Archives For Community Groups

ILife Transformed coverI Corinthians 2:12-6:2 is a powerful section of scripture that lays out how believing the gospel motivates us to proclaim the gospel. Easily my favorite passage on living missionally for Christ.

Jeff Lark (Cru staff in the Red River Region) developed this great study on II Corinthians. The study follows the model of the fallen condition focus which is excellent at pointing students to their need for Christ (e.g. – “How do you fall short of Godʼs ideal? How does this passage expose idols and corruption in your own heart?”). After exposing your fallen condition, the study asks questions like: “How, from this passage, does Christ change you? How would believing the gospel in a deeper way overcome your stubborn sin?”

This is really where you get to experience Christ in the passage. Only Christ can change you and your group. Just trying harder wonʼt cut it. All of us desperately need Christʼs forgiveness, power, and promises to live the Christian life. And, again, you donʼt want to only lead your group to information. But, as you drink of the living water, you want to lead them to the Source. – Jeff Lark

Life Transformed mapThis study on II Corinthians has a:

Both versions have a Field Guide. The Field Guide takes you through the passage over the course of 5 days prior to discussing it with the group. This is great material for students to use in their quiet time. The scripture for each section are printed out within the study so students can mark it up.

Life Transformed Field GuideThe leader guide has the Field Guide woven throughout to emphasize the leader’s need to study the passage during the week to prepare for leading a group discussion. The student workbook has the Field Guide at the back of the book as optional material for participants to go through on their own during the week to prepare for their group meeting. Leaders need to mention this to the students so that they know it is back there.

We printed the studies out for our students (ends up being a little less than $1 at FedEx Office with the Cru corporate discount).

Instructions on printing:

  • Print two-sided on regular sized paper. Blank pages have been added to provide a front cover and a back cover. We used cardstock for the front and back cover, and our books were bound with top and bottom staples (if you provide your own cardstock to FedEx it’s MUCH cheaper).

Thanks to Samantha Barnes (Cru staff on my team) who made some minor updates to Jeff Lark’s original to make it available to share with everyone!

Several people have asked how our transition to a new Community Group structure went, now that we have one semester under our belts (I shared about it here).

The short of it: the jury is still out, but overall we like it. We’re going to make some minor tweaks and give it another shot next fall.

Overall, our Community Group numbers are pretty down this year. But we knew that coming into the new system. We had a significantly fewer number of groups, so we knew we’d be reaching less students this year (with 4 leaders per group instead of 2). The hope was to have fewer, bigger (and healthier) groups. And over a few years to grow to more groups/leaders.

We had a 15% drop in total number of students involved in small group Bible studies. And a 30% drop in number of freshmen involved. That tells me that in this new system we are doing a better job at retaining upperclassmen, but worse at reaching freshmen.

Some relevant facts on the studies:

Seniors / group 1.3
Juniors / group 2.5
Sophomores / group 2.9
Freshmen / group 4.3
Avg Group Size 11.0
Avg Male Group Size 9.8
Avg Female Group Size 12.5
# Groups over 10 People 17
# Groups under 10 People 9
Largest Group 23
Smallest Group 4

What we’ve learned (the good and the bad) in the new intergenerational structure:

