Jesus Fellowship leader, Iain Gorrie, interviews Rich Wilson, National Team Leader for the student movement, Fusion. Rich has been involved with Fusion since its beginnings in Autumn 1997.
Iain: How did your involvement with Fusion come about?
Rich: I got involved with a church in Loughborough - Open Heaven - and the church had a focus on students. I was in a church community house and felt wisdom from God about there being a student movement which He wanted to bring about. I felt that I had a part to play in that. It wasn't long before I heard about something fresh and new, being set up nationally, for students. One of the guys involved was Roger Ellis who, a few years earlier, had relayed a prophesy about our church in Loughborough. There wasn't a strong connection, but I prayed into it and one came about.
I created space in my life, I didn't pursue a graduate career, I got part time work so I would be available to form what this new student movement could look like. That went on for nearly three years. It was quite a tortuous time, quite a shaping time.
One of the main characteristics of Fusion seems to be working through Cell Groups?
Fusion started with the idea of Cell Groups - small missional communities that multiplied. As we went on we realised that we needed to keep training people for this year on year. Somehow we needed to get the church the rather than us; a small organisation. In 2002 we made a deliberate shift to working solely through local churches.
Cell groups are still a key part of that - but it's broader, we don't want people to get stuck on the word "cell" and our vision is to equip and inspire local churches in a variety of ways. Fusion don't have any groups but we are connected with around 230 churches, many of which have their own student small groups. We also equip churches by training local church based student workers, connecting school leavers to local churches and sharing fresh ideas and inspiration for local church based student mission. The same values are there but the language has maybe changed a bit.
Would you say Fusion has been a success?
I look at it from two angles. Sometimes I think we've not achieved anywhere near the amount I was hoping for. But then I look at it another way and think "actually we've come a really long way". Our success has been around bringing about a change of commitment and conviction in the church in the UK. It has taken some time for the churches to recognise that they have a significant part to play in student mission. Each church needs to have a vision for the next generation - otherwise we're one generation from extinction. What is the maximum profit we can make?" I believe Christians have to ask, "What is a just and fair profit?"
Do you think students have changed over recent years?
Lots has changed. In the last four decades the number of UK students has increased 700%. Student debt is huge. Technology has changed student culture. Student life is a lot less social than it used to be. Loneliness is masked by social networks where people can watch others' lives and engage at a distance.
The idea that we can do mission as we always did it just doesn't make sense. These days there are more restrictions around universities. Conversely, student life now often exists across towns and cities rather than being confined to a campus. I think there's a huge role to play for churches that are prepared to work at relationships, engage in the breadth of student life, and be sensitive to what the universities are trying to do.
In what ways can churches engage with students?
It's really important that churches have a web profile that reflects a heart for students. It's working with the new media to create a platform and then following this up by meeting people in person. At the end of the day we're relational - and that's what makes the difference.
If it's on campus you need to get permission. If it's off campus there are all sorts of things you can do. Free tea and coffee before lectures, dragging a sofa on to campus and offering 'free chats'; it's about engaging in a relevant way. We can afford to be upfront but we also need to be transparent; students are looking for authenticity and to see that we genuinely care about them. We've put together a booklet called Love Your Uni which has loads of ideas in it.
You talked recently about the danger of being "moment centred" rather than "movement centred". What do you mean?
The "moments" - the high points in our meetings - can just be consumer experiences. We need a generation that has a sense of purpose. Andrew Marr made a revealing comment at the Live8 event: "Make Poverty History" - that's a movement. We need a movement - but all these people they look like they're just here for the moment. Will this moment create a movement - or will it just remain a moment?"
Most people say "Yeah! make poverty history!" - but haven't got the resolve to outwork that. That's where I guess discipleship comes in.
How would you define what Jesus is doing on campuses?
Jesus is calling His church to love the universities they are close to, to express that love in a diversity of ways through words, works and wonders.
We need thousands more school leavers going up to uni knowing who they are in God; wanting to get a degree but using their time at uni to live for Jesus and make a difference. We need "whole life disciples" who spend time with the millions who don't know Jesus yet, pursue all sorts of different avenues - but with God at the centre of them.
How should churches help school leavers? How do you release them in the right way?
The release doesn't happen all at once, over the sixth-form years there's a preparation for adulthood and going away. There needs to be a preparation for some of the issues in the next life stage. We've tried to present these issues in a way churches can get hold of. We've created something called Student Link Up which has a number of resources to help school leavers get to grips with some of the challenges that they will face.
What sort of things?
It lifts the lid on university culture, alcohol pressures, relationship pressures and so on. It says "determine, before you go to university, how you're going to respond to some of these challenges" and - on the positive side - "what positive contribution are you going to make?"
It's not just about abstaining, it's about making a difference and about learning how to explain your stance which reveals God's heart. It's not just "I don't do this because I'm a Christian", or "because the Bible tells me not to". It's "I don't do this because I value how I'm made, I value relationships, I value people."
This article was taken from our Jesus Life magazine, and was first published in May 2010.