Zoe Hart, student worker, reports the work of the living room.
At Highfield Church, Southampton, we have a history of welcoming students to worship with us. But over the last few years God has been stirring us up to much more as we have increasingly felt the reality of the mission field.
Across the campuses of the two Universities in Southampton are over 40,000 students – away from home, looking for life and most of them about as far away from church as you can get.
No longer are we in an age where students are coming away to study with a basic knowledge of Christianity and some past involvement in church. Most don't even really know who Jesus is and many have never been inside a church building. The reality is that the culture among students today is pagan and with less than two percent of them going to church – the mission field is huge.
The exciting thing is that the Gospel is totally dynamic and powerful in this context. Students today are looking for something tangible and authentic – something that will show them Jesus.
Our vision at the living room is to create a place into which students without a church background can come to know the transforming power of Jesus. the living room is church for people who never normally go to church.
Our values are 'loving God, loving each other and loving the lost', quite simple really: The Greatest Commandments and The Great Commission. These values shape everything we do.
What we do on a Sunday evening isn't rocket science either. We meet at 8pm in the building next door to the main church which we set-up to be as relaxed and welcoming an environment as possible.
We have a café with steaming hot chocolate and great food every week – essential in building community. It is open all evening for people to sit and chat or opt out of the worship.
After the main food is served, we aim provide an environment – through worship, teaching and ministry – into which the Holy Spirit can work. This is integral to our original vision to be an authentic community of worshippers. Although we use language that people will understand, we believe that true worship and loving community speak volumes into the post-modern culture of self.
These are exciting times. the living room has grown dramatically over the last two years from around 40 students about 140. The original vision seems to actually be happening. I say 'actually' because we can often put a lot of effort into ministries, having limited faith in the fact that God is powerfully at work and is able to do more than we can ask or imagine.
It is an incredible privilege to be part of something where God is bringing along people who don’t yet believe. And these students, through chatting with team members on a Sunday, as well as fortnightly socials and weekly cell groups, are really becoming part of the living room community.
We regularly have a number of students on the fringes of faith as well as a handful of determined atheists who have had their worlds shaken.
One previously cynical student emailed me recently saying this about his experience of the living room, 'I must say, I found it really emotional, but I'm not quite sure why. I was really choked up. I'm hopeless at describing emotions; but it just felt like there was something else there, something more than a collection of people. And I felt a connection.'
Our prayer continues to be that what we do will be much more than just a gathering of people in a cosy environment. We long to see people making commitments and beginning a path of discipleship.
We want to be a place where, as it says in Isaiah 41, the thirsty who search for water will find it.
We have always been conscious that what is happening is part of a much bigger journey. It was an incredible encouragement to have that confirmed by a previous vicar of Highfield who, 28 years ago, had a vision of a large number of students meeting in the hall next door to our church at 9 o'clock on a Sunday evening. When he came to visit and saw that original vision happening he was thrilled!
Of course as with everything we do – the living room is just a part of God's much bigger story – not a new story but an ancient unchanging one – and it is our role to express that story, as Jesus did, in a way that is fresh and dynamic to the culture we find ourselves in.