Part of welcoming new students well is helping them to find a local church family for their time at university – that’s the aim of a Church Search. We are committed to the local church and each CU can play their part in helping new students settle into a church.
You might have done a Church Search in the past or this might be new to you. If freshers have struggled to find or choose a church in the past then perhaps it’s time to re-consider how you go about helping them with this. Chat to your Staff Worker or Relay Worker about which Church Search model might work best for your CU. Here are some options:
A. Everyone goes to a particular church together as a group each Sunday
This might be as simple as giving freshers a recommended list of dates based on conversations with churches about who is doing a 'Welcome Sunday' for students on which week. You might have one church per Sunday morning or evening, or you might have multiple walking groups from different, easy-to-find spots. This can sync well with what each church has planned for students but do be aware that it can lead to a disproportionate number of people settling into the first few churches that are visited.
B. Sunday morning gathering before everyone goes to different churches
Whether you are gathering at a well-known breakfast spot, or you’ve booked a large room, or a CU member is hosting a breakfast at their house, you can use this time well to introduce church representatives or just let people mingle. You might take the opportunity to let people know about tools (like a booklet or webpage) they can use to find out about churches or hear a story of how trying church helped someone meet Jesus. To end, you might send people off with different church representatives to go to their church or simply encourage people to make their way together.
C. Church Search fair integrated into a CU main meeting
Some CUs offer a form of meet-and-greet with church representatives at a main CU meeting. This could involve church leaders being identified in the meeting for new students to speak to afterwards, or it could be a full-on fair with each church having their own stall in the same meeting room or one nearby. The benefit of this model is its simplicity: new students only need go one event to discover more about churches and CU. But do think about how you can make sure it is effective – book rooms early enough to find the best venue, and allow enough time and space for freshers to chat to church representatives. You also want to make the “next step” obvious, e.g. sharing who they can go to church with on the following Sunday, or having a meeting spot to walk from for each church.
D. One-off Church Search event midweek
This might look like a social event with board games, food or acoustic artists to make it a fun evening dedicated to meeting people, mingling with church representatives, and hearing about finding a church. The tables might have little cards with QR codes on them that take you to a page with a list of local churches on it. You might have someone sharing a story about how trying church led them to discovering Jesus, or you might simply give each church representative a chance to say hello. This could also be a great event to invite friends to who aren’t Christian, especially if it’s very social with an emphasis on trying church for the first time too. This might work for you if you can’t host a Church Search fair after a main meeting.
You might combine some of these ideas or have a different way of doing a Church Search entirely. You might have the capacity to do more than one option, or only one of them. The key thing is to do something, whatever it is.
Talk to your Staff Worker or Relay Worker for the contact details of churches to invite and to whom you will send the UCCF Doctrinal Basis. Invite a diversity of churches. You obviously want to invite more than one church but it may not possible to invite every church within walking or driving distance either. It’s vital to ensure that the churches you’re inviting are told enough about your plans to prepare well for the part they’ll play and to prepare a good welcome for any students that visit them, so communicate clearly with them.
Everyone wants people to be there: you do, the churches do and those who are wanting to find a church do. Remember that many new students will be nervous so avoid a hidden venue that’s alien to freshers. Can you find a neutral, accessible and easy to find location?
Making meaningful connections happens in those conversations that happen naturally around the room. Church representatives will want to meet new students – regardless of whether they’re considering their church – and it’s always good for students to meet church representatives on a personal level.
Finding a church is about relationships, which takes time and space. Formulas, processes, and overly rigged instructions can take away the genuine connections that need to happen.
As with all your welcome events, don’t assume the Church Search is for just first-year Christian students. Many second years, year-abroad students, final years, or students who are exploring Christianity might be interested in trying church. Make it obvious that anyone looking for a church is welcome in the language you use to advertise the event.
Regardless of which type of Church Search model you choose, these are other steppingstones that can help people on their journey to finding a church.
Whether it’s printed or digital, it could help to have a guide that informs people about the different local churches. It might be full of descriptions of each church or simply a QR code or link to each church’s website. Having a map showing where each church meets is helpful.
You might have seen these links that take you to a page that’s just filled with lots of other links – that’s what Linktree is about. Having one link that you can use for QR codes on flyers or in social media posts means there’s one place to go. At the very least it’s helpful to link to local church websites. The advantage of this is that if there are any changes to church details, meeting times or locations, you don’t need to change anything since you’re just linking to the website (which the church hopefully keeps up to date). You could also link to each church’s student pages (if they have them) and relevant social media accounts.
A huge number of people look at CU social media pages before they come to an event. So you can use your social posts to tell others what you’re offering to help them find a church and remind them of upcoming Church Searches. This might look like one or two posts with the Linktree link or videos of church representatives saying hello.
These stepping stones might be small, but for someone on the outside looking in or starting to find a church later into the term, they could be the vital connection for joining and settling into a church.
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