'Story': The New Christian Union Mission Week Attracting Thousands

University Christian Union mission weeks have a reputation.

Dumped into a far-flung corner of campus, they tend to be little known by many outside the small circles involved in organising.

But a new model of student evangelism is taking off with slick and engaging content based on the award-winning Humans Of New York style of storytelling.

Facebook / Story DurhamThe mission event has outgrown Durham's largest venues and is forced into a marquee with hundreds attending each session.

'Story' was launched at Durham University last year and has since been taken up by 11 other universities across the UK including Bath, St Andrews, Cardiff, Exeter and Norwich. This year promotion videos shared widely on social media have been viewed tens of thousands of times with an estimated 'reach' of 92,000.

Now in its second year in Durham, the event is too big for any of the city's venues and has been forced into a marquee. Dozens were even turned away on Tuesday night with more than 700 squeezing in to hear former gang leader Ryan Lennon share his faith after being jailed for orchestrating riots, violent crime and cocaine trafficking.

But founder Sam Udy, part of a team running this year's event, says the interest is not as much down to the speaker's as the different attitude.

'The approach we have is asking students in Durham what their story is,' he told Christian Today.

'In a culture where your identity is defined by your answer to the question, "What do you do?", stories asks, "Who are you?" They provoke self-reflection and cut to the heart of identity.

'Whereas some people can say Christianity is 'good for you but not for me', life stories are universal – everyone has one, so everyone can engage with them. That's why we ask students, "What's your story?"'

Previously he said some may have seen the Christian Union as focused on converting people over caring for them. 'I'm not saying it was like that but that was the perception we tried to challenge,' said Udy.

He added the event looked to do everything to the highest standard possible, from the speaker line-up to the free coffee served.

'The other thing we emphasise is excellence, he said. 'We want to do stuff that of the highest quality so we express what God is like in what we provide.'

Facebook / Story DurhamStory Durham said they aimed to reflect God by offering excellence in everything they do.

After an intensive social media-based promotion campaign the week consists of lunchtime sessions with an apologetics talk followed by Q&A. Then each evening there are interviews with people ranging from Ken Costa, an investment banker and chair of Lazard International, to Roo Panes, a folk musician and song writer.

The average attendance of more than 500 each night this week comes after Story was awarded 'event of the year' by Durham's Student Union last year.

'People are fascinated how Ken Costa can call himself a Christian and lead an investment bank or how a terrorist can say he has been forgiven,' said Udy. 

'Our dream is people can come and disagree with everything and still leave and say that was a great event.'

Noah Strange, who is running this year's event, said: 'It's been incredible to see so many students turn out for Story 2017 - interested to share their own stories and hear stories of how the Christian faith has transformed lives. It's really exceeded our expectations. 

'The interviewees have been exceptional. We ever had some guests travel from Edinburgh to hear Roo Panes get interviewed.

'Not only that but students have been exploring their questions about Jesus as they shared their own stories of life and faith.'

One attendee last year, Ruby Goddard, who describes herself as an 'confused agnostic' admitted finding it 'fascinating'. 

In a review for a student magazine she wrote: 'What I took away most from this week (bar a lot of food, sorry) was an admiration for the sense of community inherent in the Christian Union, and the willingness of this community to listen.

'Everyone I spoke to was genuinely enthusiastic and interesting; individuals willing to share their stories with you, to ask questions and to patiently answer yours.'

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