‘Best out of the situation’: On-campus ministries find ways to stay alive while adhering to social distancing guidelines

Young Life student leader Christina Bacon shares an Instagram live video on the Young Life account sharing scripture. Campus ministries like Young Life have switched to a virtual format, which means regular posts on social media in order to stay connected. 

Julianna Lowe

With social distancing guidelines still in place at WKU and in Kentucky, on-campus ministries have been finding other ways to connect beside their usual modes of worship.

“Since most of our people that would come to stuff are at home, usually far away from school, we haven’t seen them at all,” Jackson Waters, the team leader and university contact for Young Life College said. 

Young Life College is a non-denominational student outreach organization. Young Life strives to help students grow in their Christian faith. Waters said that Bowling Green’s Young Life division has different teams made up of mostly college students, but it also houses high school and middle school students as well. 

Things were different for Young Life before COVID-19 hit. 

“Before the outbreak, we had weekly meetings on Tuesday nights,” Waters said. “Then, [we had] a running bible study for guys and girls on Wednesdays. We also do lots of lunches and hangouts pretty regularly throughout the week.”

After WKU asked all students to leave campus and social distancing began to be enforced in Kentucky, things changed. Now, it’s a lot of Zoom meetings for Young Life.

“We also do our usual message for the week through IGTV,” Waters said. “It has worked pretty well for us!”

Since this switch from in-person meetings to Zoom calls, attendance has dropped for Young Life, and so has morale. 

“Morale, I think, everywhere is a little down,” Waters said. “We’re making the best out of the situation, but it’s still pretty hard on people. It’s actually harder to get people to join a Zoom meeting from their bed than it is to get them to come to something in person.”

Young Life is not the only organization that has been impacted in this way by coronavirus. Seekers of the Light staff member Alyssa Bailey said that she found the same effects on her members as a product of social distancing. 

“I’d say the dynamic of the group has been affected in the sense that being isolated has a huge impact on mental health,” Bailey said. 

Bailey, a graduate student at WKU, said that Seekers gives students a safe space to get things off of their chests. Seekers also gives student attendees trust in their Christian religion in both good and bad times.

“Seekers of the Light is geared toward having an intimate space where the hard stuff can be talked about,” Bailey said. “It’s a time to talk about mental illness, stress, grief, loneliness or really just anything that’s going on in our personal lives. Our goal is to further our spiritual lives by diving into the Word and trusting God in the good and bad times.”

Seekers strives to break the stigma surrounding mental illness by providing an outlet for those that deal with it. The group meets every Monday night, with anywhere from 6 to 12 people at a meeting. Instead of meeting in person, Seekers is now meeting over Zoom at the same time. 

“I’d say we have about 6 to 8 people who get on,” Bailey said. “What we’ve found is just the connection of seeing each other, even through a computer screen, has been therapeutic for the group.”

Bailey said that the meetings are lasting longer now that everyone is social distancing. However, the topic of the meetings has somewhat shifted.

“Being able to use technology has kept the dynamic of the group pretty much the same,” Bailey said. “We spend less time talking about mental health and more time just cherishing the company and being able to talk to each other since this isn’t something we can do normally anymore.”

WKU’s Baptist Campus Ministry has also recently made adjustments to deal with social distancing.

“It has been life by Zoom with almost all of our meetings occurring through Zoom,” Campus Minister Tommy Johnson said. 

BCM, a Christian community focused on spiritual growth and service, has held all of their normal gatherings via Zoom since the coronavirus outbreak.

Normally, BCM’s weekly gatherings were frequent. On Monday nights, Freshmen Family Groups were held followed by 180 Worship on Tuesdays, and Dollar Lunch was on Thursdays in which different local churches provided $1 lunches. Throughout the week, BCM held small bible studies and activities with international students. 

“With the pandemic, our biggest goal has been to maintain connection with students as much as possible,” Johnson said. “In talking with students at the start of the crisis, we realized how important it is to maintain communication and interaction during a period when students can feel very isolated.”

Now, BCM continues its small bible studies and Freshmen Family Groups via Zoom. It has also supplemented the loss of in-person meetings with weekly update and prayer time. 

“Additionally, we did a senior check-in via Zoom to provide a time for graduating seniors to share how they are doing in light of the unexpected changes in their last semester,” Johnson said. “We are also doing our Senior Sendoff virtually through Zoom during which our graduating seniors are introduced, and then they share a reflection on their experience in BCM and at WKU.”

BCM also selected next year’s leadership team through electronic applications and Zoom interviews. It will livestream its final 180 Worship on Instagram when the time comes. 

“Our staff has also texted all of our students a couple times to check in on them and ask for prayer requests,” Johnson said. 

For the most part, it has been a successful transition. BCM has seamlessly transitioned from in-person to online, and most things are going well.

“Our leadership team selection went great,” Johnson said. “And our Zoom Trivia Nights have been a blast.”

Regardless of how well the ministry has transitioned, involvement is inevitably down. 

“Without live meetings and gatherings, we have predictably not had the same level of involvement,” Johnson said. “During a time when we realize just how important relationships are, we have focused on that — staying in a relationship and encouraging one another.”

Features reporter Julianna Lowe can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow Julianna on social media at @juliannalowe.