Post-COVID College Life

H2O Centennial Life Group Leaders, Fall 2022

You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times. (Luke 12:56)

Greetings from Kent! I feel like we’ve had an especially pleasant fall season in Northeast Ohio this year. The temperatures have stayed in the moderate zone — between the heat of summer and the chill of winter — longer than usual. The fall foliage has been more colorful than usual, and the leaves stayed on the trees longer than usual (though they’re pretty much all on the ground now). Even the oak trees in our own yard produced way less acorns and way more crimson-colored leaves this year. It’s fun to notice the differences from one fall to the next.

I love trend-spotting. With the changing seasons, of course, but also within human society. For instance, Marci and I have recently noticed the decline of the single, steady, upraised hand as a gesture of gratitude from the driver of one car to another who has yielded his or her right of way (Has anyone else noticed this? Or are we just becoming crotchety old people now?). Another recent trend I’m picking up from Kent State students indicates that reading has somehow become cool again, with an uptick of social media posts about favorite books and such… These are silly little things, but they fascinate me. When I discover one of these trends, I feel like some sort of cultural anthropologist.

Some noticeable trends are currently emerging about what I would call “Post-COVID College Life.” Things are different from how they were just three or four years ago. Many others who work with college students (across Kent State University, in other collegiate ministry settings, and elsewhere) have corroborated these trends. So I recently asked some of our H2O student-leaders about things and gained some fascinating insight. The group was entirely composed of spirit-filled twenty-somethings (maybe with a couple who are even still in their late-teens). So I felt like they had special expertise in interpreting the new patterns that are emerging in post-COVID college life, specifically regarding students’ engagement and disengagement. 

I wrote up a whole report from this conversation in a separte blog post. So, if this interests you, I’d encourage you to visit that particular post and read more. But one of the highlights from our conversation was the understanding of the way today’s college students are conserving their “Social Battery” and practicing simplicity and solitude. They’ve also learned new ways to prioritize their lives and plan accordingly which can come across as either “flaky” or overly “formal,” but it seems to be driven by an understanding of “essential” versus “nonessential” that was picked up over the course of the pandemic.

As I talked further with these young leaders, we started to discuss ways that these Post-COVID College Life dynamics might play out in collegiate ministry. Large-group gatherings (like Sunday morning worship) used to be one of our church’s biggest attractions, but that might be changing now. To some extent, students are still energized by the social scene, the immersive musical experience, the colored stage lights, the opportunities to celebrate communion and baptism together… But they may also quickly drain a person’s Social Battery. In addition, one’s understanding of priorities and planning may lead to less frequent attendance at our large-group gatherings. (The numbers we track at H2O Kent seem to support this understanding). This is disappointing on a certain level, but it’s also understandable.

At the same time, our student-leaders are eager to start experimenting with ways to revitalize small group ministry (which has always been an important part of what we do in campus ministry). They’re keen to make things feel less formal, and less draining — specifically by splitting our already-small group into even smaller discussion groups on a consistent basis. In the Centennial region of campus, for instance, we’re going to pray and work towards multiplying from one group of 10-20, into four groups of 4-5. 

We don’t intend to give up on meeting as larger groups, completely. But generally speaking, we’ll try to think smaller, more personally, less organizationally. We’re probably going to experiment with supplementing our Bible discussion with more times for silence or quiet music. We hope that this might be helpful in restoring each others’ Social Battery levels, building in spiritual intentionality, while also being together. Beyond this, we’re also starting study groups in the library, posting last-minute invitations in our group chat. We hope to keep brainstorming and experimenting for the rest of this semester. And honestly, I feel more hopeful about our ministry at Kent State University than I have in a while. I love that the next generation is leading the way, and I pray that we will find ways to keep walking by faith in post-COVID college life. Will you please pray for us in this? Your partnership in ministry is absolutely essential in allowing us to be in this space, finding a way forward into the “new normal.” Thank you for being such a stalwart support in changing times. We’ll be in touch…

This entry was posted in Church, COVID-19, Culture, H2O Kent, Health, Introspection, Ministry, Prayer, Prayer Letters, Small Groups, Social Issues, Transition. Bookmark the permalink.

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