This is a series on reaching students at the various kinds of UK higher education institutions. We have already thought about reaching students at ancient universities, red brick universities, plate glass universities, ex-polytechnic universities and the ‘cathedral group’ of universities. In this final post, we’ll think about specialist colleges.
Example Universities: Leeds Arts University, Leeds College of Music, Royal Northern College of Music
Specialist colleges in a nutshell: Specialist colleges offer degree level education, but are small (often with less than 1500 students) and have a particular group of courses that the institution offers. Music colleges, art colleges and agricultural colleges would be examples. A few award their own degrees. Often these colleges are internationally renowed. These institutions tend to be based in a small number of buildings which are close to each other.
Opportunities at specialist colleges: There often aren’t any other student-run societies in specialist colleges other than the CU, making what is offered novel. A small number of Christians can easily make a big ‘splash’ – it’s easy to get to know everyone through wandering around workshops etc. Conversation is easy, and the nature of students being at specialist college often means that they are extremely passionate about their course (and the way it intersects with Christianity). Arts students can be particularly open to spiritual themes. It can be easy to draw a crowd during the day time.
Challenges at specialist colleges: Christians are often very small in number. Students in art colleges can be very hostile to Christianity because of the perception that is forces one single view of the world, which should be open to challenge. Music students can be loathe to spend time away from the practice room. Venues can be hard to come by in college. It can be hard to draw together students outside of college time.
Ideas for mission for CUs at specialist colleges:
- Get used to asking people what they are currently working on, and why – in art and music colleges, compositions often reflect the deep values of the students. UCCF’s Leadership Network resources can help you think in this way about your discipline.
- An acclaimed artist or musician who is a Christian can easily draw a crowd, and explain the difference that their Christian profession makes to both their art and the way that they live in the art world.
- Film discussions can work well in art and music colleges – arthouse films can work as well as more mainstream films.
- A photography competition or exhibition around a theme can be an excellent way of initiating conversations with others in college. Asking people to write 100 words about why they have submitted what they have submitted and placing this next to their work is stimulating for all who come too. A cheese and wine evening at the opening of the exhibition with a short introduction by a Christian can be in keeping with the event.
- Informal lunchtime events, such as Grill-a-Christian panels in college, can work excellently.
Five ideas for building mission for churches near to specialist colleges:
- Offer space in your church buildings to exhibit work or allow compositions to be performed – students are normally very keen to show off their work to a wider audience.
- Take a group along from your church to degree shows and concerts: this communicates love, will help you meet students of the college and hear more about their passions.
- Often specialist colleges have a high number of international students – ensure that they are offered hospitality and meals, as many will be very keen to have an experience of genuine British culture whilst here. Many are more open to the gospel than their British peers.
- Volunteer to cater for a Christmas event: there may not be anything else happening in the college, and a short gospel message could be included.
- Pay attention to aesthetic details in your key evangelistic events – students at art or music colleges will find it difficult to see through naff decor or music. Things don’t have to be perfect, but a clear commitment to excellence communicates a passion for the common graces that these students are passionate about too. Ask these students to help you here!