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Why students aren’t going to chapel

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Campus Ministries responds to surveys with changes for chapel time.

Callie Schmidt | News Reporter

Bethel University Campus Ministries set out a plan to utilize information gathered from a Fall 2015 faculty/staff survey about chapel.

According to the survey, the main motivation for faculty and staff to attend chapel is an interest in the speaker, but the number one reason keeping faculty and staff from attending chapel is workload.

Campus Ministry Student Focus Groups communicated that students struggle to attend because of busy schedules and workloads, as well as a lack of relevant connection to chapel topics and a lack of time to process. Students wanted to hear more personal stories and discuss challenging topics more relevant to their situations.

“At the beginning of last year we saw an immediate decrease in student attendance in chapel, which concerned us. Never before had we seen such a dip in attendance,” Campus Pastor Laurel Bunker said. “We tend to think that students just get tired and overwhelmed with studies and the easiest thing to skip is a chapel that they are not required to attend. That can be hard for us as we all work so hard to make chapel a positive and fulfilling place to be.”

For that reason, Campus Ministries decided to send out an online faculty/staff survey, arrange student focus groups with students who traditionally did not attend chapel, and engage in conversations with various groups across campus.

“It was incredibly helpful to get the feedback that we did. We made the changes that we have this year due to the feedback that we received and because we care about our students and their formation experience at Bethel,” Bunker said.

Executive Director of Student Ministries and junior Matt Velasco mentions other changes such as venue – such as moving chapel outside- more student involvement in planning and more student voice in chapel.

Velasco revealed how students are interested in hearing more exegetical messages rather than topical.

“This year there is a good combination of all of it,” Velasco said.

According to Velasco, students indicate wanting to hear healthy disagreement and theological, intellectual and scriptural teaching, which is why a theological debate is scheduled for Spring 2017.

“Students are sick of talking about sexuality, pornography, purity, and especially politics,” Velasco said. “There’s a sense where every year we come back to the same three topics: reconciliation, sexuality and politics. And while all three are important to talk about, when everything circles back to one of them, you get burnt out.”

At what point is it okay to not go strictly because of a song?
Matt Velasco

Velasco said the biggest complaint is about worship – people disagreeing with songs sung in chapel.

“One of the things I’ve heard the most is, ‘You guys are heretics because you sing Bethel [Music] songs or Gungor songs,’ or, ‘I don’t go to chapel because I don’t support Bethel [Music]’s theology or Gungor’s theology’…but at what point is it okay to not go strictly because of a song?”

Some of the changes to chapel this year include a more diverse palate of worship experiences including worship artists outside of Bethel who represent a wide range of global worship styles, the addition of a large Chapel Choir directed by music professor Gene Peterson, and a faculty/staff worship team.

Assistant Campus Pastor and Prayer Ministries Leader Donna Johnson believes attendance has been up most of the semester so far as a result of all of these changes.

“Gathering as a community, whether or not you agree with what’s being taught, is valuable in and of itself.  I think it’s valuable to hear people you disagree with, especially when you’re in college,” Velasco said. “Everyone should make it a priority to go to chapel at least once a week. The Bible is clear about what happens when we gather in unity and one accord, and unity isn’t found in everyone agreeing. Unity is found when you understand everyone else you’re doing church with, and understanding does not mean agreeing.”

2017-2018 News Editor of The Clarion. South St. Paul native. Left-handed middle child, which explains everything. Avid adventurer; enjoys singing and playing guitar. | callie-schmidt@bethel.edu

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