Christian college students attending secular schools can feel alone and outnumbered by those outside the faith. Finding a campus ministry or a local church's college ministry is essential for Christian students to flourish in their faith while in college. But simply attending a church isn’t enough. Students need small groups.
Hannah grew up going to church, and left home to attend Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. Early in the school year, she found Christian Campus House (CCH), a campus ministry established in 1970 that serves the students of EIU and Lake Land College. Hannah attended CCH every Sunday, but arrived just when things started and left right as the last song ended. She was lonely, depressed, and didn't have any friends. After her first semester, though, Hannah took the brave step of joining a small group. Though shy, Hannah was able to open up and be herself in her group. She made really good friends, including one who became her best friend. As time went by, her peers got to know her through Life Groups, discovering Hannah's intelligence, deep faith, and natural ability to connect with other women.
Since 2002, I've had the honor and privilege of overseeing the leadership development and small-group ministry (Life Groups) of CCH, and I've heard countless stories like this. Our ministry reaches students in a unique way, and that often leads to life change. CCH is a church of about 130 students. We have four full-time staff members, yet we operate primarily as a student-led church. With the exception of our Sunday morning worship services and Wednesday night large-group Bible studies, the students choose, plan, and lead all of our ministry activities. The main teaching, preaching, and leadership training is done by staff, but the students lead the ministry, including all of the small groups.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, we give students a lot of responsibility, and we ask for a high level of commitment—and we've seen interesting results.
Structure of Groups
Of 130 students who regularly attend CCH, 90 are part of a gender-specific Life Group. Our groups run on a semester schedule to match the university's calendar. Each semester, groups spend 12 weeks together—10 weeks are for the small-group study, and 2 weeks are simply for having fun together. Each semester, we reshuffle the groups to coordinate with students' changing schedules and study preferences.
There are two study options for groups: a book or an inductive Bible study. All of the book study groups use the same book, and all of the inductive study groups go through the same book of the Bible. Because our church turns over every four or five years, we're able to repeat studies every few years. We cycle through favorites like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, The Life You've Always Wanted by John Ortberg, and Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. For our Bible study groups, we cycle through the Epistles because they work well for inductive study.
Identifying High-Quality Student Leaders
We expect a lot of our leaders because they lead all of the ministry activities, so our annual process of identifying leaders takes about six weeks. We're never looking for a certain number of leaders. Instead, we're looking for the right leaders. They must have a strong commitment to the Lord, godly character, and teachability. They also must have the time for our weekly training meetings and ministry events.