On the university campuses in your city there are thousands of people open to talking about the gospel during one of the most pivotal seasons of their lives. Among them, you’ll probably find students not just from all over the UK, but all over the world. How can local churches in university cities take advantage of these opportunities? Here are some ideas.
Form a team
The team doesn’t have to be large – it could be just two or three people that will champion student ministry in your setting and who will pray together for lost students in your city. Then contact your local UCCF Staff Worker and find out what’s already going on in your city and ways your local church can best get involved.
It’s tempting to want to set up an initiative that will attract hordes of non-Christian students; in practice, though, keeping contact with large numbers of students is hard for most churches to maintain. Aiming to build real relationships with handfuls of students, hearing their stories, taking their questions seriously and patiently sharing the gospel with them is the surest way of seeing gospel growth.
Make your local Students’ Union aware of volunteering opportunities in your church
Most Students’ Unions feature local volunteering opportunities that students can get involved in. Your church may already run programmes in the community where it’s not essential for the volunteer to be a Christian, and you can contact students through having them serve alongside people from your church. Churches can also advertise needs for expertise in, say, graphic design, video editing or events management. This is a win-win situation: you’ll get high-quality service, build relationships with local students and give them an opportunity to build their portfolio.
Some universities have excellent sports facilities but many, especially universities that were former polytechnics, are lacking. There may be few pitches or courts and the cost to hire them may be prohibitive. Students will be grateful for the opportunity for a low-key, cheap weekly evening kickabout. If your church has sports teams in a local league, aim to fill half of your squad with non-believing local students. Then keep seeking to integrate them further into church life and invite them to Sundays, especially guest services.
It’s a sad truth that many students feel very lonely whilst away from home. This is particularly true of international students. According to some statistics, two-thirds never make a British friend, and the vast majority have never been in a British home. The church has a tremendous opportunity to love the strangers among us through offering open homes.
Start with the Christian international students who attend your church. You’ll often find that when international students feel a real sense of belonging, they will actively bring their friends who aren’t Christians. Try to be particularly attuned to the university holidays at Christmas and Easter – while most British students will go home, many internationals will stay in your city. An invitation to a meal, inclusion in whatever your family is doing, or a visit together to a local tourist destination might well present a natural opportunity for you to share the gospel as you share your life.
Be willing to engage with the campus’ big ideas
Many students have never given the gospel serious thought because they consider it completely implausible. In other words, many instinctively never give Jesus a fair hearing because of the perception that Christianity is intolerant, unscientific and exclusive. Consider arranging evenings where you take these objections head-on. For example, if you have a scientist who’s a member of your church, ask them if they’d be willing to share the story of why they feel able to be both a Christian and a scientist. If they’d be willing to take questions afterwards, all the better!
Schedule guest events to complement Christian Union outreach
UCCF supports non-denominational and student-led Christian Unions at the heart of almost every university campus. Students themselves are normally the best-placed and most credible Christian witness among their friends, and so your church can play an important part in campus evangelism through not over-filling students’ midweek programmes and through actively encouraging them into their local Christian Union. But local churches can also complement and strengthen evangelism through local CUs by offering easy entry to church at key points of the year.
Most Christian Unions, for example, run evangelistic events weeks; scheduling a guest service the following Sunday makes it very easy for Christian students to invite friends who’ve attended during the week to come to church. A free lunch might seal the deal! For many students, seeing and relating to the diverse Christian family gathered in a local church can be a key step in their coming to Christ, and will also give an opportunity to advertise seeker courses that you’re running, such as Alpha or Christianity Explored.
Introduce them to Jesus
Contrary to popular belief, there is a good deal of spiritual hunger amongst university students. Many who are instinctively sceptical of organised religion still find the person of Jesus intriguing – and are much more open to church when they’ve been magnetised by his character and work. So keep Jesus front and centre, pray, and expect the Spirit to be at work through his word.