01 November 2013
Building confident school CUs
Phil Green asks how we can help young Christians wanting to grow in their faith at school..
"You're a Christian!" a fellow sixth-former exclaimed during a maths lesson. "I never knew that!" Since being bullied, partly because of my faith, a few years earlier I had tended to opt for trying to lie low as a God-follower at school. This maths lesson revelation provided evidence that, although my cover was now blown, my covert operation had been a success.
But then came my very own 'rooster crowing' moment; that sinking feeling of failure. How many gospel-demonstrating, faith-sharing, opportunities had I missed?
This moment of conviction, mixed with a sense of failure, spurred on and resourced by a town-wide mission resulted in me, and a few friends, spending my last year of sixth form establishing a Christian small group at my school.
That was almost a decade-and-a-half ago. But today, things aren't so different. School can be a harsh environment for anyone, but for many Christian young people the experience can feel like walking into a lion's den every day.
The good news is that throughout the UK there are Christian groups meeting in schools that aim to support children and young people as they seek to live out their faith among their peers.
Ben and Dan Wallace are brothers who have both been part of a Christian Union (CU) in their school that is supported by Scripture Union. They talk about the benefits of being part of this group; Ben says: "From starting school, the CU immediately allowed me to get to know older Christians in the school. These people were not only friendly faces, but they became great role models."
For many young people, being part of a Christian group within the school is extremely significant in boosting their confidence to be open about their faith in this often hostile environment. Geoff Brown, a schools development worker for Scripture Union, which has more than 1,000 school based groups regularly accessing resources from their Schools Live site, explains three of the reasons why he is so passionate about Christian groups in school. "Groups of Christians meeting in schools give young people security in knowing that they are not alone." He continues: "There's something significant about actually meeting in the place where you spend so much of your time and being able to focus on how can I follow Christ in this place.
"It also enables us to connect children and young people to the Christian faith for the first time. So many children have never set foot in a church building; many young people have no knowledge of the Bible. Connecting them to the Bible, and the Christian faith, where they are at, is a fantastic opportunity."
Throughout the UK there are a wide variety of school-based Christian groups, teacher-led groups in primary schools, activity-based groups in high schools led by local church youth workers, peer-led groups of sixth-formers and recently, there has been a growth in the idea of 'prayer spaces in schools' – an idea being pioneered by the 24-7 Prayer movement.
There's certainly no shortage of exciting, faith-lifting stories. New Generation is an organisation based in the Midlands. They currently support 30 peer-led groups in schools throughout the area, while offering resources to other groups throughout the UK. As well as providing support to existing groups, much of their time is spent visiting churches inspiring young people to get involved in God's mission within their schools. Jenny Carlsson, team co-ordinator at New Generation, says: "So many times we have seen how God multiplies the small initiatives young people take into something big."
Dani stood up in front of his form and said that he would give a Bible, provided by New Generation, to anyone who wanted one as a Christmas present – about 10 people took one. As a result, two of his classmates started coming to church after reading it. Their families followed. They're now all following Christ.
And then there is Sarah. She made a list of 10 people to pray for. One of the people on this list was someone who was bullying her. As well as praying, she did everything possible to be nice to him. Then one day, the bully approached her in the corridor. But instead of giving her a hard time, he invited her to his baptism. It turns out that he had been intrigued by this girl, who he knew was a Christian, being nice to him, so he had gone to a church to check out these people. He had become a Christian, as had three other people on her list, by the time she had left school.
What can we do as church leaders, youth leaders and Sunday School teachers, and as parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles, to support children and young people we know as they seek to live out their Christian faith at school?
We can pray for the children and young people we know. We can pray that God would give them confidence to remain strong in Him, even when the going gets tough. Make sure you tell them that you're praying for them – this in itself will give them courage.
In sermons, use examples from, and relate what you are saying to, the school environment as well as work, home and the community. Interview children and young people so that the wider church knows about the challenges and opportunities that exist for them at school. This will also make them feel like a valued part of your church.
Find out what's going on in the schools near your church. If you find that a group already exists, see if they need any support. For example, they might need money to buy some doughnuts or Bibles to use at group meetings.
If a group doesn't already exist, why not consider facilitating one? Don't just jump right in. First speak to other churches in the area to find out if they already have a relationship with the school in question. When you approach the school, do so with a servant-hearted attitude. Find out how you could help them – for example they might be looking for volunteers to assist with reading groups or to be trained as mentors. Then as the relationship develops, explore the possibility of starting a Christian group in the school.
You might think that schools might be sceptical of a church offering to help, particularly if it is to run a group. However, Geoff Brown explains: "In my experience schools are generally keen to have people from faith groups; especially if the initiative comes from the pupils themselves. We need to be aware that starting a Christian group could well open the door to other faith groups as well, but we shouldn't be afraid of that.
"He concludes: "It's important that we always recognise that we are working in the educational context and respect that. There are three golden rules. Be sensible, be sensitive and be curriculum-based."