Students prioritise friendship and community over theology or denomination when finding a church at university, according to a new resource published by the Student Christian Movement (SCM). Finding a safe environment that offers security and familiarity is a key concern for students moving to university, with churches often providing that steadying influence in a time of great change.
The findings are part of research published in a new resource booklet for churches, called ‘Welcoming Students to Your Church’. It is a 44-page booklet packed with case studies from students and church ministers, top tips and advice on a range of issues, and practical ideas for building a vibrant student ministry that’s welcoming and relevant. Hilary Topp, SCM's National Coordinator, said:
Knowing where to start in building a vibrant student ministry can often be daunting – with other priorities often getting in the way. Too often, student ministry is considered a millstone around the neck of local churches, when instead it should be a springboard to exciting expressions of worship, outreach and community. We hope this guide can inspire church leaders and volunteers to pour more energy and resources into making this possible.”
Faith in a Time of Upheaval
The transition to university is a time of great change, often leading to significant development in a young person’s life. According to Revd Jenny Morgans, a Deacon at North Lambeth Parish, students are keen to re-create a sense of family as soon as possible when they move to university – by meeting new people and making friends. Within a church context, the feeling of being part of a community was often prioritised over the need to agree theologically with a particular teaching or enjoy a particular activity.
The research also showed that many students were not aware of the diversity of Christian belief and expression at university until at least the second year. When looking for a church in the first term, students settled in the first or second church they attended. Only Catholic and Methodist students considered their denominational identity as an important factor in choosing a church. Without an awareness of differences in theology, tradition or style, many students “do not realise that they have scope to make decisions about what is most important to their faith.”
Welcoming Students to Church – Tips for Churches
In response, SCM has published the new church resource guide to equip church leaders and volunteers with information, case studies and practical tips to welcome and support university students in their areas. Practical tips include:
- Work out who is going to do the welcoming – it could be a student worker or volunteer.
- Tell students about your church – create a section on your website just for students or sign up to SCM Connect to create a searchable online profile.
- Run a ‘Sponsor a Student’ scheme – this usually involves a member of the congregation (e.g. a family) inviting a student for regular meals and a chance to catch up throughout the year.
Working with Others
- Get in touch – start by meeting with other local church leaders.
- Organise joint events that are easily accessible for students – for example, you could organise a joint monthly service based at the university chaplaincy.
- Contact the chaplaincy – reach out to the university chaplain to see how churches in the area can support students. For example, you could ask different congregations to donate items to include in student welcome packs, to be distributed through the chaplaincy.
For more tips, download a free PDF version of the guide, read it online or order print copies (£3 suggested donation to cover print and postage costs) here.