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How to thrive (not just survive) at university



Baptist minister Michael Shaw has this message for new students and their sending churches this summer 

 

University photo

Listening to the radio recently following England’s World Cup quarter final victory over Sweden, one of the commentators was reflecting upon Gareth Southgate's ability to motivate millennials (which most of this young England team are). The discussion highlighted how Southgate had learnt not to treat his players as pawns in a chess game, but had given them all individual responsibility. Each knew their role, with the result that he had many captains on the field.
 
I was reflecting upon this, particularly in the context of a church that is losing a generation of millennials. I think part of the problem is that too many churches treat millennials as a group to be served, rather than a resource to be inspired.
 
In a few weeks time thousands of young people will leave home for the first time to start university. Some of those will be Christians, and for me, it is key, first and foremost, that they connect with a church. Any church is better than no church.

But (you knew there would be one) if you want those young people to thrive rather than just survive, the best way for that to happen is to go to churches that empower.
 
So what is the difference? Sadly many churches that “attract” students are very front heavy, with professional teaching and worship teams. While this is great for a season, we are not called a priesthood of all believers by chance. If there are no opportunities to serve, if everything is handed to young people on a platter, they will survive rather than thrive.
 
The churches this millennial generation need are not ones where they are treated like mindless sheep, but where they can truly get stuck in, where they can serve and grow. I would encourage students to avoid churches with big student ministries where they could be swallowed up, where their gifts may be left unrequired, and instead pick churches where they can get stuck in. Yes, it is good if they can be with people like them, and in any university city there will be churches with pockets of graduates and early-mid-twenties, for whom they could find kindred spirits, but they may be off the usual student-beaten track.
 
I want young people to survive university with their faith intact, but my preference is that they thrive.
 
There is a great app which lists lots of student welcoming churches called Student Link Up: encourage you your people to use it, but also to start communicating now with churches that get in touch with them, and start asking questions of what kind of church they are – will they be equipped to survive - or thrive?



Anna's story 

AnnaI arrived in Plymouth in 2012 to study at St Mark and St John University (Marjon). Before arriving I signed up to Fusion (which I recommend you do also) which suggested a church to connect with in Plymouth. This was Devonport Community Baptist Church (DCBC). However, I was living on site for my first year and couldn’t drive, so I never actually went to Devonport to try it out as I deemed it too far away.

A year later my fiancé moved to Plymouth and we wanted to find a church suited for both of us. We explored more Baptist churches in Plymouth and one so happened to be DCBC, the same church I’d snubbed for being too far away. As soon as we turned up to the church we were welcomed and felt instantly part of the congregation. We also felt like we could bring something to the church.

Since being here we have started and run a 20/30s house group, help with teas and coffees and I am now in leadership in the church. I would recommend trying this church out and not making the same error of thinking it’s too far.

Clearly, God had a plan for me and I took the long way of finding out.
 


Image | Jordan Encarnacao | Unsplash



Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church in Plymouth, and formerly student worker at Joshua Generation and Graduate Networker at Fusion. He is also currently the Baptist chaplain at the University of Plymouth

 

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