Advancing student ministry during a pandemic

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Ideas and advice for students, student workers and churches

Student mission is not on hold, God is on the move and wants to do something new across the campuses and universities. However, with COVID restrictions in place how can we advance student ministry in a way that is safe, effective and fruitful? 

Small groups will be central and essential to any student ministry at this time and the section on small groups below requires the most planning and preparation. This document also suggests some ideas and explores some thoughts for how local churches can welcome students into community and reach out to the wider student community. This year demands greater thoughts, planning, and activity because students are starting uni this year in unique circumstances and have additional spiritual and emotional needs. 

‘But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.’ (Hebrews 10:39)


Start now

Results are out; most students know where they are going and may well tune into a live stream of a church in their place of study. Start welcoming them and including them now as students return and new students arrive.

Student Linkup App

Make sure your church profile is up to date with how you will be meeting this Autumn. Think about how you are communicating to students and pray for every one as you write to them. Don’t be concerned if they don’t reply, sow hope and encouragement in the messages you send. They don’t need any more marketing messages, they need personal communication that meets their needs.

Also take time to profile the app to your connections and network. Linkups only happen for everyone when people know about the app. Please help promote the Student Linkup App.

Church Website

Make sure your church website is up to date with how you will be meeting this Autumn and how students can access your small groups, online gatherings, and Sunday/student gatherings. (Appendix for meeting safely in church building with students during COVID-19)

Talk to Students' Unions

Ask them how the church can serve at this time, what resources are you offering? i.e. people who can welcome new students from the UK and abroad, a building and a safe space in a student area of town, expertise in counselling or debt advice etc.

Adopt a student

Engage families in the church who are happy to host a student for dinner in the early weeks and be a point of contact throughout the year. Identify outdoor spaces and gardens that people are happy to be used for small groups to meet.

In summary, start planning now to mobilise students and families to be involved in welcoming and connecting with students. We believe every student deserves to hear the gospel and find a home in a local church. 


How can churches connect with students at the start of the academic year?

Alongside putting some plans in place for what is on offer for students, is a strategy for how students will be more aware of your church and how they can connect.


We have already mentioned that new Christian students will find your church through the Student Linkup App and your church website. That requires a small amount of admin to sort out. The bigger challenge is how current students can be encouraged and mobilised to invite students along.

Consider these options as next steps:

  • Envisioning current students to play a bigger part in welcoming new students. This can be done very effectively if current students come back early for some ‘pre season training’
  • Prayerwalking campus Will you prayer walk your campus?
  • Equipping students to share their faith and reach their peers/bubbles/housemates (see more on small groups)
  • Using to build confidence 

Awareness among students will grow throughout the year as christian students invite their friends to a church small group and join online and live stream gatherings and some in person gatherings.


It is not clear how flyering will be perceived even for on campus groups. Off campus and in town centres flyers and invites can be given out with gloves on. You could also use QR codes for contactless linking to your events and information, which are easily created online.

Freshers fairs

A number of universities are running freshers fairs and over the last couple of years Fusion have helped churches run Try Church stands with the churches nearby. This will be an opportunity in some universities. Try Church is an invitation to every student.

Outdoor spaces

Identify outdoor spaces where conversations can be had and started. Be creative: set up a prayer tent or booth, install some socially distanced chairs designed for a conversation, offer guided walks of their new town/city, giveaways and food.

Midweek Services

Think creatively about midweek ‘services’. Are there safe ways you can invite people into your church buildings to meet people/have fun which can be wrapped into a ‘service’?


How should small groups happen?

Small groups will be how students join the church community. It is essential that there is enough space for students to join small groups and safely meet within government guidelines. To begin the academic year start with small small groups that are ready to multiply.

Have your students and church got a vision for small groups? Do contact Fusion for advice or training if you would like any help.

Meeting Outside

‘On a sultry afternoon, in the summer of 1806, five students from Williams College in Massachusetts sheltered from a thunderstorm under a large haystack. It was in this field that Samuel J. Mills shared his burden that there be a mobilisation of students for world mission. It was this catalytic moment that paved the way for a great awakening. It birthed the American Bible Society, YMCA and later the Student Volunteer Movement where over 20,000 students set sail and allowed the Holy Spirit to blow them and the gospel to the nations.’

Some of the most impactful small groups in student mission history have met outside! Alongside student mission inspiration are all the stories of Jesus meeting outside, and the weather wasn’t always kind!

"Tell the students to give up their small ambitions and come eastward to preach the gospel of Christ."* (Francis Xavier)

The Kingdom rarely comes in the comfort and warmth of our homes. More often the Kingdom disrupts, unsettles, and interrupts our carefully curated and controlled lives and it does so in order to bring freedom to us and to others. So...

How can we embrace discomfort and innovate new ways of meeting together? How can communion and community be prioritised over our physical comfort?

  • Paint a picture of what we mean by small groups, what they are like when they meet together and what is possible. Challenge students to prioritise community over comfort and the Kingdom over convenience. Provoke calling and adventure and commission innovative mission.
  • Set aside budget to make small groups possible during bad weather (gazebos for gardens).
  • Talk to members of the church who have more outdoor space which can be allocated to small groups.

Example strategy for starting and multiplying small groups this Autumn

Start meeting in small small groups and be ready to multiply quickly.

For example, start lots of small groups with 2 existing student leaders so there is room for 4 new students to join (they could be other existing students, new to faith, freshers). If you have 40 students in the church consider starting 10 new groups with 2 leaders heading up each.

The aim would be for each new group once they regularly have 6 members to multiply and an original leader start a new small group with 2 of the people who have joined.

Guidelines for Aug 2020 (and they keep changing):

  • England: 2 households inside or a group of 6 can meet outside.
  • Scotland: 8 people from 3 households inside or upto 15 from 5 households outside.
  • Wales: 4 households inside or upto 30 people outside.
  • N Ireland: 10 people from 4 households inside or upto 30 outside.

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another." (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Plan for changing restrictions

  • What will your small groups look like in quarantine?
  • What will your small groups look like in lockdown?
  • How can you support students who are in quarantine?
  • What will your small groups look like in restricted social distancing?
  • What will your small groups look like when restrictions are lifted?

Create a phased plan with your leaders to help them transition between these different seasons of COVID to ensure community and consistency in discipleship. 


How can evangelism and mission be ongoing?

  • Keep investing in the small - investing in missional small groups, and individual students.
  • Lead by example. Invite your mates to check out church. Invite a friend to your small group. 
  • Equip all students to share the gospel through Missionstyles and the Mission Shaped Living Course.
  • Design some short surveys asking students about starting uni and how they are finding it. 
  • Invites to small groups and Alpha (training for running Alpha online)


How does a discipleship culture start/continue?

  • A discipleship culture starts now. Churches need to start casting vision to the whole church about student discipleship and mentoring so they are ready to go when students arrive. 
  • Start with yourself - if you model that for them, they will be more likely to imitate you, especially if they are new to faith.
  • Start planning now for 1-to-1 discipleship.


Fusion Team

In all of these areas the Fusion Team are available to help, give advice and where appropriate visit. Do contact them for any training or resource needs

*Francis Xavier (1506-1552 missionary to India, the Philippines, and Japan.)

Rich Wilson

Fusion Movement Leader

Rich loves students and God’s church and has championed the important role of local churches in student mission for over 25 years. He wants to invite a generation to A Call Less Ordinary.

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