In addition to this initial training session, each leader of a Bible study Life Group is expected to spend 45–60 minutes a week studying and making notes on the week’s passage (usually 10–16 verses). For reference as they study, we give leaders a Tyndale or Bible Speaks Today commentary for the book of the Bible we're studying.
After completing their personal study, a group of 3–4 student leaders meets with me for an hour to go over the week's passage. This meeting serves as a learning lab. It takes time for them to learn how to observe the text. I ask questions like, “Is that what the verse says?” or “How would you explain that verse (or word) to a 6-year-old?” We move verse by verse or sentence by sentence, each sharing what we’ve observed or learned from our personal study of the passage. When a difficult question is raised, we pull out our commentaries and work through the question together. One of the amazing outcomes of teaching our leaders this method is that they learn how to study the Bible—many for the first time. They realize how much they can learn without being a Bible scholar or knowing Greek or Hebrew.
After this group study, the leaders individually go back to the passage and write questions to use for leading their group discussion. Life Group meetings are led by asking questions and facilitating discussion. Our leaders never teach a lesson, so coming up with these questions is very important. To help each other with this process, each leader submits two observation, two interpretation, and two application questions. We compile these questions and send them out to all of the leaders ahead of time so they can pick and choose as they finalize their discussion questions for their Life Group meeting. To accomplish all of this, we're often working one week ahead of the study schedule.
Raising the Bar for College Students
College students—those 18–22 years old—have amazing potential, and they're able to impact the world in a big way. They're ready to be challenged, equipped, and inspired to take responsibility for their spiritual growth. They're ready to share God's love and truth with others. They are, after all, about the same age as the Twelve Jesus chose. Because we believe college students are capable of so much, we focus on student leadership development, calling every Christian to use his or her gifts and passions for the kingdom. Because of this focus, many students have entered full-time missions or ministry after graduation. And it all begins in Life Groups.
Hannah's life changed by being in a small group, but not just because she made friends and found a place where she could be herself. By her junior year, Hannah was asked to serve as a student leader, and she started leading her own Life Group. She is now a leader of leaders, passionate about the ministry of Life Groups, loves studying the Bible, intentionally connects with others, and teaches God’s word in a gifted way. If she hadn't joined a Life Group, I truly think she would have transferred, miserably, and missed out on some amazing personal and faith development.
Small groups in college ministry aren't just a good idea—they're essential. They're the best way to develop young Christians into passionate disciples. While many lower the bar for college-age people, we raise the bar, and we see them rise to the occasion time and time again.
College students have a passion for Jesus and his Word. They realize that their mission is here and now. They see the hunger for community on their campus. They see great purpose in helping their peers get connected to one another and helping them to further understand his love and truth. College students need more than a great church service to attend—they need to be more than mere spectators. They're ready for us to call them out, challenging them to engage in significant ministry. And small groups are the way to do it.
—Danah Himes is an associate campus minister at Christian Campus House in Charleston, Illinois.