Freshers: How to Choose a Church

Every year at this time I find myself thinking about freshers coming to Glasgow to one of the higher education institutions. One way or another I was involved in freshers’ week quite a lot over the years. I did three degrees so went through it myself three times, then in subsequent university years I was one of those helping to put on events and then I worked in university chaplaincy work twice, once before I was ordained and then again whilst I was in Bridge of Allan.

Some students are looking for a church to join when they arrive at University. Some will have checked ahead of time what they want and will have already made contact. Others may find themselves thinking about attending a church for the first time. University years are partly for working out what you think about stuff and working out what you think about the claims that religious bodies make is something that is well worthwhile doing.

Here’s a quick checklist of things that I think Freshers might think about when thinking about how to pick a church.

  1. Is there life there? You can usually see that from the website (if it isn’t updated, don’t bother) and you can certainly tell very quickly by turning up.
  2. Do you want to be in a church with lots of people your own age or one in which there is a better balance of ages?
  3. Do you bring gifts to offer and will they be welcome. (Do you want to sing, work with children, work for the homeless etc) and can the church put you in touch quickly with those you need to speak to.
  4. Will all your friends feel welcome at this church if you invite them? Does it celebrate the ministry of both men and women? Are gay folk fully integrated into the life of the church? No-one wants to have brought their gay friends to church and then end up feeling embarrassed because of what was said or done when they turned up.  Ask careful questions here – I know a few churches which would say that they were for everyone but which gay people can attend but can’t ever do anything like lead a bible study or alpha group.
  5. Does those in leadership in the congregation appear to enjoy being there?
  6. Does the congregation appear to enjoy being there?
  7. Are there opportunities for you to learn if that’s what you go looking for?
  8. Are there opportunities for you to develop your own spirituality and go deeper with your own faith journey?
  9. If you call them up and ask for a student contact, can they give you the name of someone who will look out for you if you turn up?
  10. Do you get a sense that the preaching is worth listening to?
  11. Are they keen to have you turn up (good), disinterested in your turning up (not so good) or desperate for you to turn up (probably not very good at all).


  1. You’ve missed out one that I know is important to you: a clear commitment to social justice, local, national and global. Sublime aesthetics are all very well but most Freshers are young people and they want to know what you stand for. Otherwise, saying, in a nutshell, ‘all is well’ rings rather hollow. So a church that doesn’t indulge in party politics but does for instance condemn the malevolent stupidity of attempting, again, to fight an anti-Western ideology with indiscriminate Western bombing would let Freshers know that this church at least is smart enough to read the signs of the times and apply relevant Gospel values. Rather than just be vaguely lovely when our government is getting away with murder.

    • These are wise comments Alan. Several decades ago when i was a fresher…the anti-Vietnam protests in Australia were in full flight.
      I don’t think the church took a high enough profile, but many of us participated.
      Then there were the anti-apartheid demonstrations, when South African Rugby visited…these too were important.
      A wise Archbishop of Adelaide (later Australian Primate) Keith Rayner reminded us that one of the roles of young Christians is to pursue causes, be enthusiastic, and to challenge the church.

  2. Having been a University Chaplain (University of Adelaide, South Australia), and now a priest in an inner city church of a University town (Adelaide, South Australia I perceive much wisdom in your comments here
    I also want to add another dimension, which is true both of our church (St Mary Magdalene’s Adelaide, & of the Cathedral Church of St Peter, Adelaide):
    that social outreach is important.
    A very Anglo Catholic principle.
    Two decades or more ago a group of ‘earnest’ (quite the wrong word to describe the lovely kids who were uni students in the 80s) but genuine Christians ….sat around for weeks wondering about how they should put their faith into practice. Finally they just decided they needed to DO something. That something was putting on a slap-up meal on Saturday nights. That has continued for nearly thirty years. Diocesan parishes and schools volunteer every week.
    Really looking forward to my first Christmas here, when the parish will outdo itself with a proper Christmas dinner for those who we are called to love.
    I am impressed by the quality of University and young professional volunteers who staff this wonderful ministry.

    It strikes me that most freshers get this as authentic Gospel…and so do I

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