There has never been a better time for churches to pioneer new ways of reaching students with the good news of Jesus. 2020 has presented us with an opportunity to share the hope of Jesus in fresh ways, and we can’t lose this momentum as we head into 2021.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen churches learn how to connect with students in an online context, as well as create practical care packages for students who are isolating. Alongside essentials and treats, the packs have included gospels, provoking students to consider what having faith in Jesus could look like and encouraging them to start that conversation with fellow students or their local church.

Mike, a church leader, told us: Technology has been a real gift to us as we’ve learnt how to reconnect with everyone. Student Linkup has always been a helpful tool, but has been vital in welcoming Freshers this year. For some students who aren’t on campus or who are isolating, the app, as well as zoom, has enabled us to connect with them before they arrive in the city.”

We’ve seen student workers reassess and rethink how they welcome Freshers even with local restrictions in place. Tim, a student worker, explained: Unexpectedly, we started a church on Sunday next to student flats, and 50% of the students there didn’t know Jesus. With so many students in such a small space, it almost felt too good to be true and too good an opportunity to pass up.”

We’ve seen students inviting their flatmates to try church online, flatmates joining in with late night worship, and even some students getting baptised! Jacob was a fresher this year and shared his experience of witnessing to Jesus with his flat: I found a church and started serving in the worship team. One night, my flat found out that I could sing and play guitar, but the only songs I knew how to play were worship songs. They asked me to sing some songs, so at 3am, I led worship in our flat. 1 of them asked to come to church with me after and now they’re getting involved with a small group.”

But as the church, we also need to recognise that there is always more we can do to reach students across the UK, so how do we prepare for that in 2021?

As students head home for Christmas and take stock of the last term, it’s important that we’re already thinking about the creative and exciting ways we can welcome them back in the new year.

How local churches can support students

Firstly, despite restrictions, there is still plenty that we can do to support and challenge students. From partnering with student unions to offer support, to treasure hunting on campus, this is an opportunity to be creative. For practical tips on what you can do with students in this season, click here.

Another great way to bless students is taking the opportunity to connect with university services that provide mental health support for students. If students are in need of extra support, build a relationship with the well-being team. We recently chatted with Dr Kate Middleton, Dr Roger Bretherton and Rachel Gardner about how to support students in their mental health. You can watch the conversation here.

With ongoing restrictions in the UK, it can be difficult to know how best to welcome and serve students. To help, we have collated ideas and tips in line with which tier you find your city in. Wherever you find yourself, know there is hope in Jesus, opportunity to be explored, and a purpose for the church now and always. To find student mission ideas based on your tier, click here.

Finally, we need to remember that student mission is not on hold, God is on the move and wants to do something new across campuses and universities, we just need to do this in a way that is safe, effective and fruitful. Advancing Student Ministry during a Pandemic is a resource put together to help local churches to not only support students, but prioritise student mission at this time. Grab a cup of coffee and read how you can respond to the call of student mission during a pandemic.

So, as students head home for Christmas and take stock of the last term, it’s important that we’re already thinking about the creative and exciting ways we can welcome them back in the new year. What if 2021 was the year that the church stepped into boldness and took bigger risks than years previous? What if next year more students were invited to try church than ever before? That’s what we’re praying for in 2021!