Luke Smith shares his passion for connecting students with local church
It is make or break for the church. This is a crucial generation. Let’s not drop the ball, the baton or the baby! The students of today are the leaders and shapers of tomorrow. They will make the society that our kids grow up in. The question is, will they do this with Jesus at the centre of their existence or not?
Jay Taylor packed his bags in Southport, said goodbye to his family and church, and set off to study Maths at York University. He loved his first year. He got drunk regularly, worked hard and made lots of new friends. He didn’t find a church – then he abandoned his faith. In his second year, his youth leader from Southport visited him and connected him to a local church. His life turned around and he started to live for God again. The first part of this story is incredibly common; the second is all too rare.
Well over half of the church attending school leavers won’t connect to church whilst at uni and most of them stop exercising their faith in the process. In fact only around 1% of the UK’s 2.3 million students are committed to a church. This means that students represent the largest, clearly defined, unreached people group in the UK.
Local churches within 5 miles of a college or university need to respond to the challenge of reaching the students of today. Every single church in the UK will be affected by the corporate success or failure to engage this generation. Consequently, every single church has a part to play either through prayer, partnership or participation. The exodus of young people from the church during the transition from home to university must STOP. But there is hope. Jesus loves students and he loves his church. This is a powerful partnership for the Kingdom.
This is a tipping point for our nation
When I went to university in Loughborough I got stuck into everything. I joined loads of societies and loved the student life. It was a time of hope, possibilities and new opportunities. Everything was up for grabs! Life values, purpose, direction, motivation, friends and sense of humour. University is the formative time for adult life. Unless local churches disciple our students, the culture will do it for us. We must grab this opportunity with both hands! Students are so open to talking about ‘God and stuff’, especially at 2am with a garlic naan in hand. We need to make sure Christian school leavers and students aren’t just ‘dropped’ in the culture but are equipped and available to engage with it as missionaries.
Why should my church do student mission
Influence – If we want to change the nation for Jesus, then where better to start than with the leaders of tomorrow? Many of the future lawyers, nurses, politicians, teachers and church leaders are at university right now. So the church has a role to play in helping them find their God-given purpose.
Diversity – Cinemas used to just have one main screen and everyone would watch the same film. Now we go to huge multiplexes and choose the film that suits us. That is how students assume church is too. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all the students go to the ‘big’ church and they won’t like yours. There will be some who will only go to yours. Please invite them.
Vibrancy – Students bring life, energy, fervour and ideas to a church. They will challenge your perspective on church and society and will sharpen your values. The status quo is not the friend of a student; they live in a transitory world where change happens often and easily so expect your church to change if you welcome students.
Kingdom – You may not reap the fruit of what you sow in students at your church. That may be the pleasure of another church. This is the Kingdom at work. Perhaps you will receive some graduates and reap the fruit sown in them by their church at university. Let’s hold this lightly. It is all for the glory of God and the extension of His Kingdom.
What next for our church?
What can you offer into this mission field? Do not be put off by thinking that student work has to be large and flashy. Start with what you can offer. Relationship, time, coffee and a bit of love. A home away from home.
Dave Matthews who joined Canterbury Vineyard as a fresher says, “Jim, my church leader, was around to meet me, to buy me a coffee, to find out where I’m at, what my passions were, what I longed to see happen in my life on campus and the city. He was interested in me. I felt a part of the movement, included and valued. Straight away a team of us got together, ate pizza, and watched Fight Club, started praying together casting visions for the campus.” Only just over a year on and Dave is leading the student work at the church and has seen a bunch of students become Christians.
This is echoed by Sarah-Jane Patel who joined My Father’s House, Lancaster a few years ago. She says “I love my church because it was clear to me that it wanted me even before I started university. In the summer before university, I was put in email contact with a student worker at the church. She invited me to a cheese and wine evening with some people from church and when I started coming to her church she sat next to me in the services even though she was older and ‘cooler’ and already had other friends there.”
As Sarah’s story shows, connecting to a church is often not very high on the agenda for a fresher. This is just a reality. So what is our response to be? Let’s work hard to connect to them, don’t be shy about it. As a church, be confident that you have something they need. By ensuring that our school leavers connect to Fusion’s Student Linkup and by being proactive in how we engage with fresher’s, we will make a huge difference. We need lots more churches doing this in order to start to tip the balance.
- Connect to Fusion. We resource churches to send, receive and disciple students and engage them in active mission.
- Use the studentlinkup.org service that prepares and links school leavers to churches
- Invest in relationships with students. This is what they crave when away from home.
- Pray for inviters. Your student work will grow through a few individuals who invite others. It is a gift that is worth naming and releasing in these individuals.
- Student Alpha. This is an incredibly effective tool for student mission and it is designed to be run by students for students.
Maybe you are part of a church that can reach students while they are at university? Or could you send students off to study and represent Jesus in another city? Or perhaps you could commit to pray for and support Fusion as we help other churches to engage with this massive challenge? Whatever background, denomination, theology, geography or demographic you come from – there is a role for you to play in ensuring that this generation has Jesus at its core.
Luke Smith is the Church Relationship Manager for Fusion. See the website www.fusion.uk.com.