Students: ignorant, lazy kids who are only after your free food?
My experience since leaving the cosy student bubble where I spent the last three years is that people on the outside have a hard time understanding students, even if they once enjoyed campus life for themselves. Various factors can make students seem like lazy churchgoers, disruptive neighbours, and generally unreliable people.
Students are juggling the pressures of seeing family, cultivating new friendships and maintaining old ones, learning to live independently for the first time, and facing the increasing pressure to prepare themselves for future life with excellent grades and an impressive resumé of extra-curricular responsibilities – it’s not easy. It leads to changeable timetables which don’t always leave Sunday mornings free, unsociable sleeping patterns, and uncertain levels of commitment and availability at different times of the year. It becomes easy to socialise exclusively within the student bubble, because they’re the only other people experiencing this unique way of life.
This makes student ministry tricky and unpredictable. Some days I run events where no one turns up and I sit on my own eating the free biscuits I brought. Most days though, I’ve been amazed to see God working through what the chaplaincy is doing, through being in the right place at the right time – and I’ve learned to trust that whatever I do won’t be successful through my work, but through God’s. With that in mind, here are the main lessons I’ve learned about welcoming students to church effectively (without resorting to giving away a ton of free pizza…)
There is no such thing as a typical student – international students, mature students, postgrad students, students who live at home, students who just aren’t into boozy nights out…Don’t expect to be able to treat them all the same!
Be flexible – every three years, a university gets an entirely new cohort of undergraduates. The effects of a changing economic situation and future prospects for graduates are also evolving year on year. On top of this, between the seasons of term time, holidays, and exams, their lifestyle changes drastically. What students want is constantly changing, so try things out, and ask students how your church can serve them effectively at the moment.
Be where students are – students usually don’t have a car and don’t want to fork out for bus fare, which contributes to them staying safely within the student bubble. Go and find them, get involved in campus life, hang out at chaplaincies and students’ unions, and serve them where they are rather than running fantastic events at church and hoping they wander in.
Student work is completely different to a lot of other ministries, but it’s incredibly rewarding. Students aren’t the lazy youths they’re often painted as; they welcome being valued, and are ready to learn from, question, and bring enthusiasm to life as part of the church. Churches need the vibrant, youthful, curious voices that students bring, and students need our support now more than ever.
Written by Emma Temple, chaplaincy assistant at the University of Leeds