How are students coming to faith? The big four

Over the last couple of months I have released twelve blogs* unpacking the key factors that contribute to students coming to faith in Jesus whilst at university in England today. If you've missed them, where have you been? They're all live and out there on this site so do make sure you've read them for a more in-depth look at what is making a difference on the ground for students. 

Out of my twelves factors, there are four clear themes that emerge*:

The Church 

Relationships 

Investigation

Holy Spirit

Going into this year, with thousands of freshers on our doorsteps, I want us to take hold of what God has already given us, and to remember these four keys that genuinely create the more glorious invitations for people to meet Jesus for themselves. They are simple, they may seem obvious, but if actually focused on with more resolve and active commitment, these areas of your community life in Christ could see many more students find faith. 

1. Church

Let’s keep our confidence in God’s idea of the local church. 

Yes it's not as it could be, it's dysfunctional and you can’t do everything you’d want to do with it, BUT Jesus is using it in the big and the small, in the welcome and the worship, in the teaching and in the one on ones to bring students to Christ.

Let us not give up inviting, shaping it, serving the community and encouraging one another. Who we are together is something more powerful than one believer on their own can do. 

Students, you don't go to church, you ARE the church and you matter, you have a part to play, an invite to extend, and a friend who needs to know they are welcome. Get serving, get shaping things, and keep the doors open to who gets to come and join.

Make sure your church is connected to Fusion, make sure you know how to invite students to Try Church and connect to Student Linkup, and make sure your church Small Groups are ready to welcome all those who are seeking.

2. Relationships

We have got to keep being friends with people who don’t yet know Jesus.

They really don’t find home unless someone invites them and walks with them for a little while or even for years.

This year let’s make a point of mixing up our social group and prioritising one of our regular coffee-meet-ups for someone who does’t already know Jesus or believe all the same things as us.

You are each someone else’s key Christian friend who helps them come to faith in your life, witness, invites and friendship. And just as we crave mentors, so do your mates, so let's work hard to connect up generations and all be little bit more like family, even to those yet to know God as Father.

Make sure you've got your DMC Deck to start better chats with your mates, and the Discipleship Deck to grow your relationships deeper.

3. Investigation

We have got to create spaces for honesty, doubts, exploration and asking better questions. The best place for this is in friendships and small groups at church, but there other are things to help you create space to investigate too. 

One example might be at the Alpha course, with it's deliberate focus on discussion and exploration over food and in community. Whether in your uni house or a city-centre gathering, everyone should 'Try Alpha' at least once in their lives or run Alpha for their mates! Make it this year!

In terms of exploring the Bible and investigation, our friends at Pais have a book dedicated to teaching you how to study the bible with anyone, especially your mates who haven't ever read it. It's much more than about what to study, it goes past facts and into the relationship of people learning together. Worth checking out here!

We've got resources that get you discussing and exploring Scripture and identity, so you might want to check out Studentscape, or better still get the Bundle. Also the Bible Society have a really good course you can use! 

UCCF’s "uncover” bible studies could also be helpful, as they are trying to capture the idea that students are curious and want to investigate faith and Jesus, just as they are being trained to investigate their academic subjects at uni too. If that suits your mate's personality, you could give them an uncover Bible and discuss it together.

How are you intriguing your friends and causing them to ask questions, not give them formulaic answers? We must get more comfortable with silence, and with the mystery of God in the unknowns as well as the clear answers. You have all you need in Jesus, his Spirit in you and the Bible in your hand, so don't panic, have a go!

4. Holy Spirit

Finally, we need the supernatural presence of God, we need the fire of the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do, changing hearts and lives. 

Of course we know the Holy Spirit is at work in all the ways students are impacted in coming to faith, but there’s no question that space for supernatural encounter outside of human control and normal logical experience is a huge part of Jesus revealing his realness and his love to people.

We must get braver at waiting for Him to move however he wants, and be ok with the fact that we can’t always explain him but he might actually use what we think would put people off, to bring those people to living faith in him. 

There's no resources you can buy that bottle the presence of God, the wildness of his Spirit, the glory of his power. I wouldn't even try to link you to something. Instead, to finish, I'd invite you to sit for a moment, to open your hands as if to say you are inviting a gift to be given, and you are not holding onto anything trying to control it... and then I'd encourage you to ask Jesus to send his Holy Spirit to fill you afresh and help you know how loved you are and how loved your friends are too. 

Come Holy Spirit. Set us on fire with love for you. For Jesus' glory. Amen. 

*Check the rest of the series out here: #1 Sunday Church, #2 Small Groups, #3 Prayer, #4 Questions, #5 Key Friend, #6 The Bible, #7 Welcome, #8 Holy Spirit, #9 Authenticity, #10 Broken Relationships, #11 Mentoring, #12 Sunday Preaching 

The blog findings 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 and the four major themes that emerge. Enjoy!

Miriam Swaffield

Global Student Mission Leader

Miriam helps equip the church to share Jesus with students in Europe and beyond. She lives in Middlesbrough, loves her neighbours and thinks she can surf.

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