Over the last few days I’ve issued some concerns with small groups. I tried to make it clear that I was simply issuing concerns, NOT condemnations. I hope that was clear. At the same time I do hope it caused some thought and I’m totally ok if it also caused some frustration. When we’re frustrated, we think more deeply. That’s a good thing. My heart in doing this series was to do a few things:
- Really force thought on the weaknesses of them. Every structure has weaknesses, but thinking through how we can improve them are a different story. I think we need to be honest about them first of all. And this was my attempt at bringing some realities to surface.
- Timing. Most ministries are looking to launch small groups soon, if we haven’t already. It’s now, at the start, that we need to intentionally battle some of these (potential) weaknesses.
- I wanted to (and I admit subversively) get to a point where we were thinking beyond just the small group. This is important, I think, for us in college ministry. I’ll explain.
First, on the weaknesses. I’ll offer a couple suggestions to addressing these in our ministries:
- Talk with the leaders of your small(er) groups about these weaknesses. Make sure they’re not only aware of the potential of them taking root in their group, but for them to pay close attention to even the slimmest appearance of them.
- Draw up some questions for the leaders about some of these issues to discuss in their group. For instance, in regards to accountability, encourage the leaders to really ask those in their group to give each other permission to dig into each other’s lives. You have to address some issues like responding in defensiveness, arrogance, tact in approaching someone in confrontation, etc. All of these times of talking about these issues, how to approach them, our attitude when we’re confronted, etc. can provide a TON of teachable moments in college ministry – and particularly a smaller group. These are addressing some major relational boundaries that many college-age people aren’t aware of.
Secondly, thinking beyond small groups. This is vital for collegiate ministry, in any context. It’s certainly not a bad thing to connect college-age people with peers in small(er) groups of people. It’s in these times where we can really dive into age-stage issues that are best addressed in these settings (at least I think they are). But whether we’re church or campus based, we need to continue thinking beyond that age-stage group (which was my challenge when it comes to valuing sameness). It’s my belief that college-age people not only need, but actually desire (and deeply!) connection with older mature believers. And, I think, it’s our job to make sure these connections take place. This provides unique challenges (especially for those in campus ministry), but also provides a good pressure for us as leaders to make sure we’re thinking about the life-long connection of the students we’re working with.
I’ve written a ton about the importance of this in my book, so I won’t rehash that here. But I will say this is crucial to the development of college-age people. And this is true no matter the context.
If we get college students involved in a small group with peers and don’t connect them with the body at large we’re in trouble. Why? How? Well, put as simply as I can make it: it’s my belief that this does little more than extend detachment. At some point there has to be connecting points to the larger body – beyond a church service. If not, when the student graduates or the small group ends, they’re left with no connection. This is why I issue the challenge for us to think beyond the small group.
My point in all this was simply to say: small groups aren’t the end. Just because people are connected in a small group doesn’t mean we’re done. Not at all. And, it could even mean that the results we think we get by connecting people to a small(er) group aren’t actually occurring – but just seem that way. Small groups can be good, but there has to be more in our approach to ministry with college-age people. I hope this series has caused you to be more in tune with what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you’ll move forward in truly connecting college-age people to the body of Christ.
So, let me end this with a question for discussion: What sort of things are you doing to connect college-age people to the body of Christ at large? What specifically do you do to connect them with older mature believers?