As Freshers’ Week approaches I’ve been putting together a series of posts looking at how University Christian Unions’ can be most effective during the first few weeks of term. You can check out Part 1 here, but now it’s time for Part 2:

2. Create a CU culture that loves the local church

As well as wanting Christian freshers to catch the vision of Christian Union (see Part 1!), it’s crucial that they also see the importance of belonging, serving, and being pastored as part of a local church. But if there isn’t much of a culture of being part of a local church amongst returning students, then it’s unlikely that freshers will be any different.

In the New Testament church isn’t an event you attend, neither is it a building you frequent. The biblical model is a gathering of people to whom you belong, and who are together and through the means of each other being transformed into the likeness of Christ. In my first year at Uni this just wasn’t on my radar, and I think my Christian growth stuttered as a result. I’d thrown myself into my college CU, but I didn’t have belonging to a church high on my list of priorities. As a result I was a consumer, a passenger, who simply turned up to a church on a Sunday night to get stuff out of a meeting. I had no commitment to the people around me, no real sense of accountability to the leadership, no sense of being pastored by them, and in no way was I serving that church. I attended pretty much because it was the done thing for Christians to do but to use Joshua Harris’ phrase, I was dating the church. In the summer holiday after first-year, I realised that come September it had to change.

What kind of culture do you have in your CU when it comes to church? Are you helping other students to have a biblical vision of church, and showing them how being part of a church is different to being part of a CU? Why not have a slot on ‘getting stuck into church’ in your first few meetings. As 2nd & 3rd years are you modelling using your extra time and energy to serve sacrificially at your church, or are you simply modelling a consumer ‘date-the-church’ mentality?

It would be even worth asking yourselves whether the amount, or even type, of events that you’re putting on as a CU are actually having a detrimental effect, by preventing students from having the time to get involved in a local church, or giving them the impression they don’t need to belong to a church. If there’s a CU event going on nearly every other night, then how will find the time to commit to a church? If CU has tried to replace church by having a massive teaching programme and attempting to pastor fellow-students, then why would a fresher think they need church?

Maybe it almost sounds counter-intuitive to the health of your CU to plug church commitment? Maybe as a CU leader you’re jealous of students getting too involved in church because you think that will mean they ditch CU? It’s probably the case that such a mindset betrays a wrong understanding of both CU and church. They’re not in competition, and have very different ‘jobs’. A healthy church will be excited about encouraging students to unite with other Christians to take the gospel to your university. A healthy CU will know that local church is essential for students’ growth and love for the gospel, and surprise, surprise, therefore evangelism!

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that where CU members are stuck into healthy gospel-loving churches, the CU in turn is much more likely to be committed to radical gutsy, love-driven evangelism. But where CU members don’t really feel they belong to a church, the CU is much more likely to have morphed into a wannabe church or a social club, and that’s likely to endanger any desire for the CU to be the campus mission team that it should be.

Not convinced, or wondering what to look for in a church? Take a look here for a great piece by Dave Bish.

Part 3 and Part 4 are now also available.