The number one factor that influences how students are coming to faith in Jesus today is being invited to and experiencing Sunday church.*
Well who would have thought it? The place of the Sunday church service remains front and centre in a student's journey of coming to know Jesus. There's a fair bit of chat around whether the gathered church service, at a set time and in a set space, really has a place anymore when our culture has no rest day, Sundays aren't seen as special, and younger generations' attendance levels to anything regular (apart from coffee shops) seems unpredictable. And yet, 100% of the students I interviewed who came to faith at uni named the good old Sunday church service as a vital factor that helped them find Jesus.
Gathering as the church family still really matters, and Sundays still create an opportunity for regular invitation and regular attendance somewhere for students to find out more. Sundays provide a visual of Christians as a community, showing there are more of us out there, and giving a sound and experience to the body of Christ that cannot happen one on one. In our musical worship, the way we pray, preach, welcome, serve and talk, Sundays are the big front door to many students meeting God and if you're in the room already, you are the first impression of Jesus some students will get.
This is a really important discovery as we head into Freshers week and many churches set up '#TryChurch' stands at the welcome fairs in Student Unions, or hit the streets to offer this invitation to people maybe for the first time. The truth is, the invitation to "try church" could actually lead to a student discovering the realness of God for themselves, as was the case for every student I spoke to in my research.
Here's what some of the students said themselves:
“I went more as a research project, to prove God isn’t real… The complete opposite happened!”
“There was no pressure [in the invite].”
“When I came to church I was like, I know this presence, but Jesus was talking to me and I realised this is Jesus.”
“I went because they had free hot chocolate and to get out of clubbing!”
“I thought, I’ve never been to church before so I might as well take the opportunity now.”
How open is your Sunday gathering to new people, totally unchurched students and those just exploring from the edges? Do the students of your city know that church is an option for them and does your church community know this too?
What is your culture of invitation like amongst your student community? How might you make it normal for people to be inviting their friends if this isn't something you've considered before? Who are you inviting yourself to 'try church' this week? Which housemate has never heard this invitation but could do this Sunday?
Although I don't think the church is a Sunday, it's a community of people and it's 24-7, I do think we need to pay attention to our regular gatherings and not get lazy either in our faith and expectations for new people to come, our invitations to do so, or in how we represent Jesus and worship him in these regular meetings. Just because it might be regular, doesn't mean Sunday church has to be normal.
So go ahead and spread the invite far and wide, students are saying "yes" and many are finding home, maybe even this Sunday.
*These statements are taken from research completed for my Masters degree in which I explored commonalities of students coming to faith in Jesus in England today. I gathered data from a spread of institutions, geographical locations, church expressions and interviewed an equal number of male and female students, with some diversity in background and ethnicity as well. Although my findings have limitations and my scope of data had to be small, I believe what I have discovered is still very useful for local churches seeking to share Jesus with students and so this blog series explores the top 12 commonalities discovered. Enjoy!