Reaching church youth at university

For many young people leaving home to attend a university in another part of the country can be daunting. It’s a time of great change, excitement and many new challenges. Home, and your home church, can feel very far away when in an unfamiliar place surrounded by lots of new people.

When Christina Patterson of Knox Presbyterian Church, Waitara, left her home to study she was very aware that other church members were often struggling to stay in touch with the the church they left behind. This gave her an excellent idea. At her own expense she made visits to Hamilton and Wellington to spend time with her church’s youth who were studying in those cities.

“I felt that these visits were something that God wanted me to do,”

Christina says. “I noticed that students would go away and wouldn’t hear much from the church during their time at university which would make them feel out of touch with what was going on at home. So the visits are a good chance for me to keep the students informed about events at our church and also to talk with them about anything else they’re facing, for example any new or strange ideas that have been challenging them.”

christinaChristina believes that the first challenge the students face is choosing a new home church in their new city. She says, “I think it would be awesome if the people from our provincial churches could introduce their university students to people in their new cities who are solid in faith. Connections like that would make a massive difference, especially at the beginning. We all know someone!”

Last year, Christina made several visits to her church’s students studying away from home. “We had a weekend together, shared dinner and hot chocolate and chatted about what was going on for them,” she says. “It was awesome to see how the students I caught up with had already got involved in a church close to where they were studying. And a few were discovering passions that were totally God given but they were not yet sure how they could pursue them. I supported them and guided them toward people who could help or who were also feeling the same passions.”

Christina is only 22 years old herself, and recently finished studying to become a pharmacy technician. She went straight from school to full-time work at a pharmacy and has decided to continue studying from home with the Open Polytechnic while working full-time.

She has been attending Knox Presbyterian Church since she was 10 years old and says, “What I like most about the church is the people. They have huge faith which helps God reach into the lives of our community. We show the community what the church does through all the children’s and youth ministries, and the events the church holds.” In addition to her full-time work and her university visits Christina helps out as a small group leader on Wednesdays at the Knox Church youth group and attends CityLife Church in New Plymouth with her boyfriend Aaron.

Knox Presbyterian Church has about 10 young people who have recently left Waitara to study away although lately more and more are choosing to stay at home and take courses extramurally like Christina. “It’s a big change,” says Christina. “It used to be that young people would go away to uni and not come back to Waitara because there weren’t jobs locally. But that’s not the case so much anymore. Many of our youth stay in the area now.”

But the good news for those who do choose to go away to university is that Christina definitely plans to continue with her visits. She will be heading to Wellington again soon. “I think the visits are a great way to encourage and support the students,” she says.

This article was written by Kate Davidson and published in the SPANZ magazine (Winter 2014)