  • In the first six weeks, when the upperclassmen and freshmen studies met separately, many of the upperclassmen studies languished. Many of the leaders got discouraged because they didn’t have anyone coming. Next fall, I think we will just start the year as an intergenerational study. We’ll meet in the dorms and call it “The Quads Bible Study” (or whatever dorm it is) but it will be open to Freshmen-Senior. The theory (from Florida Cru) was that freshmen would be hesitant/intimidated to come to a study with upperclassmen in it, but we don’t honestly think that is a roadblock for many freshmen.
    • Good insight on this issue from one of our staff, Samantha Barnes: “The groups that meet in the dorms have a good presence of freshmen, and the groups that meet off campus have a good present of upperclassmen, but it’s hard to get the other age range of student in the other location. If groups start out in the dorms, I think we would worry that upperclassmen would not be as willing to come back to campus.”
  • Our Freshmen Pursuers have had a little bit of a hard time finding their place in leadership. After the first six weeks they aren’t in charge of a group/content anymore (though they’re still supposed to be pursuing freshmen all year). So I think they’ve felt a little out of place and not like real leaders.
  • Having 4-5 leaders of each group has translated into passivity among some of the groups (especially among the guys). It’s textbook Diffusion of responsibility – “a phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction when others are present.” We’re still trying to work this one out this spring by (again) clearly communicating everyone’s roles:
    • Coach – How are you doing at helping the CG Leaders and Freshmen Pursuer lead effectively?
    • Community Group Leader – If the freshmen pursuers step into your role next year, how well do you feel like you have prepared them to transition? What can you focus on this semester to help equip them as leaders? What would it look like for you to pursue upperclassmen this semester?
    • Freshmen Pursuer – How well do you feel like you pursued freshmen after the group merged last semester? What would it look like for you to pursue freshmen this semester? How confident do you feel in stepping up in leadership within the group, especially next year? What ways would you like to grow and be equipped to prepare you for that?
  • We’ll see how the groups do in transitioning leadership. The hope would be that all Freshmen Pursuers will be Community Group leaders next fall (and hopefully be really good at it since they’ve seen it modeled). All Community Group Leaders would graduate to being Coaches. And we’ll challenge freshmen to step up and lead as Freshmen Pursuers next fall.
  • Some honest feedback from our students:
    • Five leaders is wayyyy too many! (Three seems to be a good number: two girls take turns leading content, one is not leading content but can help facilitate discussion)
    • “Leader” does not have to equal leading content
    • Help cast vision for more leaders to pursue people and see that as their main role as a leader in the group – i.e. if a new girl shows up to the group, the CG Leader doesn’t have to worry about finding someone to meet with the girl during the next week because specific girls always do that
    • More clearly defined roles may help with the feeling that there are too many leaders:
      • The person(s) leading content shouldn’t stop pursuing people, but there should also be people who see that as their primary role and that it is a valid role for a leader
      • Older students should help younger students pursue freshmen since they have done it before – don’t put it all on the sophomores and think it has nothing to do with you
      • Upperclassmen naturally pour into freshmen even if they aren’t a “leader” because when they were a freshman, another upperclassman took them under his/her wing and they want to do the same for someone else
      • Idea of leaders being a “shepherd” for their group — it’s not just a once a week commitment. How are you shepherding that person’s spiritual growth while they are in your group?
      • It should be the norm for CG leaders to meet with one person from their group each week (this doesn’t seem to be happening)
    • On Multiplying groups:
      • communicate multiply, not split
      • leaders divvy up students instead of letting them pick
      • leaders need to see the groups as two independent groups, even if the two groups do fun socials together each month
      • divvy up students without them present, then leaders send students a text: “Hi Katie! This is Taylor and I am so excited that you will be in my discussion group now! How can I be praying for you this week?”
    • Some Coaches aren’t attending their group – maybe we need to make sure they know what they are signing up for and that the group has fewer leaders without them

Hopefully as we process our growing pains aloud (here, online!) it is helpful for other college ministries.

What are your thoughts? Have you tried something similar to this? Any questions/advice?

 

50 Dollar Party

January 21, 2015 — 1 Comment
This spring we’re giving each of our Community Groups a $50 bill to use to throw a party (an idea we stole from some other Cru movement – can’t remember who!)

 

50s
We encouraged our leaders to take the $50 to their group and allow the group members to help decide how to invest the $50. It’s a fun, tangible expression of “we want our Community Group to be on mission to reach this campus.” The hope is that it will challenge freshmen to step up and take ownership of the party and catch a vision for God using them to reach their dorm. 

 

All we asked is:
  • This is not $50 to throw a party just for your group – it should be held in the dorm that your group is connected with (or with the segment on campus, like a party you are inviting all civil engineers to) and it needs to be outward focused.
  • Take a picture of your outreach party and tag us on Instagram, post on the Facebook leadership page, etc.
What are some creative ways you have resourced students to live on mission?

 

photo courtesy of tenaciousme

This year we are totally restructuring our Community Group system.

For decades we’ve had a pretty typical model – Freshmen studies, Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors.

