Press release Student Christian Movement (UK)
Church leaders fear negative impact of university on students’ faith, new report finds
There is a significant lack of support for young Christians going to university, with some church leaders holding mixed views about the impact of university on a person’s faith, according to a new study published by the Student Christian Movement (SCM).
The survey of 118 respondents, from churches of varying sizes and denominations, revealed that many church leaders hold a negative perception of the university experience when it comes to faith. Only 17 percent of respondents felt that it was likely that people leaving their congregation to go to university would find another Christian community. 29 percent of church leaders said they thought the move to university resulted in a negative impact on people’s faith, with 52 percent saying the impact was mixed. Only 19 percent said they expected university to have a positive impact.
For people who have moved to a different city, their engagement with the Christian faith has dwindled, according to some. “They have become distracted and their faith has taken a back seat or even has been lost,” said one respondent. “Many who did not move away have continued to attend our church, but those who have moved away have found it hard to engage at another church,” said another respondent.
“This survey highlights the need for a more joined-up approach linking youth work with higher education work,” said Hilary Topp, SCM’s National Coordinator. “With such a negative perception of how university can impact a person’s faith, churches need more innovative and diverse ways to connect their young people with vibrant and active faith communities.”
Support for young Christians to continue engaging with faith at university is lacking. 45 percent of respondents said an online platform where students could find another local church or Christian community would be the most helpful tool to prepare young adults for faith at university. However, only 4 percent said in reality they directed people to an online listing (or something similar). Only 2 percent of churches said they would give young people in their congregation going to university a resource of any kind, despite 28 percent saying a ‘going to university’ style guide from a Christian perspective would be the most helpful way to prepare them for university. 22 percent of churches said they did ‘nothing’ for people in their congregation leaving for university.
Other key findings included:
· For churches where there were no higher education students involved in their services, 23 percent said this was because the church was too far from campus. 16 percent said it was because there weren’t many other students or people of a similar age also attending. 45 percent said they did not know why they had no contact with Higher Education students.
· A lack of capacity within churches is not met through university chaplaincies, who have their own priorities and time pressures and are not always able to engage with local churches. Only 15 percent of respondents said they would refer people going to university to the chaplain.
· Only 4 percent of respondents from university-based churches (churches that have at least one campus within 5 miles of the church) said they were happy with their current student outreach work. The majority (85 percent) said they would like to involve more students and improve their ministry to them, but for various reasons (lack of personnel to focus on the work, perceived lack of interest in their church etc), feel they are unable to focus resources and attention on this.
According to one church leader, student ministry is strengthened when the focus of work is on bridging the gap from school to university. “The stronger the youth work at the home church, the more likely [students] are to at least try to find a base in university. It is good if home youth leaders can keep in touch,” said the respondent.
In response to declining student church attendances and a lack of support for student outreach, SCM launched the SCM Connect platform in June 2016. “We hope that this survey and the SCM Connect directory can be a starting point for further investigation into why churches might view university as a place where faith diminishes, rather than flourishes, for some young people. Supporting and resourcing this area of work is crucial if we are to help more students deepen their faith during the formative years of university,” added Hilary Topp.
The full report and analysis of the survey, written by researchers from the St Mary’s Centre, can be viewed here. The St Mary’s Centre is a Christian research institute working in the fields of religion and education. For more information, visit www.st-marys-centre.org.uk.