How can I prepare my teen for University?
While some students opt to study from home, most home student undergraduates in the UK travel to a new location for university. As we see young adults move away from our physical proximity, taking on a new independence and responsibility for their life and faith, what are our prayers for them?
Ahead of his arrest, Jesus spends time with the Father, and we read in John 17:6-19 of a beautiful prayer he prays for his disciples. A standout verse is verse 12: “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me”.
This might feel relatable as we prepare to send our young people off to university. For 18 years, we have ‘protected them and kept them safe’ within a relatively closeted bubble of home and/or church youth group, and now we are sending them into the world to learn how to live independently from us.
Here are some thoughts and ideas from Fusion to help guide you as you navigate this new season together. (This is an edited version of an article which first appeared on Paraklesis by Pippa Elmes, Fusion Ministry Training Leader.)
Setting the scene
Alarmingly, choosing to follow Jesus at university and continuing a connection in the local church, even when raised in a Christian home or youth group, is not a given.
There is a pressing need for a different story to emerge than the one we are currently seeing.
And that’s just amongst Christian young adults – for the tens of thousands of young people starting university each year with no experience of faith or awareness of the good news of Jesus, what hope do they have?
Part of the answer to this question is in the openness we are seeing toward Jesus and church in this generation of students. Part of it is in the age old story of the impact that God can and does make with the few – the remnant. It may be true that only around 1% of university students are currently engaged in the local church but God does much with little.
And students are coming to know Jesus across the nation. Some are taking up the invitation to try church whilst at uni – something which we find a remarkable majority of students open to. In fact, in a recent survey across 45 universities, Fusion found that 74% of non-Christian students would go to church if invited by a friend. Others are meeting Jesus alone, in their room, in dreams, Scripture, via friends’ social media.
What’s more, many of the relationships, initiatives, conversations and prayers prayed are flowing out of Christian students’ own walk with Jesus. Deep, meaningful conversations, the evidence of lives lived surrendered to Christ and the authenticity of walking the highs and lows had in hand with Jesus are a powerful witness.
We must invite young adults into this story as we look at the transition into university life. University is an absolutely glorious time at which to discover more deeply God and his Kingdom – for ourselves and for those who don’t yet know Jesus.
What are your prayers for those you’re preparing for the transition to university this autumn?
Create Windows into Uni Life
It can be hard to prepare to go somewhere you’ve never been before. Create time to process, discuss and look ahead at what University might be like, including where they can seek God.
You could use Fusion’s excellent Student Linkup resource to find churches in the area and connect with student workers, or look up the CU website or social media and get in touch with the CU reps. The first few weeks of university life can be overwhelmingly busy, but establishing relationships with Christians and church leaders in advance can be an anchor and encouragement through the hecticness.
If you went to University as a Christian, you could share some of your own experiences – what was good and what was challenging, and how you dealt with it.
It’s also tremendously powerful if you’re able to expose your child to stories from others their own age. Are their older students or recent graduates at your church who could share their experiences of settling into Uni life and finding a church? Do you have family friends whose young adult children can share these stories with your teenager?
Creating windows into University life will start to form hopes and commitments within your young adult as to what this next season could hold.
How is your young adult posturing themselves as they journey this transition?
Frame what Uni can look like with God
Whether stories from your own experience, inviting others to share theirs, or making the most of stories captured online, don’t neglect to help paint a picture of what can be with God at university. You can find loads of student stories on the fusion blog or Instagram account.
Some may be intimidated by a new start, and need to know that the same God goes with them, continues to love them, champion them and see them for who they are in this new space. Others are ready for a change and need to hear that God is bigger than their current experience and can take them into new and exciting adventures.
What is the story you tell to those heading to university?
Unwind any imbalanced view of God
For many school leavers, starting at university will be the first time they have ever chosen a church for themselves. Even those who study from home may find themselves drawn to exploring new denominations or church streams, joining new friends on church searches or taking the opportunity to contribute in new ways to new church communities.
Your young adult may have only experienced one church in living memory. Even if they’ve been at more than one church, the chances are that the different churches will have been similar in style and tradition.
So be prepared to unwind any imbalance in terms of how they see God, and how they feel church ought to be. They may choose a similar church at Uni, or they may go somewhere completely different. It’s important that they know how to discern a healthy church that loves Jesus and offers humble, Bible-centred teaching.
Are your school leavers equipped to discern and pursue great church connections at uni?
The value of church
When we are encouraging school leavers to pursue church at university it is not simply as a way to ‘make sure they don’t lose their faith’ or get regular hot dinners (though it’s a great strategy for that).
Church is home, church is family, church is sharpening and deepening, an activator for mission and a welcome embrace not just for those who know Jesus but for their friends who are seeking Christ, whether they know it yet or not.
Like us, students need places and spaces in which they can belong. We know that loneliness has been on the rise and now statistics point towards our younger generations being the loneliest of all.1 We all need friends of different ages, stages, backgrounds and cultures to help us grow as whole disciples. We need one another in order to reflect the multicultural, integrated, intergenerational kingdom of God.
And this is not a one way street. Students bring energy, cultural insight, ideas, leadership and friends to the activity of the church. Those who follow Jesus already are often great inviters of their student community into small groups, socials and Sundays. Many students are an example to the wider church, especially when it comes to evangelism and building community with new people.
Let’s enthuse school leavers for what being part of church whilst at uni can look like, challenging them to make it a priority and see how it can bring light and life to all other areas of their uni experience.
Surf the wave of uni life
The first term of university life often brings about huge change for a young adult. The return at Christmas can be equal parts wonderful and daunting. Whatever their posture, the opportunity to welcome home, offer space to process, and give encouragement in their ongoing walk with Christ can make a massive difference.
As we seek to see young adults step more fully into all God has for them, the blessing at the end of Ephesians is a powerful one to meditate on. God’s power to keep and hold his children, to provide, to reveal himself, is immeasurably more than we could long for. It is he who is at work in the young people we love, and to him we entrust them. And this is a work he has been doing, for generations, and there is even more to come.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
1 See the BBC Loneliness Experiment for extensive data on this across nations and cultural contexts from
You might also be interested in:
- Results day: when it doesn’t go quite right
- How can my church support those heading off to Uni this Autumn?
- Preparing our young adults for university – a podcast episode with Pippa Elmes from Fusion
- A shareable summary of these pointers on Instagram