Outreach is no longer hosting its regular programs this semester. In the past, this section of Campus Ministry had provided programs such as West Side For Jesus, SWAG camp, and Lantern, all of which are meant to reach out to the community and provide service opportunities for Southern’s students.
Students, such as Marry Bright, who have taken part in previous programs have noticed the absence of these programs, specifically West Side For Jesus, a program that she attended regularly.
“I did notice that Outreach was missing this semester. I have been a leader for West Side for Jesus for almost two years, so I was confused that I hadn’t been emailed about it yet. It’s weird not seeing [the] kids every two weeks,” she said.
According to Melissa Moore, director of Outreach and uQuest Missions, the dwindling numbers in attendance last semester caused Southern to reevaluate and look over the nature of the programs.
Andrea Sequera, a student outreach leader, confirmed that numbers had gone from around 40 on a high day to about five or 15.
“There does seem to be a decrease in participation and… a lack of buy-in,” Sequera said. “It’s not that the students don’t care but there’s not a lot available… and not a lot of continuity [with participants].”
The “lack of buy-in,” as Sequera puts it, was also paired with the inability to have consistent leaders pass the baton.
“You have to think that every four to six years the school is undergoing major overhaul because the population of the school has changed completely by that point. …so maybe every five to six years [Outreach] can account for the completely new students that are changing every half decade,” Helen Faulk, junior psychology major, said.
This pause left room for the Outreach office to question the success and goals of the ministry.
“You couldn’t pinpoint what the goal was,” Sequera said. “There was sufficient reason to question if these missions were helping or hurting.”
“Are we being intentional in our ministry, or are we just going downtown and playing with kids?” Moore asked. “… Are we planning on inviting them to walk with Jesus in some way? And we realized that probably some of this was happening, but kind of by accident. We hadn’t been intentional about outreach.”
In the end, all of these factors created a “big picture,” as Moore says, about what they needed to do. In light of these questions about impact, Outreach employees have decided to go to the places where they conducted programs to ask if they made a positive difference in the community.
The team is also beginning to connect with local churches to see what ministries Outreach could partner with. Having the main support of local churches, rather than simply being student-led, means the community can have more consistency with its outreach, rather than only getting aid during the four active months of the school year, according to Moore.
With these partnerships, Southern students can provide aid as supplementary help that strengthens projects across the Chattanooga area.
In addition, Outreach hopes to create wider options for programs, providing choices that utilize a diverse set of talents for service.
“I recognize that [the outreach programs] are very limited. If you don’t like kids, if you don’t like the elderly, or if you don’t like doing Bible studies or [helping] the homeless, there’s really not much for you,” Sequera said.
Yet, even during the program’s suspension, Moore said students are more than able to step up to take on projects as Outreach leaders. However, according to both Moore and Sequera, those who step forward must be prepared to commit to the task at hand.
“We are actually looking for students who are willing and qualified to step up and be committed leaders,” Moore said.
Moore and Sequera confirm that they are taking the time to ask questions and make the most of this pause, ensuring that the new programs will be fully developed and are making an impact.
One hope for Outreach is for it to become “a space created for new ministries; for people to think outside the box,” Sequera said, “A culture of service where you want to give your time.”
“I kind of think [Outreach pausing their programs] is good because it means there will be improvements to make them a little bit better; therefore, more people will want to join,” said Amanda Brennen, sophomore psychology major.