Since its commencement in 2015, AU’s small group ministry has expanded from 10 diversified groups servicing about 90 students to 17 groups as of this semester with roughly 170 student participants.
“Our hope is that students involved with small groups will see the importance of community in their faith journey,” said Director of Spiritual Formation Becca Palmer, “and that they can find a safe place on campus where they are known and challenged and transformed by Christ.”
At the beginning of the semester, all AU students were invited to join a small group covering a wide variety of topics and aspects of faith development, each of which is led by a peer, a faculty member or a member of the Anderson community.
“I think small groups provide an outlet for a lot of the stresses of college,” commented junior English major Abby Johnson, who co-leads a small group called Compass. “It is really life-giving to gather in a room with people you know, with tea or coffee in hand, and talk about the joy and the pain of life.”
This semester, the Compass group is focusing on uncovering the role of hope through the narrative of both the Old and New Testament, according to co-leader Amey Dice, a junior psychology and Bible and religion major.
Spearheading the ministry, Palmer emphasized the vitality of community as a key component for spiritual growth, both in the present and for the future.
“We serve a God cares about relationships, so this is a great way to learn how to do life together with others,” she said. “If we can learn how now how to share with, encourage and pray for others, this could be an important aspect to seek in life after graduation from AU.”
“Community is an essential aspect of spiritual growth,” said Dr. Samantha Miller, who is an assistant professor of the history of Christianity. Her small group, Soups and Stories, is about sharing life with one another around a table.
“It’s hard to see Christ when you’re rushing one from class and activity to another with your head buried in your phone on the way,” she said. “Breaking bread together around the table gives us space to see.”
A particularly unique aspect of the small group ministry is its availability to upperclassmen and the peer-to-peer mentorship that is made possible through it. Senior marketing major Jake Zurawski commented that neither he nor his co-leader Luke Calvert had led a small group until this year. However, both men have participated in a small group and found them to be incredibly formative experiences for their relationships with Christ and others. They now lead a men’s Bible study that delves into what it looks like to go deeper in relationship with Christ.
“We all know the ‘Christian’ answers to give when we gather and read over a passage of the Bible, but we want to push each other to share Christ with others and search for opportunities to act on our beliefs,” said Zurawski. “I think the greatest thing about our small group is that it is a place that everyone can come, feel comfortable and be vulnerable. We are a group of guys that love to challenge each other and not shy away from the awkward or tough conversations that Christ may call us to.”
Seniors like Zurawski are able to share the growth they have experienced through their personal involvement with AU ministries with younger students, creating a cycle that continues to foster discipleship and raise up leaders within the campus community.
“With the success of the Discipleship Coordinator program, we realized there was a need to continue to offer opportunities for upperclassmen to grow in their faith alongside a small group of men and women,” noted Palmer. “Often times we also had DCs that wanted to continue to serve the campus, but there wasn’t an opportunity to lead a small group outside of the freshmen halls.”
Johnson was one of the aforementioned DCs who desired to continue on in a faith-based leadership position after her sophomore year serving on a freshmen floor. “I loved the weekly connection of focus groups,” she said. “It is a passion for both [Amey and I] to create communities strongly rooted in God’s call for bearing with one another in all things. Leading a small group was a pretty natural extension of that passion for both of us.”
A variety of faculty and community members have gotten involved leading groups. Dean of Students Dr. Chris Confer and his wife Michelle lead a small group on spiritual formation based on the book “Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows” by James Bryan Smith.
“Michelle and I love to see the revelation and transformation in the students who journey with us,” said Confer. “We are talking through some great content that is challenging and deepening our understanding of faith, and then every other week we get a chance to practice new spiritual formation exercises. We get to talk about our personal growth with these exercises and they also offer some much needed accountability in practicing them—even for the Dean of Students!”
Both small group participants and leaders alike have the unique opportunity of learning from one another in the context of a safe environment that they themselves create.
“We believe that growth happens when we are honest in sharing what is happening in us and take action on what God is saying in our lives, so we challenge each other to live out our faith—not just talk about it,” said seniors Katie Fair and Addison Tracy, who lead a small group called Barriers. “And honestly, sometimes we don’t get it right, but to be able to come back together each week and reflect and process that is huge.”