many challenges, Chi Alpha sees this as an opportunity to create a greater awareness of the ministry to students, and Smith hopes that the work they do online will bring an interest in the ministry for students who come back to campus next semester.
“I hope to see us come back to campus and people come up, having seen us on social media, and want to join,” said Smith. “That would be phenomenal, and that’s what I’m praying for.”
Sorgenfrei hopes that as a result of this transition people will be forced to interact with people they would not have before and build new friendships.
“I do hope that maybe some of the normal social cliques could kind of come down,” said Sorgenfrei. “You’re forced out of your normal patterns, and maybe through some of these small groups and stuff you actually end up with people you didn’t previously know.”
While Bartholomew believes it is hard for Cru to continue without being able to meet in-person, he believes that the people in the ministry have been adjusting to the transition.
“Not having that in-person aspect has been difficult, but the staff and students have been adapting very well,” said Bartholomew.
Clements said that another big challenge for students in Chi Alpha that are now home is being in a home environment that is less helpful in their spiritual growth.
“It’s been really hard on them. It’s kind of like uprooting a tree and planting it somewhere else,” said Clements.
Bartholomew hopes that spending the rest of the semester only able to engage with students online will bring deeper gratitude for the ability to meet in-person.
“I hope this shows our students and leadership the importance of being able to meet and that coming out of this, we hopefully will have a newfound appreciation of the ability to meet and share fellowship together,” said Bartholomew.