Miriam Swaffield is the Student Mission Leader at Fusion, part of the movement mobilising students across the nation to share their faith at university. She shared some testimonies and top tips for churches to make the most of the university context as a fantastic opportunity to encounter Jesus.
What are some stories of the local church engaging well with students in their town?
One church in York have developed an invitation culture, and they’ve seen lots of students come to faith through it. Every week they do an invitation to faith in the service, and at every baptism they do an invitation to faith and baptism. They simply decided they’re always going to ask, but this culture isn’t just from the front – people know that every week it’s up to them to invite friends, and each service will be geared towards people who don’t know the good news. That is the culture they’ve set and faith builds faith, so as the church regularly see people respond it grows confidence.
In Manchester, there’s one gateway into the campus which all the students pass through, so a team of people gathered there, offering prayer and water bottles. Amazingly, one girl gave her life to Jesus there and then in the street. This story demonstrates that the church has got to get out of the building and show up, because if we don’t show up then we’re not even one of the options vying for people’s attention.
Don’t assume the big student church has reached everyone. Some students have never heard about Jesus – if you don’t invite them, how are they ever going to know?
A great example of the smaller local church reaching students is in Chester. All of the people in the church were over 50 or retired, but they knew they needed to reach out to students in their area. They started simply by offering Sunday lunches to students, they went door-knocking with welcome packs and, through giving food and space, they provided family.
Top 5 tips for a church that wants to get more involved in evangelism with students:
1. Connect your church to Fusion and use Student Link Up: If you’ve not registered on Student Link Up then do this, because then freshers can find you and start building a relationship with you before they even arrive in your town.
2. Get to know the ground: Any member of the public can walk onto campus, so go explore, notice the culture, posters for events and societies, early international student arrival, the main gathering spaces, and familiarise yourself with the student context in your town. It may seem foreign to you, but it’s all new for students when they first arrive too.
3. Remember names and follow up in 24 hours: University life moves quickly, so within 24 hours of meeting students, get in contact to show you remember them and their story, and you want to make an effort with them.
4. Invite people round for food and family: Students have just left home and moved away from their parents, they’ll most likely have no family connections in the area, and they haven’t yet gained a safe context. Freshers also will get flyered and marketed from all angles in quite impersonal ways during their first few weeks. Church can therefore be the people who offer the personal and provide that family space.
5. If in doubt, offer prayer: This is a great way into this generation who are open to spiritual stuff and less sure of the organised stuff.
It’s important for churches to realise that you don’t have to be all singing and all dancing to be right for students, but you’ve got to be relational and bother with them. They are much more likely to stay if you treat them like family.
In what ways can we help restore confidence in the gospel in the UK church?
We’ve got to start celebrating good news stories – there are far more victories out there than people think. Let’s celebrate the little acts of courage in the day-to-day, because if we celebrate the small that will help us to have confidence.
We also need sobering up to the mission critical status that we are in – our cities are perishing, people are drowning. Jesus takes mission very seriously because the gospel doesn’t just make your life better, it saves you from drowning. It’s good news because you were drowning and now you’re not.
The more you talk about Jesus being good news, the more confident you’ll get in doing it and the more you realise that Jesus is good news. This involves somebody being brave enough to think and act upon this being good enough to share. This is what’s helped me in gaining more confidence.