Starting university is a time that’s full of opportunities, choices and challenges, and finding a home church is all three of those! While meeting even more new people and having the “who you are, where you’re from and what you’re studying” conversation – yet again – might seem daunting, I would urge you to make finding a church a high priority.
It’s How God Planned It
The Bible is clear that life is supposed to be lived in community, where we are seen, heard and known. It’s one of our most desperate needs and, without it, we struggle. Poor mental health costs the UK around £77 billion a year and social isolation is a key trigger. Research shows that supportive relationships are hugely beneficial to our mental health, and this shouldn’t surprise us because that’s how God designed us to live.
Being a Christian means following Jesus and becoming increasingly like him, and I am convinced that none of us will get there on our own. It is never just about you, Jesus and your Bible. Our culture tends to promote and validate an unhealthy individualism but the kingdom is different.
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:4-10 (NIV)
We are chosen, loved and saved by God as individual living stones but we are built together into something much bigger. It may be messier and more complicated, but it’s also more beautiful and life giving – it’s called the church! Individual stones find their place and purpose in a spiritual house; deeply loved sons and daughters find theirs in a priesthood.
It’s Good For You – But It’s Not All About You!
Being in genuine relationships with people who know and love me has changed me from the person I was when I arrived at university. I found people who would push past the superficial, and my tendency to keep people at arm’s length, and who genuinely wanted to commit to me and to do life together. These are the “iron sharpening iron” relationships
that Proverbs talks about. We don’t get sharpened in isolation. It is in relationships with people (even with noise and sparks flying!) that this happens. We need one another to become all we are called to be, both as individuals and as a body.
This isn’t just good for you, it’s good for the church! It’s easy to get stuck in the student bubble, but there is so much for you to give and to receive in a local church family, where the generations are running together.
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:15-16 (NIV)
The Christian walk is about growing up to become the mature sons and daughters the world is longing to see revealed (Romans 8:19.) Genuine community is essential for us to become “in every respect the mature body of him who is the head”. As individuals and as a body we are supposed to be filled, built up and become mature; there is no place for a “get saved and stagnate ’til heaven” mentality! Notice how that happens: the body is built up as each part (that’s you and I) does its work! So that requires us to jump in, find our place, and serve. You miss out if you’re not there, and the church does too!
So if we recognise the mutual benefits and value of being in a church community, how do you find one?
- Believe and trust.
The Bible says God places the lonely in family. Loneliness can be a huge factor for students but God’s heart is to place YOU in a family, so trust that He has a place for you and believe He will show you where that is.
- Don’t wait!
It is easy to drift and find yourself finishing first year without having found a church, so start looking and praying for a church straight away.
- Ask the right questions.
If individualism marks much of our culture, a consumer mentality is its close companion. Don’t approach church with the attitude, “Can I get what I want here?” The important question is, “Can I be known here and grow here?” One of the major ways you can become known and will start to grow is by serving, so believe that you have something to give and ask where you can contribute to your new church family.
- Commit and put down roots.
Avoid the temptation to church hop because you like the worship here, and the teaching over there, but the small groups suit you better somewhere else. I can’t stress how important it is and how fruitful it will be for you to commit to one church family and put down roots there.
My final encouragement is not to settle for proximity. In Ephesians 3:16 Paul uses the analogy of a physical body and says that the relationships within it are held together by “supporting ligaments.” I was a physio for 15 years so I know a little about ligaments, and I love what that picture teaches us about relationships. Ligaments form strong, stable connections between two bones to allow healthy movement. Two bones just being near each other isn’t enough, and the same is true in the body of Christ. It’s easy for us to settle for proximity, just being around other Christians, but without the real connections that give us strength and stability. Proximity on its own isn’t enough. So be brave, be intentional, and build connections with people. Dare to invite people into your story and jump into theirs. You won’t regret it!
Sarah moved to Manchester to study physiotherapy and never left. Along with her husband, Phil, she now leads Vinelife and teaches at events around the UK and beyond.