Going to university
An alarming number of Christian young people don’t make it into any kind of church involvement when they go to university – one estimate puts it at over 70%. This is very worrying, both because they will be less equipped to live out their faith strongly during term time, and also because it does not bode well for them carrying the faith of their upbringing into adult life.
It partially explains other projections which indicate that a significant number of Christian graduates don’t carry their Christianity into their future life. Without good support and continuing nurture of their faith, it is all the more likely that living away from home and familiar support-structures for the first time may put their Christian discipleship under strain.
For many, this will be their first encounter with such challenges as:
- interacting with aggressive anti-Christian polemic;
- facing a new range of lifestyle choices;
- engaging with scientific and other studies that question the validity of their Christian experience.
If you have a young person or persons planning to enter university in the near future, here are some steps you can take to help them. It is vital to be intentional in this matter and not leave things to chance.
- Prepare them in advance:
During their final year at school, hold monthly sessions for prospective students. If you only have one student, arrange one-to-one mentoring. Cover topics such as:
- Good habits: daily devotions, regular fellowship and worship.
- Cultivating Christian reading – books, web sites.
- Healthy relationships and Christian morality.
- Christian life and witness in a pluralist and sceptical context.
- Defending the faith in the face of the six “big objections”:- Suffering; Science; Other Faiths; Biblical historicity; Bad Christian History (Crusades, Slavery, anti-Semitism, etc.); Gender and Sexuality.
- Keeping a healthy work-life balance
- Responsible daily Christian living – avoiding alcohol abuse, soft drugs etc.
- Refer them to a student Christian network
The main ones are:
- Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) – interdenominational, evangelical.
- Fusion – non-denominational, charismatic.
They will then ensure that someone representing a local Christian fellowship contacts them on arrival.
Both the above web sites have a front-page self-referral section. If appropriate, you can complete this on behalf of the young person.
Commend them to the Chaplain. The student chaplaincy will contact them if you refer them. Chaplains will always be available to offer pastoral support, and there will usually be a chaplaincy group for a student to join. Style and spiritual emphasis will vary.
Student days carry great potential for developing as Christian leaders, so it is important to do all we can to help their transition, recommend a church where they will be nurtured, and give them a vision for what their time as a student will offer them. They will be influential as Christians all their lives if we lay a good foundation.
- Refer them to a Church with a strong student ministry
Tell them about the lively student-oriented churches near to the university. Websites will tell you which of the local churches run a good student ministry. The University Chaplain may also advise.
- Keep in touch with them while they are away
Staying in touch has never been easier. Students communicate and network the whole time through Facebook, mobile phone, email, tweet and text. Staying in touch with them through such media is easy, immediate and time-economical. Have a member of your parish “adopt” them in order to keep in touch, so that they receive regular updates with news of what is going on back home.
- Offer fellowship and reflection every holiday
As time goes by, a student can feel more detached from his/her home church. So, every time they are home for holiday, offer them opportunity to re-connect and report on their student life. If you have a number of students, hold student welcome-homes and student-farewells.. Food is usually a winner! Students are generally more affluent and mobile than they used to be, and fill their summer up with projects and trips, so the very start and the very end of the summer vacation period may be your best bet for catching up with them.