Monthly Archives: December 2011

Last time we thought about the most helpful nature of small group evangelism. In this post, we consider another question: what sort of event can a CU small group put on together?

The ‘sports stadium’ model, designed by Christians in Sport, demonstrates that often different people have different sorts of questions, and that a typical way of coming to trust Jesus is a progression through these stages.

CU small groups can tailor their events to their friendships. Sometimes well-meaning small groups hope that an event will serve to introduce their sceptical friends to other Christians, answer all their questions and calls them to repent and believe all at once! In practice, trying to do all of these means doing none of them well. It’s better to focus and to achieve a defined aim based on where your friends are at.

According to the model, events can be tailored to friends who are in the:

Hospitality tents. Those in the hospitality tents at an athletics meet aren’t very interested in the action on track – they’re there for the free sandwiches and beer! Some of your friends may be miles away from even considering the claims of the gospel. They think that Christians are weird, odd and disengaged from real life. If your small group mainly has friends like this, your event should be predominantly social, and act as an opportunity for these friends to get to know Christians other than just their mate. Then the conversation line of, “You’re OK, but all other Christians in the world are plain weird!” should be put in its proper place. The aim of these events is to demonstrate the goodness of the gospel in Christian friendships, which then should lead to conversations about the gospel.

Ideas for hospitality tent events…  enjoying a meal or going out for pizza together, going to the cinema as a group and then chatting afterwards in the pub and so on.

Back of the stands. Those at the back of the stands have some interest with the action ‘on the track’ but aren’t yet ready to take a closer look at what’s going on. This relates to those who’ve maybe seen something of the difference Jesus makes in the lives of their friends, but who consider the gospel implausible. If your small group are sharing their lives with those around them, your friends will often be in this category. The aim in these events will be to create a forum where you can listen to your friends’ questions and to demonstrate something of the gospel’s truth and goodness.

Ideas for back of the stands events…  a Grill-a-Christian panel, hosting your own ‘hot potato’ apologetic discussion (over jacket potatoes!) or discussion supper (where you invite friends to chat over dinner about a provocative subject, like ‘If I were God, the first thing I would change would be….’).  One CU small group did this once a month over spaghetti bolognaise and generated quite a crowd of regulars! Summer barbeques work well too – at exam time, not only can you take time to care for your friends, but someone can speak briefly on ‘What does the Bible have to say about stress?’ or on trust for the future or another appropriate subject. Film discussions can also work excellently – any film which raises questions about truth, justice, hope, certainty, life, death or identity (i.e.  pretty much any film!) should work. There’s more on them elsewhere on this blog.

Front of the stands. Those at the front of the stands have an active interest in what’s happening on the track. This group corresponds to those who are intrigued by Jesus. They’ve seen something of the difference that being a Christian makes, and have received answers to some of their questions. They’re now ready to take a closer look at Jesus’ life and claims. Front of the stands events focus explicitly on Jesus. A dinner and a message, with either a clear testimony or unpacking a passage from a Gospel works very well. One-to-one or group evangelistic Bible studies should be offered interested friends into off of the back of such an event. Additionally, most friends who are at the ‘front of the stands’ will probably be enthusiastic about being invited to church, so do make sure that’s happening too.

On the blocks. As they hear the gospel, some will have the courage to step on to the track and move onto the blocks. This relates to encouraging enquirers to come and have a closer look at Jesus and his claims. Often this will be a chance to thoroughly discuss the claims of Jesus and to ask questions of what it is to follow him. This will be a time to study the Bible pretty closely. This may be done by individual small group members. Occasionally a small group might decide to run an Uncover group, Christianity Explored or Alpha course. This may be particularly appropriate after a period like a mission week.

In my last post, I wrote about how Christians in hall are ‘better together’ in a CU small group, and the amazing options they have to bless their hall of residence. Another bonus of meeting together as a CU small group can be the opportunity to hold evangelistic events together.

In my opinion, events are there to serve and act as a catalyst to ongoing relational outreach. Events are good servants – where contacts can be made, friendships solidified and where something of the gospel can be presented – but they are poor masters. When a small group relies on events alone to engage those around them, their outreach will very likely stutter and fail.

It’s helpful for a CU small group to think intentionally, asking questions like: How can our small group’s outreach be strategic? What sets CU small group outreach apart from other outreach going on?

In most cases, what sets small group outreach apart from other CU outreach elsewhere is:

  • A ‘lower-key’ atmosphere;
  • A less daunting and more accessible environment for non-believers to enter;
  • An opportunity to see the quality of Christian relationships;
  • Geographical accessibility;
  • Increased opportunities to personally ask questions.

It’s not wrong for a CU small group to seek to engage a large number of people through hosting a larger scale event (particularly at times like Freshers’ Week when making contacts is invaluable). But small group outreach is often at its most strategic and beneficial when events are planned with CU small group members’ own friends and contacts in mind. So it’s not surprising that many events that work best involve hospitality and sharing food. But there is room for creativity here…  don’t be frightened to try new ideas!

Some ideas for small group evangelism to follow!

A little while ago I wrote of how CU small groups are ‘just like North Africa’ in the way in which they provide a corporate witness where otherwise there might be none.

