splitsville (a crazy fridea)

I’m not exactly sure why it would take me 12 years to consider applying this form in the way I’ll explain today, when it was – in fact- basically the main form of college ministry I was involved in myself.

When I went to Texas A&M, I jumped in pretty quickly to a church that just happened to draw the largest number of students down there. Our enormous Sunday morning gatherings (800 or so) began with some very “collegiate” worship, followed by announcements. But then, except for the very rare Sundays when we stayed together, we split into probably two dozen different classes.

The classes were generally “set” for the semester (though the participants could move around if they felt like it). So over my time at A&M, I participated in a small group studying God’s Invitation, a larger Freshmen class, a large Bible-book class taught by an adult, and a class working through the book Experiencing God (that I actually co-taught with a gal). There was another one in there – possibly a men’s class? – but no more for me, since I graduated rather early.

This format certainly isn’t unheard-of among church-based college ministries. However, many church-based college ministries also have a(nother) Large Group Meeting during the week, with the standard single-teacher form. Ours didn’t (but that was likely because other ministries – including the five-thousand-student-drawing Breakaway – had midweek things).

But even though this is what I enjoyed there, until recently I’d never considered the possibility that any Large Group Meeting of a certain size could offer the same sort of “split form.” Following fellowship, worship, announcements, skits, videos, etc., any large-enough college ministry could offer not one single teaching time, but multiple topics and teachers. So that’s this week’s Fridea: the split-form large group meeting.

From the perspective of college ministry “norms,” this is definitely from funkytown. While it’s certainly possible that somebody out there uses this format, I don’t remember ever seeing it. (If you know a ministry that does, I’d love to hear about it.) But with my recent focus on letting our purposes for students govern our methods, as well as examining the college ministries here in Dallas (including the one I volunteer in), I’m suddenly quite intrigued by this idea.

Potential pros? This allows for and even pushes “self-discipleship” – making students discern the learning they need the most, at this time. It allows for more of your qualified leaders (either students or adults) to participate in a teaching role. It offers variety, which college students – and all the moreso Millennial college students – love.

Doesn’t this just replicate small groups? It could, and that’s no good. But these groups may actually offer variety the small groups don’t (in their teachers, or across lines of school year, gender, or maturity). If your small groups require pretty solid commitment, these probably wouldn’t – they’d still function as “front door” (assuming that’s the goal of your Large Group Meeting). And these splits wouldn’t necessarily be very small, anyway.

And while this takes away some opportunities to steer the entire group at once, you could – of course – only use Split Form in certain weeks of the school year.

So there you go. I feel like this is one of those Frideas that could get me laughed off the internets, or could revolutionize some ministries. It’s still one I’m pondering, so don’t judge me for thinking out loud!

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8 Comments

  1. Benson,

    I think this is a fantastic idea! Definitely one worth considering and discerning as to whether or not it’s an approach that God might want to use from one ministry to the next. I do think it would require ministry leaders to be able to clearly articulate the difference/s between these “classes” and what they offer through “small groups”.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Yeah, you’re definitely right. The point of this would generally be to have the exact same purposes as you have for the teaching portion of the large group (because it would only split for the teaching, not for anything before or after).

    You’d lose any purposes centered around everyone hearing the same thing: For some college ministries, that’s a BIG part of the large group teaching (it was in my last gig, as I tried to steer the course of our restarting ministry). But for many, it doesn’t seem to be.

    So unless these splits became really small groups, this would still be more on the “proclamation” side of things, rather than “discussion” or personal discipleship. Although for some really large ministries, it might allow for some audience interaction that wasn’t possible before (if they want that).

    But I’d love to hear the overlap you see between this and small groups, ’cause like I said – this idea’s VERY fresh in my head still.

  3. I have no idea, and that’s definitely a concern. But I’m curious what exactly you mean by “meeting momentum,” too – Do you mean the spiritual momentum developed in the worship? Or the energy of the group? Or…?

    It would certainly create a “break,” and that could possibly be detrimental. But the important question is if that break actually causes “less” of something real – less attention to the teaching, less likelihood they’ll come back, less effectiveness in the teaching, etc. On the other hand, if it just means the night “flows” less or is less “exciting,” then those things may not actually matter in true effect. Not sure. Using that momentum thought, I guess the key question to ask is if it hurts any momentum that’s actually carrying the group toward something beneficial. If so, then the loss might not be worth the gains.

    Likely, any group that actually tried this would leave one teaching location in the main room, so for newbies, etc., it would only a momentary disruption. In fact, the switchover could be done amidst a “get-to-know-each-other” time, which I recognize isn’t a norm for college ministries, but it certainly happens some.

    But please know – I’m not fighting for this idea. This is an exercise in contemplation, and while I am indeed intrigued, it’s good to hear concerns about why this might not work.

  4. kimberly smetana

    I think it would be awesome even if the large group were split and each section was covering the same material. I know that may sound pointless at first, but if would give more people a chance to develop leadership skills (if you have enough ppl willing to step up, and if you don’t, well maybe that needed to be exposed!) It could will be a tiny start to transforming the 80/20 rule.

    I’d like to try splitting into guys & gals. There are some things I’d love to go deeper with with the girls that probably wouldn’t be wise in mixed company. I’m sure it’s the same for the brothers. Not forever…just some weeks. Maybe a month or a certain study. There’s enough socializing before & after that I don’t think splitting for discussion/ study would be a deterrant for members or visitors.

  5. kimberly smetana

    oh and I’ve just been spending more time in our CIA again recently so I’m not exactly sure what the main purpose may be this semester, which as you said would need to be taken into account. Like you, just thinking outloud. For cryin’ out lout I’m not even staff or an intern or anything and listen to me talking about it like I am! lol

  6. Those are some phenomenal thoughts, Kimberly. You’re right about some ministries needing to let some people have the chance to share.

    And the guy/girl split opportunities are definitely there. Every once in awhile, I have seen ministries do that for specific talks. But there’s probably room to do that more often, at least if it fit a ministry’s goals (and especially if there weren’t a lot of other opportunities – like in small groups – for single-gender discipleship).

    You’re becoming a college minister… like it or not… :)

  7. Our campus church with GCM at Illinois (Illini Life Christian Fellowship) does this for our “home fellowships.” Every other Tuesday, they come together as a large group “Combined Home Fellowship” for an hour of our time and then the second hour we split up into our individual HFs. It allows us to hear a teaching and then discuss the topic more in depth. I personally love it because it forces digging into the topic, which is easily forgotten after our outreach large group meeting on Saturday nights.

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