Going to university opens up so many possibilities to explore, engage and connect with something new and exciting. That applies to life outside the university bubble, as well as all the goings on within a campus or college. Being part of a church can be a great way to find support and guidance from different generations of people, and grow within a diverse community.
So what are the characteristics we should be looking for when deciding to be part of a church community as a student? We recently asked SCM members what some of the top things they look for when finding a new church. Here’s a roundup of all the responses.
1. Inclusive and Open
This isn’t by-the-numbers inclusion but real inclusivity: welcoming and promoting the contribution of people from different backgrounds at all levels of the church. We don’t just want token inclusion of women or people who define as LGBTQI+, we want a genuine care and affirming sense of what everyone can offer. Related to this, we want a church that is open-minded to different ideas, allowing us to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s experience of faith.
“Inclusivity includes positive action” – Emily Wheeler, SCM member, Dundee
“[I look for a church that’s] more fascinated by questions and doubts then by answers and certainty, and is commitment to building the kingdom of God ‘on earth as it is in heaven’” – Robin Hanford, SCM member, Leeds
2. Active within the community and beyond
A church that is concerned for the welfare of others is a church built on the example of Christ. This includes a genuine concern for social justice issues, with opportunities to put our faith into action. Action is often infectious, leading others to take part and demonstrating to society that the church has a key role to play in challenging injustice and bringing about a more just and fair world.
“A church that has a concern for social justice issues and a willingness to critique politics that harms people.” – Adam Spiers, SCM member, Durham
3. Serious about theology and worship (but not too serious)
Often the atmosphere within a church can be an important factor when looking for a new church – and this can change depending on denomination and tradition. What works for some people might not work for others. So go for a place that resonates with your personality, that enables you to interact fully and be part of the community.
Having said that, our members were keen to hear engaging sermons every week, with liturgies and hymns that are theologically sound. A good selection of hymns and/or worship songs, backed up with a decent standard of music, is a bonus but not essential. Too many churches focus on excellence in musicianship at the expense of authentic expression. What’s important is a focus on the divine, and a service that guides people through the whole spectrum of human experience.
“Somewhere that is both reverent and relaxed - where the holy presence is felt but no one will get too uptight at kids making noise.” – Debbie White, SCM member, Glasgow
“I like a lively congregation with a good cross-section of ages and people who are serious but not TOO serious about their faith.” – Shanika Ranasinghe, SCM member, London
4. A Friendly Priest or Minister
Church ministers are responsible for providing pastoral care and support to the congregation. An important question to ask is whether or not your church leader is active in welcoming and supporting you. Are they friendly and down-to-earth, always making time for people and never too busy to spend an afternoon having tea or coffee with?
“I look for the church parishioners and priests to care and want to spend time with you.” – Sarah Derbyshire, SCM member, Leeds