Using 'Planes,Trains and Automobiles' for Long Distance Ministry
Staying in touch with the transient college crowd can be a challenge for churches. Bellaire UMC has an assortment of ways that involve planes, the Pony Express and automobiles in addition to new media.
Visiting 11 students at nine different universities in 10 days in seven different states including SC, FL, AR, LA, MS, AL, and TX is just part of the fun of being the Director of Discipleship and Youth Ministries at Bellaire UMC. “I do a big trip like this to visit our college student members every other year, and shorter trips throughout Texas almost every semester, depending on the church calendar,” says Bellaire UMC’s Ben Hinshaw. “ This concentrated travel schedule involves a lot of planes, rent cars and hotels, but the biggest outcome is that this shows our young adults that they are loved extravagantly by someone other than their parents.”
No Surprise Visits
Ben works with all of the students several months in advance to make sure that he arrives when they have some free time, then he determines the most cost effective route. “Some parents help me offset costs through generous donations because they are so thrilled to see someone visit their students. Most of the students are so excited to have someone from home visit that they put a high priority on going to dinner with me, out for ice cream or whatever,” he says. “I recently visited our big group of freshmen so they all want to give me a tour of the campus, regardless of day/night, and talk about the friends they have made, the church events they are attending, how classes are going and ask about how the other students are doing.”
Landon Goodman from U of Arkansas just enjoyed a Ben “drop in”. He says, “It's really great to see Ben Hinshaw anytime, and just getting to talk to him about life in general seems to make me feel like I'm a part of the youth again.”
These trips are continuing a Bellaire UMC tradition: investing a high amount of energy and effort into building relationships with students while they are here at home so they feel connected when they leave. “On my college visits, we do One-on-Ones: a ministry tool we use with high schoolers to talk about their faith journey and how it is affecting the rest of their life.” He says students request more heart-to-heart talks during challenging times.
“When they go off to college, many of them want to continue the hard-hitting conversations and have even texted, Facebooked or called to have a candid talk long distance. Over the last few years we have seen a great increase in college students seeking out faith-based organizations and worship services to continue their spiritual journey. This was Bellaire UMC”s long-term goal four years ago, so we are happy to see real results.” Leaders are hoping this will help with the "missing generation" of young adults, but they acknowledge this is a much longer-range goal.
Bellaire UMC’s stay-connected initiatives also include Ben’s weekly text of love and encouragement, with occasional announcements of local church events in case students are in town. “The upcoming winter break might include a freezing camping trip,” he adds, “and there are always Facebook posts, and a weekly Bible Study for those in town, and some fellowship activities over the summer.” Of course, they all have his phone number to call/text to check in and talk through any problems and issues and they do just that. “The hours can be a little rough, but the results are well worth it,” admits Ben.
West University UMC and Bellaire UMC are among many churches that send students “college care packages” as survival kits during finals as part of the college student outreach.