Alongside things like Impact Groups, meals-with-a-message and Uncover, you’ll want to plan some larger events to introduce new students to the CU.
Freshers’ week can be hectic, so think about how you’ll space events through the “freshers’ season” – the first few weeks of the Autumn term. Read on for our top tips.
A whole mix of students are about to wash up on the shore of your uni, all ultimately placed there by God himself (Acts 17:26-28). This will include:
Plan to make it as easy as possible for any student that turns up to your events to both know what you’re about and still come entirely as they are, even feeling like there’s a place for them in your community.
It’s certainly within reach to at least work towards having an easy open door for every fresher to CU life (and so an invite to explore the gospel) in every corner of campus, every college, every student hall. Things like good publicity, hosting new students and their course mates for food (through Impact Groups if you have them), volunteering through the SU to help new students move into their accommodation, putting together a CU welcome pack to deliver to every uni flat, would go a long way. And don’t forget to keep your social media presence sharp and engaging.
Many new students no longer feel that they have the headspace for considering deep spiritual things in freshers’ week itself. Yet Christian friendship may be appreciated more deeply than ever – and provide a wonderful ongoing platform for the gospel as uni life enters full swing.
It makes sense then to stagger the different types of events you put on across the first few weeks of term. Start with relaxed fun and friendship forming events and more towards strong, public gospel messages as part of your events later on.
Pacing well by opting to host a few high quality central events really well, leaning on the help of other returners in the CU, rather than cramming the freshers week, will guard against burnout when we’re all still adjusting back to in-person things.
Ask this question of every single event you host during Freshers season. Is there is a clear and simple next step that every kind of guest could take, should they wish to? Offer two or three options:
Restrictions can change in an instant, and there are still lots of unknowns concerning how uni life will work come September. Some universities have already announced that they will proceed with ‘blended’ in-person and virtual learning.
It may not be possible to hold larger scale events on campus. If this is the case it will be more effective to focus on smaller scale, personal and relational approaches. As we learnt last year, online events can be great but impact is limited.
Therefore, think about equipping everyone in CU to share the Gospel personally. Impact Group material will focus on ‘Meals with Jesus’ next term, so encourage CU members to run a ‘Meal with a Message’ for their friends. Uncover has proved incredibly fruitful in enabling students to talk about Jesus with their mates. So, book in your staff worker to host a training session for everyone in CU on using Uncover and encourage everyone in CU to pray for their mates and invite them to look at Uncover Mark with them.
See freshers as a season, not a week. Begin the term with events that prioritise a warm welcome and time to form friendships. Jesus is still at the centre of everything you do, and you’ll begin to build in strong, public, gospel invitations later in the Autumn term once new students have had time to settle in. The graph below illustrates three example events and where they might plot when balancing both relationship-building and gospel content.
You can have confidence in your plans for a diverse programme of events with slightly different aims (though all in keeping within the CU vision). As your gospel content increases, you shouldn’t be expecting the relational aspects of CU life to drop off. Instead, you’ll see direct gospel responses growing alongside the pockets of community you have already been nurturing within the life of the CU from week 1.
Have a think, or chat through with your committee:
Case Study: Birmingham CU Freshers Week, September 2018
Birmingham CU hired inflatables for a busy part of campus on the first afternoon of their freshers’ week. The CU became well-known instantly, newly-arrived Christians didn’t have to search for the CU, and it allowed them to invite non-believing students to CU hall groups and to the evangelistic events that followed.
You can also make a splash more cheaply. You could consider hosting a pop-up café, a barbecue opposite the SU, or arranging a campus-wide Dial-a-Donut early in freshers’ week. Giveaways can also create a profile for the CU early in the week.
Case Study: Arts University Bournemouth CU, March 2018 + repeated for Freshers
AUB CU hosted a Story Drawing Workshop. Guests helped themselves to snacks as they were welcomed into a studio space, where they could then find a cosy bean-bag spot. Chilled low-fi music was on in the background. Guests were invited to sit atop a platform in front of a mirror, where they would simply share their story, or a fun anecdote on a theme. This meant a natural opportunity for CU members to partake too and speak authentically of the gospel as they shared of how they came to entrust their lives to Jesus. While the stories were being shared, everyone else was encouraged to draw/paint the storyteller’s portrait, or an illustration related to what they were hearing. Everyone was provided with drawing/painting instruments that wanted to partake, others were welcomed to just sit and listen. These illustrated pieces were then exhibited around the studio space as the event went on; the workshop was a relaxed walk in/walk out event over a few hours, and conversations were carried on at the back of the studio over drinks if guests wanted to stay.
Lunchtime talk events that close with an invitation to know God, with titles like ‘Fresh start: grounding our identity in a love that never fails’ or ‘Is there meaning in my suffering?’
Dial-a-donut / Text-a-toastie / Call-a-cactus – CU members turn up with gift and answer a question that has been texted in, staying on for further conversation if it happens.
Acoustic night – host the event in a popular bar or coffee shop, and theme it suitably, such as with the idea of ‘endings and beginnings’ or ‘belonging’. Give anyone who’s interested the opportunity to perform. Limit each performer to two or three songs. One song should be on the theme of the evening, and the performer should explain why they picked it. Include a short and engaging message on what the gospel has to say about the theme of the evening.
How-to-cook event – demonstrate how to make a two-course dinner, then serve a batch made earlier. Between the main course and dessert, you could have a short message on why Jesus included so many food miracles and metaphors in his ministry.
Case Study – University of York CU, June 2021
UYCU hosted a Taskmaster event, inviting student houses to team up in groups of 6 and compete in a series of challenges to win a grand prize: a paid-for York tourist experience of the winner’s choosing. The event comprised two stages. Part 1 was filmed a week before, and saw the signed-up teams partake in a few challenges on camera, including long-distance charades across a lake, and a group race from the middle of campus to cash a cheque at a post office on the outskirts. Part 2 was an in-person Taskmaster evening hosted a week later, where the teams partook in a few more live challenges to impress the Taskmaster and watch back their more elaborate tasks on a big screen together. As well as revealing the grand results and hearing comments from the teams throughout the evening, the event also involved an excellent live talk with an apt theme: imagining what would happen if point-scoring on tasks became a lifestyle choice outside of comedy gameshows, before exploring how entrusting ourselves to the living Jesus radically changes our pursuit of security and success. Guests then stayed to chat after, and a mix of CU and non-CU friends then headed to McDonalds after talking about the Mark’s Gospel books that were gifted to every guest.
Download our example CU timetable for the first three weeks of term, showing how some of the suggestions given above can fit together into a coherent plan.
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