The impact of student mission: Nicky Gumbel

Mobilising the student generation into a life of discipleship has an impact on all generations as we reach the next thinkers, creatives, teachers, parents, leaders, culture setters, world changers, influencers and so much more with the life changing love of God.

In this blog series, we will be sharing stories of people whose lives have been personally impacted by Student Mission and the legacy it has.

Meet Nicky Gumbel…

Hi Nicky, tell us about yourself:

Hi I’m Nicky, I am the vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton in London and sometimes described as the pioneer of the Alpha Course. I’m married to Pippa and together we have 3 children and 8 grandchildren. I enjoy sports of all kinds and I am a regular squash player.

My father was a German Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis to the UK, where he and my mother were both barristers who met on opposite sides of a case.

Where and what did you study?

I did my undergraduate degree at Cambridge University where I originally studied economics before changing to law. I did 10 years in law and then did a theological degree at Oxford University to train for ordination.

What’s your story of coming to faith at University?

I never went to Church as a child, my father was an agnostic and my mother never went to Church. As a teenager, I became an atheist and so had no interest in the faith.

In my first year, I lived next to my good friend Nicky Lee who is now the associate vicar of HTB and pioneer of the Marriage Course with his wife Sila Lee. In February 1974, there was a mission called Christ Alive in Cambridge led by a remarkable man named David MacInes who spoke every night. I went a few times but didn’t listen to anything he said. My friend Nicky also attended and on the 14th of February came back and said that he and Sila had become Christians. When I heard this I was horrified but also wanted to help him so thought I had better start investigating faith.

That evening, I started reading the New Testament in the Bible because I had an old Bible that I got from R.E. lessons at school. I read Matthew’s gospel, Mark, Luke and, halfway through John’s gospel, I fell asleep as it was about three in the morning. I then carried on reading for the following days.

In that process it was like Jesus emerged from the pages of the New Testament, I encountered him and knew that he was alive. Despite all of my philosophical objections, I knew that I had to take a step of faith and either say yes or no to Jesus. I very reluctantly said yes because I thought life would be very miserable after that encounter, and immediately it was like I found what I had always been looking for; life in all its fullness and that Jesus really is the bread of life.

How did Jesus transform your time at University?

I had been looking for this bread in other areas though I was perfectly happy on one level. I had a lot of fun in my first year of uni, travelling to London and attending parties every night, but deep down there was something missing. And that’s what changed in that moment of encounter with Jesus. I knew it was all real and that Jesus really was alive.

I immediately had a desire to tell others about the difference Jesus makes and that the gospels are true. And since then, that is what I have been trying to do with my life and in pioneering the Alpha Course.

I went to the Round Church in Cambridge as a student and had a great group of friends, a lot of them became Christians at that time too. In fact, there were actually five Nickys, all of us who were close friends who became Christians within 18 months!

We all came out of that one mission.  

We had a great community where we used to take people off to Sunday nights at Holy Trinity, Cambridge where there was always a guest speaker. We would cook them food and take people along, anything to share the message.

So after hearing your story of coming to faith as a student, why do you think student mission is essential and what role does HTB play in that?

The time when you’re a student is the time when you’re thinking through things whether consciously or unconsciously. You’ve left school, you’re independent, you’re forming your views about life and so to give students the opportunity to think about the claims of Jesus during that time is really important. They have to make up their own mind but we need to make sure that we give them the best opportunity to hear and consider the message of Jesus by presenting Jesus in a way that is attractive.

That’s what David MacInes did. He presented Jesus in a really attractive way and we saw that faith was something great because his life was an example. It is critical as the Church that we live it out and show people how attractive it is to follow Jesus.

At HTB, we have a very good student ministry run by Sam Follett, where I speak sometimes, and I am really impressed by the students who come here and their passion for their faith. As a church, we want to give as many students here in London the opportunity to hear the gospel.

At Fusion, we are passionate about seeing the church, both locally and globally capture God’s heart and love for university students and are so encouraged when we hear stories like this. So we will be gathering at our annual conference with a desire to see students find hope in Jesus and home in the local church.

If you’ve been personally impacted by Student Mission feel free to drop me an email on I'd love to read your story!

Funmi Akinola

Student Mission Coach

Funmi is passionate about churches growing and planting. She loves connecting with a diverse breadth of churches and seeing them thrive in creatively loving, welcoming and discipling students.