Small Groups are an indispensable context for firing up the student generation.
History testifies of the lasting fruit of student mission when small groups become a leading vehicle for learning and living out the gospel. In this paper we’ll explore why small groups are an effective space to join God’s big mission with students. Though not exhaustive, the points expanded below aim to provoke the reader to see the possibilities in the church for developing small groups of students living on mission.
1. A Big Mission means a Bigger Story - Small groups are a big mission when they see the bigger gospel story. We don’t want to accept a reduced gospel that is primarily being about ‘my experience’ or how I am doing (i.e ‘prosperity’) as this inevitably leads small groups into another space to consume and reinforce our individualistic culture.
Small groups with a big mission redefine the narrative of student life around the Kingdom story; unveiled from Genesis to Revelation - creation to new creation and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In this Story we recognise we’re made for God’s holiness and love (Ephesians 1) and our vocation is outworking that holy love in our relationship with God, one another and the world (Matthew 22:37).
Dualism is still the dominant western paradigm unconsciously dulling the spiritual senses of the masses. Small groups with healthy relationships and focused discipleship provide an antidote to the pervasive dualism wreaking havoc in today's Church. A Kingdom perspective sees our study, relationships, prayer, evangelism, commitment, media consumption and more all under the reign of God.
2. Small groups encourage a journey to faith - Joining the mission of God among students is a discipleship journey to invite and call students to participate in through relationship and action. It’s been said that Generation Y’s journey to faith goes along the road of belong- believe - behave. This means; belonging to a community, professing faith and then behaving according to the way of Christ.
There is now evidence suggesting the emerging generation go on a journey of behaving first, or acting in the ways of Christ then finding belonging and onto believing. An example would be students being motivated to join the small group because of its desire to serve the common good. The small group can participate in a student’s journey to Christ through creating a place to belong or get involved.
3. We bear God’s image in community - God is a community as Father, Son, and Spirit. We are made for communal living and to demonstrate His Kingdom as His people. The mission of God always moves creation toward being a Living Temple - a building place of relationships defined by God’s Presence. God’s calling forms the community and that community becomes a conduit for God’s saving power. We can’t downplay community in student mission. In God it starts and ends in relational unity expressed in diversity, as it is in heaven, so shall it be on earth!
Student mission outworked in small group community has a potential to bear God’s image in wonderful ways. Most students live in close proximity to one another in studies, housing or social life. Student leaders empowered to create a Kingdom culture, in a small group for anyone to belong to and thrive in, has the seed of a student movement.
Healthy face to face community is more remarkable as technology is distorting a generation’s relationships. It’s powerful to see a group of students in the same room listening, loving, and serving one another modelling life in the Kingdom. These kind of groups aren’t content for God to stay within the confines of the room, their goal is overflow, and obedience to make disciples in the universities.
4. Small Groups on Fire - What is being proposed might not feel or sound new, but there are signs that God is inviting a new generation of students to experience the fire of God’s Presence in small groups. Small can be the environment for developing big thinkers and big experiences in God’s Kingdom. Small groups are ideal places to receive the baptism of the Spirit, practice the gifts of the Spirit and develop in the fruit of the Spirit. When we have both Word and Spirit, we have a dynamic atmosphere for fire to fall! When students embrace the relational nature of God within the small groups, we have a distinct community; a fire to guide the student world through the wilderness toward the promises of God.
5. A kairos moment - Kairos (the greek word for time) is all about recognising the God opportunity. The potential impact of small groups during the student years is unique. The availability of time, proximity of relationships, and youthful enthusiasm provide clues to what is possible when a group of students wholeheartedly commit to living out their faith together. The small group makes the most of this kairos moment for students and provide the church an opportunity to disciple a generation into a deeply relational, discipleship focused and outward looking faith.
6. Firebrands are raised up - It’s critical students are given both permission and the responsibility of outworking the missional possibilities of life at university. This is a priceless journey of maturity. Both the reward and failure of leading small groups sets students off on a leadership pathway that has exciting Kingdom possibilities.
Many start their leadership journey in a small group of students. It prepares them for future ministry in churches, businesses, and many other spheres of society by instilling Kingdom values and foundational leadership skills. The small group provides an excellent training ground for future leaders.
7. The Way in is the Way on - The way into faith is often the way on. If students start their discipleship journey by seeing a Christ centred community and hearing the gospel articulated by their peers then prioritising relationships and living on mission qualify what it means to follow Jesus. This can be in contrast to students reducing their faith to Sunday church attendance and struggling to move beyond a surface level involvement with people, the place they live and God. There is so much more!
8. Kingdom values are contagious - In small groups students get a unique foretaste of the Kingdom. In a small group community Kingdom values have plenty of space to breathe and catch on. When we focus on values we can confidently explore God’s heart and reimagine student mission in fresh ways. They have the opportunity to express themselves and participate fully in a Kingdom venture learning to recognise what they carry spiritually.
Below are 6 Kingdom values that, when planted in small group community, can fuel student mission and movement.
Fully Focused - Jesus centred
In the busyness of university life, fixing our eyes on Jesus becomes an act of intentional seeking, rather than an assumption- which left unchecked, can fall out of sight in the midst of deadlines and nights out. The group rises or falls on its ability to remain focused on Jesus.
All play - everyone serves
Church for students has a deep authenticity when students learn to lead a small group of believers. Small groups look to draw out skills and gifting – whether that is caring, praying, speaking etc, so that the whole group will be encouraged and function well. It demonstrates that church must always have a forum for active participation.
Spiritual adventurers - discipleship
When we think about discipleship, we think about our whole lives. There is no part of our activity and being that isn’t impacted by the call to follow Christ. That call to follow leads us into an adventure, one to share with a group of friends. Together we can wrestle with problems, outwork our beliefs and become more like Christ – with the encouragement and accountability of others.
See through lives - lifestyle
Small groups are a lifestyle – they are about openness, honesty and sacrificial love. In that context, by building an atmosphere for trust and deepening friendship, we can learn to share each other's lives – the good times and the bad. We can experience Jesus and grow in relationship with fellow group members, learning to love and care for others. Without that openness, there can be no real community.
Doing life together - community
There is a deep longing and yearning inside each one of us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Small groups are communities – they are not just meetings. In John 13 Jesus provoked love in his disciples, by challenging them that the love they showed to one another would radically mark them out as his disciples. Small groups should be an attractive, inclusive, outward-looking community that invites others to be a part of it. It is also a place to receive care and support and have a safe place to work through life’s challenges.
Growing pains - mission, multiplication and movement
Growing pains are common through pregnancy and childhood and they are necessary for new life and maturity. Small groups should multiply – this value of life will impact our friends and communities so that people will be won to Christ. Be ready for growing pains as groups multiply and the movement begins.