First, yes. The title of this post is an homage to the mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead. Second, no. This post is not a review of said episode of said show.
What it is is an overview of the outreach strategy that the MTSU BCM is employing this semester and a bit of a rationale for doing so. So, let’s review.
I started at MTSU on Aug. 1 of last fall and had 2 weeks to get acclimated to campus before students returned, we did our leadership training, and kicked off Week of Welcome activities. I learned a little about campus in two weeks but it was really difficult to get familiar with the ebbs and flows of campus life sans students. Once students returned we jumped headfirst into activity and my goal was essentially to evaluate and keep my head above water for the first few weeks.
I made it a priority to chat with our leadership team about outreach strategies the BCM had employed in the past. My goal was to learn their perceptions as students of both the rationale behind the strategy and their perceptions of said strategy’s effectiveness. Surprisingly, I discovered a strong “event-based” understanding of outreach ministries, as in, “Let’s do this event and invite people to it.” I say this is surprising because the very same leadership team and my boss had shared that getting MTSU students to come to events was difficult.
Not being one to sit on my hands, I decided that we would try a few things that I had had success with in the past. We decided to participate in Engage 24, a one day evangelistic emphasis for college students. In an attempt to not be confrontational and build relationships, we reserved a table at the student union and advertised that we were there to pray for those who would like it. It bombed. We were there for about 2 hours and had 1 student approach us.
The next attempt was to advertise one of our existing events, a mid-day lunch on Wednesdays, while also attempting to engage in conversations. We reserved a space outside the student union, passed out advertising cards with granola bars, and set up Soularium cards on a table in hopes of engaging students in conversations. Not only were a vast majority of students uninterested in talking to us, we had people flat out turn down a free granola bar. It was the most bizarre thing I had ever seen! I’ve never known college students, in any time or on any campus, who turned down free food unless they were allergic and even then there was at least evidence of an internal struggle.
Our last attempt was inviting students to an end of the semester late night breakfast. Again, we printed out invitations and handed them out on campus. Once again we had people refuse to even take an invitation to a free meal. I was flabbergasted.
As the semester wound down I began to reflect on our major efforts, trends that I had observed on campus, and information I had gathered from reading about millennials and spirituality. 4 factors jumped out at me as essential characteristics of MTSU that had to be weighed into our spring outreach strategy:
- MTSU students do not stop to talk with people out of a sense of curiosity. My experience had been that college students are inherently curious and would at least glance at something they found interesting. Not so here. Students at MTSU come on campus to go to class and might stop to eat, but for the most part that’s it. We had to find a way to start a conversation in an instant that could be easily picked back up later via some other medium.
- While social media use is incredibly high amongst college students as a whole, our attempts to advertise or engage the campus via Facebook and Twitter had largely whiffed. I even crafted a clever hashtag when we tailgated with nachos during football season (#NachoAverageTailgate) and attempted to connect with groups I knew would be at the tailgate to no avail. As I looked back over our leadership team’s social media engagement I noticed that they utilized Instagram much more than either Twitter or Facebook. Digging a little deeper I learned that college-aged students utilize Instagram more than any other social media platform. Our strategy needed to shift.
- I had to reconcile myself to the fact that there probably wasn’t much I was going to be able to do to break through to those students who come on campus for a singular purpose, put their head down wherever they go, and then go home. That also meant that I had to find a way to maximize interactions with those students who would stop and give me at least 10-15 seconds. Our approach had to be pointed and curiosity inducing.
- Through research I did to prepare to lead a seminar on churches that reach millennials I was reminded that a large chunk of millennials search for spiritual content online. They read blog posts, watch YouTube videos and find a variety of other means in order to satisfy their spiritual/intellectual curiosity. Outside of our website and our social media pages that we used exclusively to promote our activities/events, we didn’t have a on-line media presence. We needed to incorporate some form of a web-based approach.
With these characteristics in mind we crafted a multiple-pronged outreach strategy that will stretch across the entire semester. Since our desire was to begin a conversation that we could easily pick up via another medium, and given that most millennials search for spiritual content on-line, we determined that we would find a way that we could quickly begin a conversation and resume it via social media for those who were interested. We took the following steps
- We purchased dry erase boards and formulated several topics. The first we settled on was “If I could ask God one question, I would ask…” We printed these out, taped them to the top of the board, and took them out on campus. We encouraged people to write down what they would ask God if they had the opportunity and then took a picture of them holding the board without showing their faces in order to maintain a sense of anonymity.
- We created an Instagram and Twitter account exclusively for this effort. Once students had their pictures taken, we gave them a card with these accounts listed and encouraged them to check them out to see what other students were asking.
- We created a YouTube channel and a separate website where, once we have gathered enough responses, we will post blogs and/or videos addressing common questions and therein sharing the Gospel. These pages are linked to e-mail accounts and discussion boards that will be moderated by someone at the BCM.
What I would love for you to do:
- Pray. Ask God to grant us an audience with students who are seeking Him and that through any means possible we would have the privilege of sharing the Gospel with MTSU students this semester.
- Follow. Periodically check in on our Instagram and Twitter accounts as well as our website (still under construction) and feel free to engage in the discussion.
- Contribute. I am not a web-designer, so if you would like to help make the website look a little nicer or know of some creative ways we can utilize the existing mediums that I haven’t considered, I would love to hear from you.
So that’s what’s happened and what’s going on. Join me in praying for the ministry of the MTSU BCM this semester.