Student work will never look the same again! It’s fair to say that over the course of the pandemic, a lot has changed. But what will it look like in the coming years? What has changed forever? What are the opportunities to embrace going forwards? A few of us at Fusion have compiled a list of some of the things we have noticed that are changing, or will be key things to think about in the coming season. Grab a cuppa and have a think. Have you noticed some of the same things?
Go small to go big
Students need to feel known and that they have something to contribute. This need has only increased in this season, but the ability for our churches to connect on Sundays and for students to serve has only shrunk. Shorter and more regular small groups will continue to fulfil this vital role for students to connect, be honest with one another, and pray for their mates. Small groups will need to encourage participation and vulnerability in order to do this well. How? Praying for the sick together, sharing good news stories and setting faith challenges for the week are all things you can try. Remember, the church is meant to be outward focused, and that is especially true of small groups. Do your students feel permission to invite their mates? Is your small group ready to welcome someone exploring faith? Small groups online will need to pursue connection and continue to look outward in the coming season.
Content needs to be shorter and sharper.
Churches have learned how to record good video content. In order to land well, it has to be short and sharp. This isn’t just for online broadcasts of Sunday services. We now need to learn how to record great content for social media, direct messages, websites and elsewhere. Attention spans are short but appetite for good content is high. A church leader once told me, “you are not preaching unless you speak for 50 minutes!” Nonsense! How can we preach the gospel to this generation in ways that are short and sharp and draw them in for more?
Students need to be equipped to share their faith.
As we begin to move into a post-covid season, whenever that may be, the biggest change to our culture will be the value we place on personal, one-to-one connection. This means that the conversations over the dinner table in the halls of residence will begin to outweigh the apologetic given by a stranger at an event. This is a trend which has been growing over the last 20 years already, and it is highly likely that this season will have accelerated the cultural change. This means that our students need to be tooled up, equipped, and confident in sharing why they believe what they believe. Outsourcing evangelism will continue to become an unsustainable model for growth in the student world. If you want help tooling up your students, check out www.missionstyles.org or contact us to help you equip your students in sharing faith.
The student calendar looks different and so should our engagement.
Blended learning probably isn’t going anywhere. With so much University content going online students are probably going to spend more time at home and less time on campus. We need to figure out how to keep connected with students while they return home if we want to release mature disciples after graduation. What does it look like for you to be in community with students in their hometowns? Remember that freshers are likely to have a higher proportion of their course delivered remotely, so it is also worth having a think about how you connect with students in their halls rather than just on campus.
Rewrite the student-worker job description
The same old student work probably isn’t going to cut it anymore. Most aren’t gathering, we’re unable to connect with students in the same way, it’s hard for most of us to know how many students we have! Does that mean we should just bin our student workers? Of course not! We are seeing a generation in crisis. The absolute worst thing we could do is to cut out the people who are called to reach them. Let’s instead get creative with what we expect student workers to do. Could they be spending time learning how to create great online content in order to reach students on Youtube and Tiktok? Could we resource them to get accredited skills in counselling and mental wellbeing courses? Could we make liaising with the Students Union a core part of their role? Get creative with what your student workers are doing. If you are a student worker, now is the time to be flexible and prepare to learn some new skills. While pastoring students is a job we all know is important, we need to be willing to be more versatile to communicate our value to the kingdom.
Find students of peace. Differently.
Mission to students is still finding students of peace, just like Jesus says in Luke 10. We might just have to find them differently in the coming season. It might look like messaging new students who follow you on Instagram, putting 1000 fliers through student letterboxes, creating a spoken word video to put out on socials, or reaching out to the student union again to see if you can help. These are the sort of strategies which require perseverance and overcoming the fear that they might not land or bear any fruit. More than ever, we will need to be willing to move outside of our comfort zones in order to find those students of peace who are ready to respond to the message of Jesus.
We are all starting again!
It’s always been the case that you have to rebuild and start your student work each year. If you have only a 33% turnover you are doing well. Some years we lose a bigger percentage of finalists. This coming autumn and beyond, we are rebuilding in a new way. The opportunity to start again is massive. How are we going to connect with new students? How will we invite ALL students to try church, not just Christians? If you have small student numbers, don’t assume that the students all go to the big church down the road. They don’t! Now is the time to re-write the script and grow a new student ministry in your church. We are all starting from scratch. Contact Fusion if you would like help thinking this through. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
We need to empower the apostolic.
Following on from the previous point, we need to release the pioneers. Commentators have often stated that generation Z will be a generation of innovation and entrepreneurship. If our student communities are likely to have shrunk over the last year, we need a spiritual gift release of people who are looking to break new ground, try new ideas, and take holy risks on behalf of the kingdom. This attitude is abundant in the current and coming generation of students. The biggest barrier to their impact won't be their willingness to step out, but our willingness to let them. Don’t be afraid of new ideas! Every new idea once sounded crazy before it became normal. How are you spotting and releasing the kingdom innovators in your community? How are you setting the example for taking faith risks in mission and discipleship?
Activate Creative Students
While not every student will be a gifted apostle, there is a distinct mark of creativity on the current and coming generation. Creatives will have a unique place in the coming season with online content and mixed media becoming more prevalent in church. These students could transform churches. I’m talking about content we’ll put out, art they’ll create to share hope in the midst of darkness, and expertise breaking into audiences the church has struggled to reach. It’s time for the creatives to rise up! If they aren’t involved in conversations about your wider strategy and vision, you will miss a significant opportunity. Do creative students have an outlet in your Church? How can they feel welcomed and hooked in?
Students are more open than ever.
Over the last five years we have noticed a steady increase in spiritual interest and openness. This has been accelerated by the lockdowns and the pandemic. Students are less comfortable with life and asking the big questions. On the whole, they are not atheist. They are interested in God and open to trying church, but they have to be invited. How will we respond to that opportunity? Here are a load of resources to help you with that. https://www.fusionmovement.org/trychurch
Prayer is the key
Prayer has always been central to student mission and this pandemic has driven us to our knees even more. Groups of students have met on zoom, in virtual prayer rooms and on prayer walks. One group of students stood outside York uni and prayed non-stop for a week! Prayer is what leads to breakthrough, so it’s crucial that we don’t rush back to the busyness and forget to pray. If God answered our prayers for our universities, how would they look different? https://www.fusionmovement.org/prayerwalk
Church membership will look different
This is true for everyone, but it is more exaggerated for students. Churches have relied on the key metrics of “butts and bucks” to know who comes to their church. In other words, who attends on a Sunday and who gives financially? This has totally changed. People will continue to watch online and not come on Sunday in person. It can be hard to track who has attended. The challenge is for us to redefine what it means to be a member of our churches. Small group membership will become more crucial in this sense and so will discipleship in other forms throughout the week. How will you invite people to join your church, not just consume online content?
That is the beginning of our thinking on the coming season. I am sure there are a bunch of things we haven’t clocked yet that God is doing in this season that will dramatically change the way we do church, student work, and mission. What have you noticed? Let us know!
Photo by Behnam Norouzi on Unsplash