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Off the beaten track 

Are you off to university this year? Maybe consider a different type of church, writes Michael Shaw

Off the beaten track800

Many years ago, in a different city from where I am  now, I went to the only 'surf-the-churches' event I have ever attended. I was a leader of a small inner city Baptist church, and we were trying to reach students. It was early in the morning, and leaders from across the city’s churches had gathered, to introduce themselves and say one or two things about their church. I was last in the line, and I realised there was a theme. Each church essentially said that what made them special was lively worship and biblical teaching.
Now my church had lively(ish) worship and we taught from the Bible, but this was not what made us special, so I said we were “a community church who wanted to love our neighbours”. Sadly my sales pitch did not go down well, and I went home with an empty car (at least I had not pitched up in church mini-bus, as one guy had, and had to leave on his own!)
Sadly, in most university cities, the students who are looking for a church often end up in five or six of the same large churches. There are many many good reasons to go to the classic student church. You will have lots of friends, they usually have a dedicated student pastor, they often have student focused groups, and student friendly services. In many ways you will be well served!
But being served is also a problem. The church community is not just about what you can get out of it, but what you put into it. University is a learning place, a place of academic development and personal development, and church is part of that. And so, while you might want to consider exploring more of the city, consider going to a church off the beaten track.
There are many positive reasons why you might want to consider spreading the net beyond the usual churches when you arrive at your university this autumn:

  • Welcome: you may not get the big student meal “event” but you may get adopted by a family who regularly feed you
  • Diversity: while student churches are great, they often lack diversity, and you often only really get to meet the other students and those involved in student ministry
  • Opportunities to serve: Often at student churches everything is laid on for you; outside student churches you may find yourself quickly serving in areas you never thought you would
  • Belonging: Often the student church experience is a liminal one, but you don’t often stay beyond the years of your course; whereas people often stay for years after their course has finished at churches outside of the bubble

The student years are life changing and life shaping, and it is not just about the course you end up on. Finding a church that will support you, stretch you, grow you and mature you is as vital as choosing the course you end up doing. For some this may be within a student specific church, but for others it may be found in churches that do not normally expect to see students!

Image | Priscilla Du Preez | Unsplash

The Revd Michael Shaw is the minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, and the free church chaplain at Plymouth University. He has recently created Marginalised to encourage students who find themselves in churches off the beaten track



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Baptist Times, 06/09/2021
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