Thursday, September 12, 2013

9 ways to nail the first CU meeting of the year

Christian Unions will have their first meeting of term in the next week or so. In the South West we're welcoming over 25,000 undergraduates to University and they're all welcome at our meetings...

How can you nail that first CU meetinng?

1. This is a gathering of human beings. 
This isn't "them and us". Our experience of reality is that we have a lot in common with one another. We breath the same air and share many of the same questions and concerns. At the start of the year no-one really knows anyone, every encounter with other people feels risky, people are likely to be guarded. Appreciate this and set the tone as giving people space. Avoid ice-breakers - they make people uncomfortable and do almost nothing to help people come out of hiding.
(There are questions to ask here about all our communication and social media - are we speaking publicly but 'in house' or are we speaking to the University as a whole...)

2. We're keen to be good for University life. 
Our message is get involved in University life, in clubs and socities, be intensely curious about people and your course and everything. Life fascinates us, blows our minds and breaks our hearts. Professor John Lennox of Oxford University says "Keep asking questions until someone asks you one back." We like that. We're not an exclusive and separate society, in fact our closest friends probably aren't part of the Christian Union though we aim to cultivate a good sense of community here.

3. We think it's good to be part of our city. 
We appreciate the place, local business, the culture and quirks and beauty of our city. We want to be at home here and contribute to the good of our city. We think it's good to connect with other people, and that a local church is a family that will welcome anyone with open arms. We're aware that most students never set foot in a non-student home at University and we think that's a shame. We've found that church connects you with a diverse local community. There are many other reasons to go to church, and many more you might give if you were speaking to someone you knew was a Christian... but here you're speaking to human beings in general.

4. People have a life
Start the meeting when you say you'll start - advertise an end time and hit the time. Keep things moving, and explain at the start what people can expect. If you start late in the first week people will assume they should keep coming late. If you over run you're ask people to choose between coming next week and doing the other things they want to do. Why force that unnecessary choice? An hour an a half is enough time to do a lot of things... a 75-90min meeting is probably sufficient.

5. People stick because of friendship and a sense of belonging 
Go out of your way to meet people and be friendly... even the most introverted of us wouldn't set out to deliberately be unfriendly. Imagine all the interesting people you could meet and the value that might add to life and the journey you might make together.

6It's the Christian Union meeting - so do speak clearly of Jesus. 
People will expect that. Christians know Jesus is revelant, but we'll need to show how that is the case, especially since we expect all kinds of people to be there. We want to set a tone that says, it's a reasonable and good thing to investigate the claims of Jesus, and everyone is welcome to do that. That's what Christian Unions are there for - give everyone the opportunity to consider for themselves who Jesus is...

7. Setting the right tone...

We want our meetings to be welcoming to everyone. Any kind of people you can think of could be in the room. And we're glad about that.

We want our language to be including not excluding. People who believe in the Incarnation don't throw rocks from a distance. We go and sit with people and listen and weep and smile and celebrate.

  • If we sing, we want our songs to be clear, to make sense, of beware of unhelpful language like military metaphors...   [Also, if you have a band they better be good... if they aren't then keep it simple, a good singer/guitarist beats a bad band everytime. 
  • If we pray we'll be simple and brief... model that anyone can do this. 
  • What's said from the front needs to be free from jargon and in jokes unless you want to communicate that you'd prefer the CU to only have you in it.
We're aware that confrontational language ranges between being off-putting and rude and offensive.

A good degree of emotional intelligence is necessary to lead a meeting. A desire to tick boxes to prove orthodoxy is a bad qualification to lead the meeting (though orthodoxy is great!) Those upfront need to be especially aware that there are harder-to-swallow aspects of who Jesus is and those things need framing with care and sensitivity and awareness of the connotations and implications they have for people, however unintended. What's modelled up front gets picked up in the seats.

8. Facilitating next steps...
Desiring to  give opportunities for people to make next steps from wherever they are lets not make too many upfront assumptions about people. Yes this is a meeting of the Christian Union but we meet as human beings, standing with one another. "You" is confrontational and divisive, "We" might not even want to call ourselves Christians let alone be Christians... and even if "We" are Christians that could mean a whole lot of different things... especially on opening night.

So, lets provide clear pathways. 
  • Get a box fifty £1 Bible's from that you can give away at the start of the talk to anyone who doesn't have one. Have plenty available along with relevant literature to resource people for their journey. A term card. An Uncover seeker study guide etc. 
  • Have pens and connect cards on seats and give people an opportunity in the meeting to fill them in. Including a 'volunteer' column will help everyone to have something to respond to and you can easily involve people and give ownership. Have somewhere accessible to hand those in and meet a leader at the end of the meeting. Follow up connect cards within 48 hours because that's friendly and . .

  • Serve people by being with people... asking questions and listening. 
Get this wrong and it sets a wrong tone in the meeting and you lose people and model bad ways to live... get it right and you're flying. 

9. And... what else?
Comments are open.

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