Every fall on the campus of Florida State University, a university of 32,000 students, you will find a brand new freshman class trying to make sense of campus life and all that it has to offer. You will also find a group of students in bright-colored t-shirts mixed in among them. These students are not freshmen, in fact, they’ve paid a price to return to campus early to serve these new freshmen in what they call “Go Week.” These students help with “move in” days for the dorms, serve pancakes, give campus tours and help to host a variety of activities for new students designed to help them acclimate to campus life.
For several years, First Baptist Church of Tallahassee, which is in close proximity to the campus, has helped coordinate late night pancakes and a Luau for new students on campus. But those events weren’t a part of the official Welcome Week activities until Zach Allen, Minister to College Students at First Baptist Church of Tallahassee, asked university staff if he could be in on the conversation about Welcome Week at FSU. That conversation has led to Allen and a group of 12 churches and campus ministries providing manpower and creativity for close to a dozen events during Seminole Sensation Week
Returning students are recruited by FBC, BCM and the other participating ministries in the spring to be a part of “Go Week.” These students pay a registration fee that helps pay for their t-shirt and some meals during the week. They then come back to campus early and serve as the volunteer base for Welcome Week activities. And the bright colored t-shirts? The t-shirts provide visibility for the students during the events and advertise the Luau, but they also help Allen and other leaders keep students engaged in ministry and building relationships. “When we see four of our shirts talking to each other,” says Allen, “we go over and tell them to go be a good party host to these new students.”
At the Luau, each campus ministry has a table. There is a screen with projections of group logos and how to get connected. But the burden is placed on the students to do the relationship building. “We work to keep them engaged with the students that they have met during the week,” says Allen. “We had one student (after the week) call back to one of the campus ministers and say that there was just something different about you guys.”
The partnership has had many benefits. Go Week has grown the campus ministries closer together. Leaders begin meeting together in January to begin planning & praying for what will happen in August. Then there is a big joint kick-off night in April to help get students signed up to serve. Planning together helps create partnership. “It has made us territorial in a good way,” says Allen. “There is a lot less competitiveness. This event helps us to realize that there are nearly 40,000 students here. Each ministry has plenty of students to pursue. One of the goals of “Go Week” is to have the body of Christ at FSU lift up the name of Jesus together.”
Relationships with the university have also been strengthened. The school asked Allen and the group of ministries to help with Parents Weekend, and to coordinate events in cooperation with other student organizations on campus. Last fall when there was a shooting on campus, Allen was able to text several school staff members to let them know he was praying for them. Serving the campus has opened doors for ministry not just to students but to staff and faculty as well.
When asked what advice he would offer to churches and campus ministries wanting to reach out to their local campus, Allen offered the following: “Walk over to campus and find out who’s in charge of student life. With the fall coming, there has to be something they could use volunteer help with. Use the favor you have now. One of the greatest things we have to offer is people to serve.”