If only we could imagine the scene – God a few months before sending His Son. 'Its only a few months away'. And the plan was glorious. God Himself would step into the world to welcome the lost home.
It’s clear how much Jesus valued extending welcome to those who needed it; in His parables, the father welcomes the lost son home, hearers are routinely invited into the 'Kingdom of God', outsiders are included, and He ate with ‘sinners’ like Zacchaeus.
In the gospel God also meets our every need. A new identity. A fresh start. A new heart. Forgiveness.
What do the new students set to arrive on your campus in the next few months need? And how can we plan to provide it for them?
Here are my top five things to plan into your new student welcome:
Remember when you got your A level results? Fear, relief, anxiety, logistics and uncertainty probably overwhelmed you as your nervous system went into overdrive. The CU can speak into these moments as a calming influence because you are full of people who have learnt that God is always there for them.
Start your welcome campaign early.
Could you create a series of video releases with CU members sharing how they felt upon hearing they were coming to university? How about a 'what to expect' video, or a Zoom welcome call for new students?
Get your CU sharing the student link-up page. And what about social media? Could you balance celebration and stress-relief through your posts or make a new student CU welcome group? Try to give gospel advice and not just worldly advice. Come up with conversation starters to put in the chat. Remember, try to encourage your CU members to make these about the feelings of those coming, not just an opportunity to talk about ourselves.
At-home friendships feel a long way away when you come to university. So we need a new place to feel included. It might not surprise you to hear 'will I make friends?' was ranked as the top concern of new students in the years running up to the Covid-19 pandemic. Who better to welcome new students than the CU?
How will you help new students become friends? Could you run a stylish daily lunchtime 'coffee catch up' in the best coffee shop in town to connect new students to clusters of CU members? No need to plan a huge event, this works best in informal groups. You could even build your week around it. Remember groups work best because it's awkward for someone new to be on the spot. Friendship is usually a product of time, proximity, familiarity, invitation, and attitude, so plan for follow-up; these could even be the foundations of your new impact groups.
Perhaps you could also create a way for new students to have a welcome pack delivered, face-to-face, the very next day after they move in. Before you meet them at the door, breathe. Plan to say less, slow down, and leave gaps for them to respond. It can be tempting for us to fly through our spiel about the CU, but leave feeling we rushed it or didn’t really connect. A conversation is valuable, and the info will be on your flyer and socials anyway.
One of the most daunting elements of coming to university is that everything feels very full-on. You may remember feeling like you had to be an extreme and intensified form of yourself or to like things you weren’t that in to – more independent, more sufficient, more academic, more partying – that’s often the narrative in the opening weeks. Why not simplify things and help them to feel at home? Put on something mellow like a film night with popcorn at your normal CU venue. Do a tour of the city taking your time to show them your favourite places. Have them round for dinner and ask them about their home life. Tell them about yours.
Make the aim conversation. Use your best conversationalists and come up with a stock of engaging and meaningful questions. Rather than begin with their course, ask them how they're feeling about coming to university. Get them signed up so that you can connect with them after that first meeting.
Some of these new students will be your mission partners for the year to come. Towards the end of the week plan a night (or several) with a gospel talk that also unpacks your mission to reach the campus. Let it be known that this a group with a very real goal, and you want to be part of it together with them. Tell them why it's exciting and invigorating, how you’ve seen God at work and why it matters. Invite them to be involved.
This blog was written by Bournemouth and Winchester CU Staff Worker Luke Hammond
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