From talking to Florida Cru, we really liked how their small groups are structured (with 650 students involved in 50 Community Groups, they must be doing something right!):

  • Intergenerational studies (freshman-senior all together)
  • Every group has a target area
    • A lot of them are dorms (80%)
      • The whole Community Group focuses on that dorm all year
      • Most will meet on campus in the dorms every week
    • Others are formed around affinity groups: Epic, Marching Band, Bridges, Greek, AIA teams, Majors (Kinesiology, etc)
  • Freshmen Groups meet for first 6 weeks then gets absorbed into an intergenerational Community Group
    • Freshman and CG’s meet at the same time and night

Intergenerational Community GroupsA few things we really like:

  • Our students leaders will just be in one Bible study – currently, all of our leaders are in a study AND also lead a study.
    • It looks more like life after college (mostly in that you are just in one study – even if you leading it, you can still grow from the community and be challenged by the Word as you process it together)
  • Everyone is engaged in pursuing freshmen (or other affinity group)
  • It makes it easier for students to invite their friends from their classes to the study they’re leading (because it’s not just for freshmen)

For us, what really prompted the change is that in the past few years are number of CG leaders has dramatically increased (like 4x as many), but the number of students in CG has not grown much. We want to be more effective in helping as many students as possible to experience life change through Community Groups.

Specifics on how the leadership of the groups is structured:

CG Coach (usually seniors)

  • Primary job= Coaching their 4 CG Leaders
    • Coach the CG they’re in as well as one other CG
    • Two separate coaching appts/month
      • With the 2 CG leaders  from their study & then 2 CG leaders from the other study they coach
  • Just show up to CG – Don’t necessarily lead – can lead in vision and mission and shepherding the group, but not the content and details of the group
  • Why Seniors?Wisdom and Experience

CG Leader (usually Juniors)

  • Primary Jobs= pursuing upperclassmen and leading the Community Group
    • in Content of the study
    • to stay on Mission (e.g.- reaching the Quads and upperclassmen peers)
      • set direction and plan details of outreach
  • Why Juniors?
    • Experienced leaders but not as much future pressures as seniors (not as focused on post-graduation yet)
    • More focused on what areas they desire to make an impact in while in college

Freshmen Leader (usually sophomores/first time leaders)

  • Primary Jobs= pursuing freshmen all year and being trained to lead CG next year
  • Lead the first 6 weeks of freshmen studies
  • Focus on freshmen throughout the year – connecting them to the Cru movement, doing follow ups, relationally pursuing them all year
  • Why Sophomores or First Time Leaders?
    • most connected relationally to on-campus
    • most excited and passionate, energy
    • Closest to just have gone through what it’s like to have been a freshmen (sophomores)

We’re hoping it gives sophomores a trial run at leading so they will be really effective leaders their junior year. And it gives our seniors a crucial role (instead of slowly fading out).

Here’s a one page summary of the intergenerational model.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes for us this fall!

What are your thoughts on this intergenerational model?

 

 

The absolute best thing our Staff did this past year was implement a once a month checkpoint with our Community Group leaders (we got the idea from University of Florida Cru).

Here’s why it was so helpful – our monthly CG coaching meeting kept our most important leaders motivated and missional all year long. As I said in a previous post, Community Groups are the backbone of our ministry. So if our CG leaders are dying on the vine, the fruit of changed lives will not happen.

Many (most!?) times in our monthly checkpoints, we’d meet with CG leaders who were about to throw in the towel. They had zero people coming. And they were tired of pursuing flaky freshmen. Or they had 2-3 freshmen coming to studies and had given up hope of getting a more robust study. Our staff meeting with them help them recalibrat their dreams to keep pursuing freshmen so that freshmen could experience a more healthy community of 6-8 peers.

In 2013 we lost 30% of our Community Group leaders over the course of the year. This year we only lost 5% on the women’s side and 17% on the men’s side.

In 2013 we lost 55% of our freshmen from December to May (260 freshmen in CG’s in December 2012 – by May 2013 we had 117). In 2014, we only lost 1% of our freshmen (160 freshmen in December to 158 in May). Obviously the Monthly Coaching Appointment wasn’t the only factor in retaining freshmen in Community Groups. But it definitely helped that 1/3 of our leaders didn’t quit (like the previous year).

