“When a student comes to University and finds a church, they’ll automatically want to join a small group and find a place of belonging.” That statement may be true for many students, but what about those who at home would go to church, but haven’t experienced small groups before so don’t know why they should join one? Or those who wouldn’t feel comfortable going to someone’s house and start sharing openly in a small group? Or those who want to explore Christianity but would be fazed by a large church gathering or a small group in someone’s house?
Our other reflection is that despite how committed a Christian someone is, and how keen they are to be regularly part of a church, many wouldn’t go by themselves. What students yearn for so much is community and friendship.
Our heart was to create a community of people, which met in a really accessible, non-threatening way that could be an access point for these different groups of people. By establishing something different, the un-churched would find an easy way into Christian community and an opportunity to explore, as well as churched people who haven’t grown up in the culture of midweek church and aren’t comfortable or confident going into a small group setting.
With no structure or script, we wanted discipleship and encouragement to flow through our natural conversations rather than through a big programme.
At the start of the year two of us went to the first student cluster meeting for our area where the small groups were going to be organised and set up. We shared our heart and our vision for where we wanted to go, and gathered a team of 6 who bought into this vision and wanted to explore this with us.
After a few times meeting together to get to know each other, we dove straight into meeting in the pub regularly once a week for a few hours, just chatting. With no agenda and no script we shared our lives and continued to get to know each other better. Faith and church related stuff flowed in and out of conversation in between everything else in our lives. We had got away from having a “churchy meeting” to just sharing our lives together.
We invited non-Christian housemates, and actively went to chat to people at church who seemed to be by themselves or with someone but maybe not knowing many other people. We just simply said hi, asked how they were and if they were in a small group. If so – great! If not, invited them to come and spend some time with us in a non-threatening pub environment and to get to know them a bit.
Very quickly we were gathering people who were starting to share and feel connected to our newly formed “friendship group”. By Christmas we had been in contact with around 25 people in addition to our core of 6. To try and dispel unhelpful churchy words like “cell group” or “small group” we adopted the name “ChooseLife” as a way of identifying ourselves.
It became clear that there were limitations to this model, and that by meeting in a pub so informally, that conversation could only get so deep. We identified a number of people who would now really benefit from a more structured discipleship based small group meeting.
Tied in with an opportunity to give testimony of what had happened over the last term at church and the announcement we were starting this new group in a few weeks time, we then met a few others who knew this was something they needed to be part of.
At the end of January, we poached a few really great small group leaders from elsewhere who’d love to lead something new, and a discipleship group of 10 people was born. They used the Rob Bell – Nooma DVDs (www.nooma.com) as a basis for opening up conversation and introducing topics each week and the group flourished!
Coming from a background where church was purely something that happened on a Sunday, the idea of mid-week church was completely alien and to a certain extent, I wondered about its purpose and how much value it actually had. Initially the most challenging aspect was opening up to complete strangers as it is never easy to make yourself vulnerable to others but over the few months it was obvious that everyone was more comfortable with each other and valued having a Christian perspective on life, as that is what most of us had been lacking before. It was also great to see the effect that my involvement in small group began to have on my non-Christian friends; they began to ask questions and show an interest in my faith which had previously appeared inaccessible to them.
Testimony from a member of the new small group
As the core group we recognised how successful the previous term had been and intended to repeat the cycle of multiplication by meeting more people who would benefit from small group support.
To maintain relationships that had been so important in forming this new discipleship group, we were keen for them all to come to the pub with us every other week, and to be able to share what’s been happening in their lives, both with us, and new people.
However, it soon became obvious that in being so continually outward looking and with conversations only being able to go so deep in the pub, that we had neglected the individual needs of those in the core group. We realised we needed to spend some time intentionally investing in each other, and going back to basics by meeting every other week as our core group to pray and chat and the rest of the time meeting openly in the pub.
When sharing the story so far when I was out in Denmark in January with some church leaders and youth leaders, they were so encouraged that this need could be met so easily. I think part of the success of this year has been that we didn’t build up a large programme of events or prepare big bible studies, but just made ourselves available for God to move in all of our lives and we responded accordingly. This is not a model for how to do student outreach, it simply met the need of our context and culture. The challenge for all individuals and small groups is to identify who in your church or networks needs support and encouragement and what is the simplest and most natural way to do that to fit in with social patterns and lifestyle?
Story by Jude Stone.