Whatever you tell a fresher is true.
I know it sounds rather pretentious and a little dangerous but the truth is, culture doesn't just happen, you have to carve it out.
If we tell students that church is all about them, they will accept it. If we tell them that its a place just to come and receive they will say 'fine, thank you'. If we encourage them to take a back seat they will, and they'll go elsewhere for their adventures. However, if we tell them that church is a place to bring their friends, they will make that a part of their culture. If we teach them that commitment is important, that integrity and consistency is key they will pursue those traits. If we show them that their gifts and vision are integral to how we do what we do then they will contribute, and lead, and commit. We might all want students who have a heart for mission and invite their friends to church each week. We might all love having students who love their church and give of their passion, their gifting, their vision and wisdom. We might want them to devote themselves to their degrees, mentor our young people, and be committed to their own spiritual maturity, but we'll only see that if we take on the responsibility of speaking and living that culture from day 1.
When freshers arrive at uni many have not really experienced life as adults in church. They've often not been involved in any area of church life except for the children's and youth work, haven't engaged in much mission and don't know what to expect from church when they arrive. It is our responsibility to set the tone for what life as an adult member of a church community can look like. What a responsibility.
When the freshers arrived at our church last September we said to them quite clearly 'if you come to check out this church on a Sunday you need to try a cell group too otherwise you'll not get a full picture of what being here is like'. As a result, 80% of our fresher students are in cell groups, where previously we've struggled to hit 50%. The difference is that we spoke that culture to them as freshers, rather than just hoping they'd join one eventually. We made it clear what being a part of church was like and those students have thrived through getting properly stuck in. For those students, being a part of church as an adult is about so much more than just the Sunday meeting. We wanted that to be a part of our culture. It is now.
As freshers arrive this September, be thinking - what is the culture you want to teach them?
As I hand over, I'm excited to see the new student team set the tone for what being a student at our church looks like. Their vision is compelling and they're going to do amazingly. Those first few months will be key and I can't wait to see it!