Here’s how we set up the appointment with CG leaders:

  • We are committed to helping you succeed as a Community Group leader. I want to meet with you and your co-leader to help you think through where your study is headed and work alongside you to help your study thrive!

The general flow of a monthly CG coaching meeting:

  • Time in the Word
  • Who/Where/When
    • Who
      • Write down who’s coming to their group and talk through next steps for them:
        • Verbally process through – where are each of them are at spiritually –
          • “Are there any guys/girls in this group who you don’t know where they’re at spiritually?”
          • “who from this group have you already met with?”
          • “who is on the fringes/not connecting?”
        • Prioritize meeting with those guys/girls and sharing the gospel with them
        • Who do you want to start pursuing as a possible disciple (make sure you communicate: “don’t commit yet!”)
    • Where are you meeting (give them suggestions – meet on campus! meet in a key person’s room)?
    • When are y’all meeting? Is that time working well?
  • How are you doing in each of the 4 areas?
    • Content (if upperclassmen – what content are you doing?)
      • How is it going in cultivate self-discovered learning (discussion oriented vs lecture)?
      • Do not preach at them –make sure that as a leader, you are not doing the majority of the talking!
    • Mission (how can we help you grow your study?)
      • Get on Mission Hub during your appointment and show them how to look up guys/girls in their dorm checked – “I want to be in a Bible study”
        • Encourage them to call these people
      • Right before your study: MAKE PHONE CALLS/TEXT AND KNOCK ON DOORS (College students are FLAKY.)
      • Keep an updated contact list and include everyone on a group reminder text the morning you meet. You want to do this every week the rest of the semester.
      • Take solid freshmen girls to do follow up with you
      • Encourage your freshmen to invite their friends to CG
    • Prayer
      • Ideas: pray for the world, prayer walk, pray through scripture, prayer requests, prayer partners, fasting
    • Community – do you feel like people are starting to connect?
  • What are next steps in each of these 4 areas?
  • Plan the next month
  • End on vision
    • Encourage them – what you’re doing is significant!
    • It’s a slow process of investing on a weekly basis in these guys/girls. The little things will begin to pay off (the texts, little conversations, times to hang out). God is using you to change their lives!!
    • If there’s no one coming to their study – there’s 300 girls in the Quads who need to know Christ! Keep going for it. It’s worth it!!

We ended up meeting twice a semester with our CG leaders.

Here’s notes from each from each meeting:

 

We’ve discovered that sustained spiritual growth does not happen in an environment where people simply sit in rows, listening to messages in complete anonymity. Sustained growth takes place where people are personally challenged and encouraged in their relationship with God and with others. – Andy Stanley

On our staff team, we talk a lot about how Community Groups are the backbone of our ministry.

It’s how we measure success – “how many got plugged into CG’s thru Cru?”, “How many got in a CG thru our first 4 weeks outreaches?”, “How many freshmen are involved in CG’s?”

Why? Because It’s where life change happens. And it’s where students come to Christ.

Community Group small squareOn our campus, the vast majority of students consider themselves “Christians”. So the typical student has been inoculated to the gospel and is now resistant to the real thing. It takes a semester (or longer!) of hearing the gospel of grace taught and discussed for it to really hit them – “I’m not a Christian – I’m just a moralistic deist.” And it’s usually not a one time “conversion experience” but a gradual sinking in.

We’d rather have 100 people in Community Groups than 300 at our weekly meeting.

 

I usually say something like this at the first Cru meeting:

9 times out of 10 you’re not going to be able to grow in college unless you do it together with friends. If you don’t have friends that help you process what it looks like to pursue God in college, you’ll really struggle with how to work what you’re learning about God into your life. Unless you have some friends who are a couple steps ahead of you spiritually – and a couple friends right with you spiritually – and a couple friends behind you spiritually – you won’t grow.

