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Reaching out in lockdown: how to run a virtual lunchbar

During these strange and unprecedented days, many Christian Unions have moved their regular meetings online. This is a great opportunity for students to maintain fellowship and be encouraged through difficult times.

But why not also consider reaching out?

Many students who are not Christians will have been forced by the current crisis to ask big questions – about the world, about human nature, about their life’s foundations, about death and the need for hope.

While we need to be careful to avoid trite or simplistic answers, or pretending to be medical experts when we’re not, as Christians we do have something to share. We have a view of the world that makes sense of both beauty and brokenness. We have an understanding of human nature that explains both selflessness and selfishness (both greatly evident at the moment). We have a foundation in life and a basis to our identity that nothing can shake. And we have hope in the face of death through Jesus’ resurrection. 

So why not hold a virtual evangelistic event, like an online lunchbar or café-style evening? People will have to provide their own food and drink, but you can provide a live, thought-provoking talk and an opportunity to ask questions. 

Here are 10 tips on how to make a virtual lunchbar work well:

  1. Pray! The Spirit is not bound to social distancing regulations so pray that He will go where you cannot.

  2. Invite a speaker and agree a date and time. Just as you’d normally invite someone to speak at your CU in person, you can invite them to an online event. There are no travel expenses to pay, and many are more available right now as normal schedules are wiped clean. (I am giving a talk called ‘Five things the coronavirus pandemic makes us think about’ in a number of places over the coming weeks and would be happy to do it again – but of course there are plenty of others you could invite!)
  3. Decide which platform to use. Many people have found Zoom to be helpful as it allows for up to 100 presenters (with a standard package). You will need to have a paid account to host events longer than 40 minutes – some universities have provided students with such accounts already so check before you buy! More expensive accounts allow for more functionality, including the use of online polls.

  4. Set up and share. Advertise the event code and link widely, but also get Christians to send the link in personal messages. Just as in real life, a personal invite is more effective than a general one; it’s the difference between someone seeing a poster and being handed a flyer by a friend. You may also want to aim advertising at students in your university with paid-for Facebook ads (they’re not as expensive as you’d think).

  5. Check event security! It has been known for people to Zoom-bomb events. So be careful about what you allow – you may want to keep control over people’s mics and not let people share their screens (other than the speaker). 

  6. Prepare your hosts. Just like in a real meeting, it is helpful to have Christian students host the event, as it shows ownership and potentially a familiar face for those watching. They may want to prepare what they’re going to say beforehand.

  7. Give opportunity to ask questions. This could be done in the comments section, or you could use another online application like sli.do which allows for people to vote on the questions. It is great for the hosts to talk through the questions and ask them to the speaker.

  8. Prepare for follow-up. Hopefully this event will generate interest and cause people to want to find out more, or even prompt them to put their trust in Christ. Think through how you can best follow people up – Christian students are best placed to check in with friends who’ve watched, but there will be others who don’t yet have a Christian friend. Provide a way for them to get in touch and offer a one-to-one chat. You may also want to consider sending out a follow-up pack in the post to anyone who is interested – it would be great to get copies of Uncover into people’s hands and other helpful evangelistic literature. 

  9. Review how it went. What did you learn? What could have been done better? As with anything, there will always be things to improve, but don’t let that stop you from giving it a go.

  10. Let us know how it went. We can learn from each other’s experiences, be encouraged and pray for each other, so share your stories. 

Michael Ots works as an evangelist, based in Bournemouth, but traveling widely across the UK and Europe.

 

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