Occasionally I have written for a few other places–including a blog for young adult ministry. Here’s something I wrote for them earlier this month:
After traveling around the Northeast with other young adults to explore different young adult ministries, I came to a conclusion: Young adult ministry is small group ministry. Despite the great preaching we heard, every successful ministry we visited used small groups to build community. I’m sure someone will find a young adult ministry somewhere that has been successful in the long term without developing small groups, but as a rule, they are essential to forming young adults into disciples.
Dallas Willard observes in The Great Omission, “As much as I believe in the power of preaching for conviction and decision, I would be naive to believe that preaching alone produces disciples. If preaching could produce disciples, the job of making disciples would be done.”1 Community is necessary for spiritual growth and it’s part of the answer to making disciples—but just forming small groups of people will not create the life-change. The New Testament specifies no particular structure of small groups for the Church. Small groups are not essential for their structure but for the life produced in them. Building community in the local church is not essential because of a perceived social need, but because it is the life God intends for His followers as Christ transforms their lives.
While small groups form the backbone of most successful young adult ministries, small groups of people are not inherently spiritual. One of our local papers publishes an annual guide containing all kinds of small groups to join. You can walk the mall, wear red hats to dinner, and learn to knit or play folk music with others. I’ll admit that I’ve never actually gone to any group in the guide. While there are undoubtedly believers in some of these groups, they are not Christian Communities. What makes Christian small groups spiritual is that we celebrate Christ in our midst. In our young adult small groups and in one-on-one discipling relationships, we’ve noticed that young adults are hungry for spiritual food and in depth Bible study. We need to be careful to create opportunities for them to grow spiritually—giving them more than they can find in a local knitting group. Jesus must be the center of our community if we want to create life-giving communities of faith.
So, how do we form groups centered around Jesus? Here are a few questions to think through as we move in the right direction: Do we pray about what our groups need to study? Or do we choose coolest thing without thinking about where the group is spiritually and what they need to grow? Are we stuck moving from one curriculum to the next and dealing topically with books of the Bible? Should we take a break from curriculum and consider studying a book of the Bible in depth?
- Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2006), 5-6. [↩]