Over the last year we have traded our weekly Bible studies and game nights for solitary evenings with friends on a screen. Whether we like it or not, we are familiar with the new normal. But what we hoped would be a temporary solution is here to stay for many.
Yet we should not lose hope. A core part of campus ministry is finding innovative solutions to reach students. What would happen if we viewed digital ministry as another creative challenge on the road to sharing the gospel? And what if we pursued digital ministry not as a means to an end, but as another opportunity for excellence?
Looking through the Window
God created humans to need relationships. We have seen that new students will search for a way to connect with others by any means possible. But you will not be able to reach them if you do not show them that you are there.
If we think about digital ministry as a party in a house, then your group’s digital presence is like the window. Studies say that many people will sample content from different groups for up to a year before they decide to attend. You must show what is inside the party so that students feel comfortable to come.
Your group can give seekers a clear picture of what your group is like by creating a strong presence online. This means using media to orient and welcome new students who are interested. It means creating fun content to post on your website and social media channels to draw them in.
As you plan your digital strategy for the new academic year, here are a few ways you can create an open window for students to see into your group. We recognise that going digital will look different for different countries and regions, but we hope that at least some of the following tips will be useful where you are.
1. Be helpful
If you are trying to reach new students, find fun ways to communicate useful information. What is the best place in town to get a cup of coffee? Where is the nearest supermarket? Make a video giving a tour of the campus or hotspots in the city and post it on your social media feed. Or film yourself walking around the town, asking people what they love about your city.
2. Be hospitable
If you saw a new student struggling to find your event in person, you would walk them down the hall to the room. It is important that student groups adopt this same sentiment online. Think like an outsider. What would a new student need to know to feel comfortable? Make a video explaining how to use platforms like Slido or how to access a meeting from your Facebook page. Record a welcome video explaining your core values, goals, and upcoming events. Introduce your staff or students in a fun way. As you record, speak into the camera in a warm way to show that they are welcome. In everything you do, explicitly convey that you want to get to know them.
3. Consider seekers
As you create content, remember that your group may have opportunities to share the gospel with those who need to hear. Keep in mind that how you present yourself may not be understood by those who are not yet Christians. Be distinct about your beliefs and reveal the difference that Jesus makes in your group but show that you also exist for people who are curious about Jesus. Show that you are open to their questions by taking a video of students discussing life’s big questions and posting it on your social media.
4. Make it attractive.
God designed us to appreciate beauty. Beauty does not always mean superficiality. Don’t dilute your message by airbrushing your content, but rather represent it well by making it attractive. Since social media is very visual, produce content that is eye-catching and creative. Avoid poor lighting, bad sound quality, or grammar misspellings. Be consistent with the fonts and colors in your social media posts. These are all fixable mistakes that detract from your message. Instead, strive for excellence. Work with your resources to produce the best photos, videos, or graphics possible. Canva is a great tool that can help you create eye-catching visuals for free!
5. Go where the students are
When you plan an event on campus, you never choose a venue tucked far away. You choose a location that is in the middle of everything, where people can easily find it. So, figure out where students hang out online. What platforms are they on? What type of content do they like to share? Make content that is engaging and shareable. Use Instagram to share photos and videos from people in your group. Then tell followers to head to the link in your bio for more information.
It is also important that you use the right platforms for the function that they are best designed for. A good rule of thumb is to remember that Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube are great for drawing people in, while Facebook, Zoom, and WhatsApp are better for keeping people in community.
6. Set Goals
Before you create anything, determine what you want the content to accomplish. Ask yourself the following questions.
- What is the one thing we want people to do after they engage in our content?
- How can we make people want to join in?
- How will we make people want to share this online?
- What does this communicate about what our group is like?
- What does this communicate about what the gospel is?
- How does this communicate the next steps they can take to be a part?
In the House
The digital excellence does not stop once you have brought new people into the “house.” Continue to serve your new members by practicing hospitality. Invite them to a private Facebook Group and share news with them that way. You can also use EventBrite to sign people up for events, track who is coming, and message participants. Make new members feel secure in the group by messaging them the Zoom codes well in advance. And make sure there is always a host in all your meetings to greet people and set the tone for the group.
Remember that even without the best equipment and resources, it is still possible to create an online presence that is welcoming and engaging. While using expensive technology may produce polished products, it can be just as effective to film a simple, creative, welcoming message on a basic phone or webcam.
As we continue online ministry this year, now is the time to pursue digital excellence. Students need the gospel more than ever, and they are searching for connection. Be ready for them. Where possible, think beyond adapting your meetings for Zoom. Consider how to create a window into your group that will invite students to join something life changing.
Special thanks to UCCF and movements around the world for the information and inspiration for this article. You can check out more digital excellence advice from UCCF here.