Reaching students in ‘cathedral group’ universities

This is a series on reaching students at the various kinds of UK higher education institutions. We already thought about reaching students at ancient universities, red brick universities, plate glass universities and ex-polytechnic universities. Today’s post considers the ‘cathedral group’ of universities.

Example Universities: York St John, Cumbria, Liverpool Hope, Leeds Trinity

Cathedral group universities in a nutshell: Cathedral group universities are former Roman Catholic or Anglican colleges, which have received the right to award degrees in recent years. Most of these universities began as teacher training colleges, and most still have a strong emphasis on teacher training, causing female students often to strongly outnumber male students. Several institutions have expanded to also teach a number of other degrees – often in the health professions, but also others which reflect their Christian foundation (theology, youth work etc.). Cathedral group universities are small, often based around a small central campus, though some have campuses across multiple towns. A very high percentage of students are local, mature or part-time (or a combination of the above), meaning campuses can feel quiet, especially in the evenings.

Opportunities at cathedral group universities: The geographical layout of campuses means that a CU group can very easily get a big ‘splash’ so that everyone on campus at that time can know what is happening – this provides great opportunities for forms of first contact evangelism. Many attending cathedral group universities are at least sympathetic with the university’s Christian ethos and are willing to give Christians a hearing. The scale of the university gives it an intimate and friendly feel which leads to strong friendships being built among students (especially those who’ve moved to be at university).

Challenges at cathedral group universities: The biggest challenge is that most degrees involve regular placements, sometimes very long blocks of placement. This can disrupt any sense of momentum over the course of a term or year, and can punctuate attendance of students at an events week. (In practice, this normally makes the first term the key one for evangelism). Whilst the Christian ethos can make students willing to give the gospel a hearing, it can also cause students to assume that they are familiar with its content. A lower percentage of students are actually on campus at any one time compared to other universities, making lunchtime events difficult. In formerly Catholic colleges, there are added complexities concerning similarities and differences between Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism.

Ideas for mission for CUs at cathedral group universities:

  1. Do an Alpha or Christianity Explored course on campus in the first term, helping students who’d describe themselves as Christian to learn the crux of the Christian gospel for themselves.
  2. First-contact evangelism – a ‘cake for a question’ table, Proxe stations or a text-a-toastie can be very effective, especially if based somewhere visible on campus during the day.
  3. Consider doing an ‘events week’ in the first term, when more students are around before long placements kick in. Do it early enough in term that there’s time to draw alongside those who want to investigate things further.
  4. Meals are a great way to demonstrate the gospel’s generosity and welcome, and provide a great opportunity to deepen friendships. A ‘Come Dine With Me’ group can accelerate friendships with non-believers in a fun way. ‘Inviting the campus to dinner’, having a number of meals hosted by CU students on the first night of an events week can be a great start to the week.
  5. Theology Network can help you present the gospel in an engaging way to religious studies and theology students at the university, sometimes one of the hardest groups to reach.

Five ideas for building mission for churches near to cathedral group universities:

  1. Coaches take students to placements very early in the morning. Most students won’t have had breakfast. A church that offers bacon butties to queuing students will do wonders for building relationships, and create lots of gospel conversations.
  2. Don’t forget these universities as you plan your term plan – they often come back earlier and finish later than other universities, and churches do these students a disservice through arranging their programme around the other universities in the city.
  3. Like at ex-polytechnic universities, clubs and societies are normally small in number at cathedral group universities. A church football team will be popular amongst lads who are looking for an opportunity to play. Similarly, football, hockey and netball groups can engage female students.
  4. Students at cathedral group universities are often practically-minded, doing vocational degrees. Evangelistic events which help students see the difference that knowing Jesus in everyday life are often engaging, as are hearing testimonies when shared.
  5. Term generally goes on longer in the summer, making outdoor-based activities possible for churches whilst students are still around. Barbecues and picnics in the summer before or after a Sunday service can be a great way to introduce non-Christian students to the gospel and to genuine Christian community.

Tomorrow, for the final post in the series, we’ll think about specialist colleges of higher education.

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