How are students coming to faith? #2 Small groups

The second most influential factor on a student coming to faith today is being invited to and attending a local church mid-week small group.*

Our Sunday church expressions are important but not enough. The big and the gathered are key, but the small and the more personal are indispensable to students coming to faith in Jesus as well. 

Maybe this seems obvious, but I know plenty of churches who want to be good for students, but who don't have any mid-week small groups for them to connect in with. Or, they do have small groups but with no regular input, training, equipping or encouragement for what these groups could be like as spaces for encounter with Jesus and salvation for seekers. 

I wonder how common it is for Christian students to see small groups as their time for discipleship, not mission? Forgetting that the two are intrinsically linked... and so we write-off our mid-week spaces as places for inviting not-yet-Christians, and we hope that the Alpha course will be enough. 

As inconvenient as it sounds to many of us, to have to "share" our small community with people not yet following Jesus, with all the effort and vulnerability that takes, the truth is, the vast majority of students I interviewed who came to faith, were invited and welcomed into a normal student small group and that made all the difference to them meeting Jesus.

Here's what some of them said about it:

“Being with people who are going through what you’re going through helps you know you’re not alone on the journey.”

“I really craved small community.”

“It was being around people so on fire for Jesus… it rubbed off on me.”

“I was chatting to someone at small group about what I believe and they said it sounded like I believed everything that they did and I suppose that’s when I realised I was a Christian!”

We have to make sure we don't make the church all about us and our needs. One of the healthiest things for our discipleship and our small group communities would be if we all were part of the salvation stories of people amongst us. Truth is, I'd much rather be in a small group with people meeting Jesus for the first time, than a "safe" bible study with no one holding different beliefs to me. 

The good news is, you are not alone in figuring out how small groups can be spaces of mission. Fusion has thrown the weight of our time, energy, prayer and resources into our newly published Small Groups Big Mission resource and training. We are prioritising every church we work with having on fire, multiplying small groups that present way more mini missional opportunities than one-off events or one evangelistic programme can.

So, how are your small groups? Do you even have any? How open and free and truth-filled are they? Does anyone know these are spaces to invite? They aren’t just for the Christians after all, discipleship and making disciples are inseparable...

There's still time to invite your friend this week. Text ahead to your group leader if this is going to be a new experience to have not-yet-Christians in the mix, but remember, it is in these smaller spaces many students have felt safer to explore who Jesus is, ask questions and get prayer. Let's have more faith and confidence in the power of small groups of people to see lives transformed. After all, it is the way Jesus started his movement too.

Check out the other blogs in the series here: #1 Sunday Church

*These statements are taken from research completed for my Masters degree in which I explored commonalities of students coming to faith in Jesus in England today. I gathered data from a spread of institutions, geographical locations, church expressions and interviewed an equal number of male and female students, with some diversity in background and ethnicity as well. Although my findings have limitations and my scope of data had to be small, I believe what I have discovered is still very useful for local churches seeking to share Jesus with students and so this blog series explores the top 12 commonalities discovered. Enjoy!

Miriam Swanson

National Team Leader (USA)

Miriam moved from the UK to Florida to pioneer the work of Fusion in the USA (and married an American!) She has been in the movement for over a decade, equipping students in faith, sharing Jesus, training leaders and churches and speaking internationally.

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