Thursday, July 12, 2012

Students need church

It's claimed that most Christian students fail to connect to church at University. But, University isn't dangerous for a Christians. I see students thriving in Christian Unions and same students are highly committed to their church.

When you come out as a Christian at University it's harder to avoid church than it is to find it. The road is well trodden.

Christian Unions are the witnessing communities of Christian students, gathered together to support one another and to give the rest of their University the opportunity to hear of Jesus, and to respond and join them as members of the church for eternity. 

At the start of a new year the Christian Union has to rebuild its team and a vital part of that is to connect new arrivals to a church in their city. The average Christian student arriving at University will find that there is a 2nd year student connected to their hall whose purpose is to find them, to connect them to a church and get them started in the life of a disciple-making disciple at University.

In most student towns/cities there are at least 5-6 evangelical churches that students belong too - often many more. Even in the difficult geography of Cornwall, students are members of six or more churches, spanning a broad spectrum. Without encouraging consumerism, you pretty much can find the church you want.

The Christian Union is the partnership between those churches - an expression of their unity. At the first CU meeting Christ will be preached, and opportunity to get information on how to find a local church will be available (and in subsequent weeks). Usually transport or someone to walk with will be offered.

Overwhelming choice?
The idea of choosing church might seem overwhelming, but its not so bad. Some principles.
1. No church is perfect. You don't need to see every church. Get some advice, do some research... visit 2-3 over a few Sundays. If you're not sure visit two the first week, maybe two the next... get down to a choice of two... then decide by the next Sunday. Doesn't have to take til Christmas. Visit 2-3. Pick ONE!
2. If the church's Sunday meeting is about the gospel of Jesus you need an reason of epic proportions not to make that your home and family. Be asking - if I had a friend who was interested in Jesus would bringing them here move them on in that journey? Because as a Christian at University you'll have the opportunity to make that IF into a WHEN.
3. Church is family, if you've not started to get to know some non-student Christians by the end of October in your first year you should feel somewhat orphaned... You have brothers and sisters in church and they have dinning room tables and sofa's waiting for you to receive their hospitality. Unlike most students at Uni, you have family in the city.
4. If you're serious about mission at Uni, then you need a church to invite friends to, saying "This is my church, this is my family, these are my people, there's nothing I wouldn't do for them... come get to know Jesus with us" 

How it actually works...
For all the help offered people are very sheeplike. So many students choose a church like their home church, or its extreme opposite... or they end up at the same church as a friend they've made. Either the CU Hall Group leader or another Christian fresher. Shock: friends influence one another!

My own experience, fifteen years ago, was that I settled in the first church I visited at the end of freshers week. My new best mate at Uni went to a different church that week, and then followed me the next week on my recommendation - and two weeks into Uni two of the most geeky introverted maths students joined the biggest loudest evangelical charismatic church in town... fifteen years later he (and his wife and daughter) are still members there... I left the city three months after graduation, having only ever visited other churches when friends (including new Christians!!) were being baptised.

Three Disclaimers:
a. Yes, a small minority slip through the net.
b. Yes, a few ignore all the advice and keep shopping around all year.
c. Yes, a few change church at the end of their first year because a decision that seemed good in October didn't seem so good six months later.. people change a lot in their first year. No point being overly dogmatic on this, I'd rather people didn't move but one change followed by a more mature commitment is ok.
Basic Message? When going to University, its easy to find a new church. Churches know students are coming and wait with open arms to receive them. Plus, many students (with their parents) do their research in advance - even back as far as the application stage! Since churches use facebook and twitter its really easy to connect ahead of time. I think that means more students make it to church on the Sunday at the start of freshers week than probably did 15 years ago.
Church matters so being proactive is great. Plan to find church and you'll find church.
  • Commit relationally to church like it'll be home for the rest of your life. 
  • Decide in your 2nd year, if not sooner, is this church my main church - could I be here post-Uni... might I stay here in the Uni holidays for the sake of church?
  • Get a mentor - ask your church leader to link you with someone who can work for your progress and joy in the faith...
  • Serve practically.
  • Grow the church by inviting friends who aren't Christians to come.
In Sticky Church Larry Osbourne likens us to a lego brick. We have limited capacity for connections. A student is possibly a bigger brick than later in life - because life is so integrated for a student - but nonetheless, when at University connect to a few non-student Christians (in your church), a few Christian students (probably in your Hall/Department) and then connect to as many non-Christian students as you possibly can.  

Watch this video with thoughts from Krish Kandiah, Cathy Burton, Andy Croft, Tim Chester, Graham Daniels and others...  BE PART OF A CHURCH.

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