Thursday, September 22, 2016

Church in a student city?

I've written in the past some Top Tips on finding a church for Christian Students.

How about from the perspective of a Church in a Student City? 
If you have students in your church and/or are a viable option then be available to students.

There are two Universities in our city and though we do get students from both we're no where near being a local church for one of them... as prospective students from Trent Uni have done Student Linkup I've usually suggested they try a nearer church than ours. For Nottingham Uni we are 300 metres from the edge of campus or a mile from its centre... so I think we're a pretty good option.

As term rolls on there's a responsibility on us to quickly stamp on any attendance at two churches - its just not healthy. Care deeply but don't hold too tightly - if a student goes elsewhere that should be ok. Resist consumeristic competitive pitches and plead that students visit only 2-3 churches and then commit to somewhere.

Anyways, I suggest...
1. Be hospitable. 
Students are away from home from the first time, so open your home. A family table, a sofa and a house with the central heating turned on will make more of an impression than you can imagine on a cold November day for a student with full-blown homesickness. 
That's all the more true when it comes to international students, vast numbers of whom never enter a British home. Few better places for discipleship than over a meal. 
2. Be unshockable. 
Whether about their theological questions or their lifestyle  - don't be shocked. No good comes from being outraged, it just makes people shut down, hide and not come back. Discipleship is messy, we've all got L-plates on. Let grace abound... and in that context you can challenge people to follow Jesus.
3. Be patient. 
A student has just become an adult. They're still figuring out who they are. They've got growing to do. Impending deadlines will feel like the biggest crisis ever, and while you may know well that there are bigger things to face in life, these are genuine anxieties for an 18 year old. 
Also, a student is likely to grow immensely in three years - intellectually, personally... University is a place where people get formed. Rapid change can happen quickly... but as with all other change - less tends to change in a day than you might want, and more tends to happen in a term or a year or three than you could imagine. 
4. Be intellectually rigorous. 
Students are studying at degree level - which varies depending on the institution - so don't patronise them. They may behave like children at times, but they're capable of thinking like really high-level adults -- sometimes even more so with international students who are being groomed for the top economic and political roles in their country. 
When it comes to discipleship, be intellectually rigorous. Don't bypass the hard questions. Don't belittle the issues they're wrestling with in tutorials and lectures. No question should be off-limits -- if you want to minister to students, you have to think hard! Lets be doing degree-level faith with a child-like humility.
5. Be passionate about CU. 
There is a unique mission opportunity at University and CU's are designed to engage with that. Students learn to lead and they learn to share their faith. They'll fail big time, but when that happens they'll need encouragement not mockery. 
Strong churches and strong CUs tend to exist in the same locality. 
CU isn't about more Christian meetings, it's about intentional time with friends at Uni who don't know Jesus. CU meetings are however great opportunities to invest in students faith and stretch them for the unique challenges of their immediate and future contexts. 
Sharing the faith isn't just for CUs of course -- church is about that too, and if we want to serve students our churches better not be full of unnecessary obstacles - let the gospel offend, but other things need to go. "Can a student easily invite their friends who are interested in exploring faith?" is a question to be working hard to answer. If not... what are we doing?!
6. Be equipping for graduate life. 
University isn't just about witness, in fact it's not even primarily about witness - it's about studying. Studying is a students job - even if they don't always think so. They're paying for it out of their future salary, just like you're paying for your retirement out of your current salary. It's expensive. And it's about forming a person for either a particular vocation or any number of graduate work opportunities. 
Faith foundations are often laid in student years - for better or worse. 
Most of that advice should probably apply to any non-student 18-21 year old who walks through the door too. Around half of 18 year old Brits go to Uni which means half don't, and we'd be wise to remember that. It's good to give students attention if they're part of your parish, but for all their capacity to influence the world they are also just ordinary people.

For what it's worth.... at Beeston Free Church this year we're shaping our student ministry around meals and church home groups (with Bible study, prayer etc), Serge's The Gospel Centered Life course, and Evan Koon's For the life of the world: letters to the exiles and Donnie Griggs' Small Town Jesus. Why? To give students a church family, relational contexts to explore their questions, a focus on the gospel and its deep application to life, a wide-angle lense on Christ for all of life, and a place to assess priorities for sharing their faith in the small town that is the University.

Image - Luftphilia -Creative Commons