As I often say to students, corporate witness should not be under-estimated. Whilst rightly Christians often place a premium upon individuals witnessing to individuals, the Biblical pattern is more commonly Christians witnessing together. There are only five occasions in the New Testament when someone is sharing the gospel alone, compared to dozens where Christians are witnessing together. A helpful question is not just ‘who am I witnessing to?’ but also ‘who am I witnessing with?’

Of course, this principle applies to wider witness than just verbal evangelism. It’s also possible for Christians to minister to the felt needs they see around them together too, and to achieve things that they never could have done by themselves.

How might this apply for a CU small group made up of students from different local churches?

Firstly, there needs to be an attitude of heart in the small group to be a blessing to others. Many of the real needs of students are hidden – including loneliness, concerns about work, and family problems. Christian students sitting with friends, listening and cooking meals when they are needed are acts of kindness that speak about the kindness of God in the gospel.

Sometimes a CU small group can be a blessing on an organised and corporate level. Thinking about this will require the small group to think about the needs around them:

  • What are the needs those in our university community feel? Asking this question moves CU small groups away from superficial ‘needs’, like washing up to be done, and onto genuine needs in those they live amongst.
  • What gifts do the members of our small group possess that might be a blessing to the wider community? This question helps isolate which particular needs the CU small group might meet.

What meeting these needs might look like will vary in different settings. Examples of a CU small group acting together to be a blessing to their community include:

  • Volunteering to help organise and run events in hall or college during Freshers’ Week;
  • Proactively including those who are socially marginalised in their hall into the social life of the small group;
  • Putting on a new year party to invite international students to;
  • Organising a chill-out room during a hall or college ball;
  • Volunteering to be part of the clear-up operation after the college or hall ball;
  • Putting on a weekly toastie bar to chat to people coming back after a night out;
  • Asking hall or college authorities if there’s any way that they can provide practical help in some way.

I once remember a beautiful way in which one CU small group made a massive difference in blessing one individual. The individual in question struggled socially – in hindsight I guess she might have had depression. One member of the CU small group in her hall discovered that the girl in question’s birthday was coming up soon. She’d never have dreamt of arranging a birthday party for herself – and so the CU small group took it upon themselves together to put on a surprise party. Each CU member took on a different area of responsibility and they invited all of the girl’s friends and those who lived on her corridor.

I remember hearing about when she walked into the room of where the party was held. She burst into tears of joy and thankfulness. Within two months she’d started evangelistic Bible studies and within six she was professing as a Christian.

Just a little example of how Christians in hall are ‘better together’, and how gospel generosity points to the generosity of Jesus.

Recently I discovered The World Unplugged, a global study of the use of media by university students compiled by the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) and Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change.

The study asked a sample of students in ten countries– including some in the United Kingdom – to abstain from using all media for a full day. After their 24 hours of abstinence, the students were then asked to report their successes and admit to any failures.

The headlines from the summary of results from the United Kingdom make interesting reading:

  • Craving media: Students wrote that they couldn’t manage 24 hours without media: It felt like going ‘cold turkey,’ many reported. “The only feeling I can relate it to giving up my phone and Twitter is that of giving up smoking,” said one student. “When I gave up smoking and I saw others smoking, I felt as though I was missing out on something. During the 24 hours of the experience I actually craved having my phone, and routinely checked my pockets for it every 5 minutes.”
  • Separation anxiety: Students reported that going unplugged left them uneasy and anxious. “I’m panicking not knowing what is going on in not just the outside world but also my world,” said one student. “My friends, my family, my life.”
  • Out of touch with world news: Students reported that they really missed keeping up with national and global events. The fast-paced cycle of news, students wrote, meant that 24 hours away from the BBC and other outlets felt like an eternity.
  • A long, long day: A day without media was largely stressful, isolating – and educational. Participants in this project wrote about experiencing withdrawal symptoms and being constantly fidgety. They were sure their friends and family had important messages waiting for them – even if it turned out that most of the missed communications were banal. They stared at their phones (which were turned off) and came to the realization that they were lost without the ability to go online on-demand. While some students felt liberated during their media-free day, far more felt a great sense of relief shortly after the 24-hour blackout came to an end:
  • ‘I’m an addict’: Students reported that there was nothing to do without media. They tried writing letters. Re-reading a book that never was a favorite. Aimlessly wandering into rooms. But students felt trapped in routines that they saw as utterly boring:
  • The world goes on without them: Even though students were unable to check their text messages, update their Facebook pages and follow their friends on Twitter, everyone else in their lives could do all of the above, stoking a fear among students that they were being left behind.
  • Missing instant gratification: Students commonly wrote that they needed to scratch an itch during their 24 hours without media — the itch being checking their phones or typing a question into a search engine for quick information.
  • Disconnected from world affairs: The news cycle moves effectively every minute nowadays, and students responded that they felt completely out of the loop with world news after just 24 hours of being away.
  • Dreams of detachment: Students described feeling a sense of triumph upon finishing their 24-hour blackout. Some of them even wished they had the ability to force themselves to ”turn off” from time to time.

Over the next little while – as and when I have opportunity – I plan to think about the consequences of what this survey has noted for those of us promoting evangelism and discipleship amongst university students. I’d love to hear your immediate reflections on these findings too.