That’s why we say – If you’re not in a Community Group, you’re not in Cru. I would highly recommend you checking out a Community Group – try it out. Commit to a group for 4-6 weeks. Give it time – time to connect with the others in your group. Process what you’re learning about God together with friends. Let’s do this together.  [basically an adaptation of part of a Tim Keller sermon]

What role do small group Bible studies play in your ministry?

Do you agree with – “If You’re Not in a Community Group, You’re Not in Cru”?

gospel centered life imageGood news! For the next few months the great folks at New Growth Press are offering Cru staff 50% off of the Gospel-Centered Life Bible Study.

The Gospel-Centered Life study is phenomenal. Incredible heart-probing, Christ-centered content. Click to see a GREAT sample chapter or here for an excerpt on how “The Gospel Propels us Outward”

GCL was written by a couple of former Cru staff – Bob Thune (now a pastor in Omaha) and Will Walker (now pastoring in Austin).

 

We use GCL with all of our freshmen studies every fall. We love it because we can know for certain that freshmen will come out of the fall having clearly heard the gospel EVERY week in Community Group. And it requires almost zero prep for student leaders.

And our plan is to use CGL part 2, Gospel-Centered Community, for all freshmen spring studies. Gospel Centered Community is being released in August and is a great follow up to GCL.

But CGL is not just for freshmen – it’s equally challenging material for upperclassmen studies (and staff!) as well.

We buy leaders guides for all our leaders and participants guides for everyone in our freshmen studies.

 

Here’s how you take advantage of this deal:

Enter the code “CRU” as the Promo Code at newgrowthpress.com or in the World Harvest bookstore [UPDATE: the New Growth site is cheaper than the World Harvest site right now]. Also, if you prefer to call you may give “CRU” as the source code to whoever answers the phone and get the same discount.

 

They’ve asked that only Cru staff use this code so please respect their wishes.

 

Shifts in Focus in the Spring

December 14, 2011 — 4 Comments

part 2 of 3 in a series on Spring Ministry – click here to read posts 1 & 3

Yesterday I shared our Spring Timeline – our game plan for the entire spring semester.

The conviction behind it is this: The spring is the time to get your “reaching-freshmen-team” together and everything you do in the spring should contribute to assembling this team of leaders.

So last year we took a hard look at our spring and thought through what we needed to drop and what needed to add so that when August rolled around we would have a huge team of equipped students who want to invest themselves in reaching the freshmen class. Increasing our leadership base both in quantity and quality.

So here’s some changes we made in terms of:

 

Quantity

We stopped passing out FSK’s in the first week of the spring. I may get kicked off Cru staff for saying that. FSK’s are a Cru staple- a laundry bag filled with a Bible, a book, and some other swag- that we pass out in order to do spiritual interest surveys and generate new contacts.

  • But Staff and student leaders have limited time. And we decided that we could either invest our first 3 weeks of the spring in following up FSK contacts OR spend our first 3 weeks surfacing the next generation of leaders. It’s definitely a tradeoff.
  • But we have a semester worth of new people who attend our weekly meeting. Instead of running around crazy trying to turn over new rocks, why not invest heavily in those who are already in our ministry.
  • I’ll share tomorrow one of the primary things that helped us surface that next generation of leaders – the Leadership Pledge.

 

Quality

In thinking through what new CG leaders have to be good at, we arrived at this:

  • Primarily they need to be good at doing follow ups and initiating with freshmen. They need to be gospel pursuers. And we’d love for them to be adept at this before the craziness of the first weeks of the fall
    • So during the second half of the spring, we committed to taking every new Community Group leader (who will be leading a study in the fall) out to share their faith at least once (preferably twice).
  • Second, they need to know how to lead a study
    • We required all new Community Group Leaders to take a 5 week course- “How to Lead a Bible Study”
  • Third, they need to be good leaders
    • We implemented an application to lead and a one page leader expectation sheet
    • Staff interviewed every applicant one-on-one and had hard conversations with those who may not be quite ready to lead a study
The result?
Last spring was we doubled the number of Community Group leaders compared to the year before (without sacrificing quality) which has resulted in a lot more freshmen’s lives being changed this fall!

 

What do you think about staff focusing on raising up laborers the first 3 weeks of spring instead of a more outreach focus?



photo courtesy of ihtatho