How to Welcome Students into Your Church Family

How to Welcome Students into Your Church Family

As students begin a new academic year, what are some of the ways the local church can help them feel welcome and part of the family?

I live in a city with a diverse range of churches – and of course, countless other groups, activities, and societies that students get involved in.

When a student does turn up to a Sunday church gathering, what will be the factors that make it more likely that they will return? Beyond that, what will help students feel integrated into the church and perhaps even excited to bring a friend?

Here are some of the answers I’ve heard from students, and a few ideas of how to see them played out in church life.

Stand up for Bible truth

Life on campus is full of liberal debate where individual self-expression is usually the order of the day. The last decade has brought great cultural shifts in the norms and expectations around gender and sexual identity, the definition and value of human life, and even spiritual syncretism.

For a Christian teenager to stick their head above the parapet, they need to hear older believers being prepared to stand for the same truths. Whether from the front, in small groups, or individually, we need to speak truth from the Bible.

For unbelieving seekers who come to church, seeing Christians hold thought-through positions on even counter-cultural topics is particularly engaging. Students come to university wanting to be stretched and challenged - just what the Bible promises to do!

For a Christian teenager to stick their head above the parapet, they need to hear older believers being prepared to stand for the same truths.

A word of caution though: churches that are Bible rich can breed Bible snobs. Students can easily hold earnest convictions but lack the compassion and tact to communicate well with others who hold differing opinions.

We need to both teach what is true and model how to communicate it with grace and love.

Focus on community

One of the main reasons that students stick around in church life is because they have friends there. Students are looking for connection and a sense of belonging.

Initially at least, students (especially those less mature in faith or socially nervous) are looking for the company of other students. That’s part of the rationale for running separate student Bible studies: it helps in developing deep friendships.

At Christ Church Southampton we’ve found building downtime into the church programme has been very valuable and trips away have a disproportionately beneficial effect on collective memory-making.

Having said that, the breadth of ages and stages in church life is something unique and attractive that we can offer to students. That’s why we avoid segregated worship times (or seating arrangements!) and try to encourage students into family home life. For example, you could try an organised ‘adopt-a-student’ scheme, or something more organic.

Both students and non-students can view the other group as an impenetrable mass! Providing opportunities for students to relate to a few others in the congregation on a deeper level helps to cross that divide – and often sees students thrive through one-to-one support.

Open the door to service

You’re needed here.

Those words are both theologically true and deeply attractive to students. The picture of the church as a body is one where each part has a function to build up the whole.

Students can easily feel like consumers, passively attending events put on for them. A much greater sense of ownership develops when they have a role to play.

A good way to help students feel part of the furniture is to give them some to move!

At Christ Church, students serve through children’s work, the tech team, serving refreshments, helping with set-up, playing music, and welcoming - to name just a few. It’s a great blessing to the wider church family – as it is to the students themselves.

A good way to help students feel part of the furniture is to give them some to move!

Get the church on board

All of this needs to be a joint effort. In as much as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a church to support a student.

Some churches see working with students as an exciting prospect. For others, it’s an exhausting burden. Normally, the reality is both!

Here’s a final top tip to get the whole church behind student ministry and enduring in it even when it’s hard: get them praying for students. It’s the way to align our hearts with God’s ever-greater heart for the students he plans to put in our path.

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