Small groups launching spring semester for chapel credit

WEB BLURB: In an effort to encourage individual spiritual growth, optional small groups will offer core chapel credits for students next semester.

By Christian Herrera

GETTING PERSONAL: Small discipleship groups of no more than 10 will be launched this spring, targeting  beginner Christians. The goal is to engage students on a more personal level without distractions they face in current chapels. (Photo by Christian Herrera)

Eighty-four percent of the university’s students self-identify as Christians, 14 percent as beginner Christians and two percent as nonbelievers, according to the Reveal Assessment  survey of the student population conducted fall 2013.

About half of the student body participated in the survey, campus pastor Arthur Wilson said.

“We wanted to get an accurate picture of where our students are spiritually,” Wilson said. “We wanted to get an understanding of how our institution impacts their spiritual growth and development.”

Wilson defines three different levels of Christian maturity: believers, followers and disciples. Because many students are at the beginner level of faith, the campus ministries committee wanted to find a way to help students grow from one level to the next.

While Wilson said he believes chapel is vital for Christianity when it comes to fellowship, having the opportunity to be mentored by mature followers of God is “the way people truly mature into followers of Jesus Christ.”

“Jesus molded his disciples this way,” Wilson said. “As campus ministries, we wanted to set up the stage and create an opportunity for students to build those types of relationships with caring adults [and] mature followers here on campus.”

To appeal to this type of spiritual growth, the campus ministries committee will launch a voluntary small group opportunity, starting the first eight weeks of the spring semester. It will be offered at 11 a.m. on Fridays, either replacing Divine Hours or coinciding with it. Core chapel credit will be given to those who participate.

Wilson said the groups will meet in various locations across campus.

Although sophomore Cody Melin said he likes the idea of small groups for chapel credit, he hopes Divine Hours will not be replaced.

“For someone like myself who has a hard time fitting chapel into their schedule,” Melin said, “this could give me an alternate chance to get my chapel credits and avoid paying the fine. If they replace divine hours, I’d be upset because it’s more of a traditional style, and I grew up with a Catholic background.”

Earlier this semester, students were asked  in a survey who they would enjoy leading small groups if they were to participate in the experience.

“We gave them no names,” Wilson said. “We didn’t have a list of popular people and have them fill in the bubbles. It was completely up to them.”

In response, the committee decided to meet with every suggested facilitator. Over the past five weeks, the university conducted more than 50 interviews with faculty, staff, and area pastors concerning their vision.

“Overwhelmingly, the feedback we’ve gotten from the majority has been very positive,” Wilson said. “Not only do we see small groups as a value, [the potential facilitators] see it as well.”

Although certain individuals are “in high demand,” Wilson said the facilitators’ names will not be announced until late this semester.

After the initial eight weeks, Wilson said he hopes that every small group does not end.

“We hope that facilitators have opportunities to connect and build relationships with students,” Wilson said. “This is something time has shown really produces faithful followers of Christ.”

It is a challenge to influence that type of commitment, Wilson said, because part of the spiritual formation program at the university is earning chapel credit.

Junior Zach Grable said participation in a small group for chapel credit would make him feel uncomfortable.

“It’s just really awkward,” Grable said. “That means I have to interact. I’d rather just sit in Divine Hours and hear them speak. If small groups replace Divine Hours, then I just won’t get Friday chapel credits.”

Senior Evan Wolford, however, said he believes in order for the student body to experience spiritual growth, personal communication is beneficial.

“To develop individual spirituality,” Wolford said, “it’s probably better than a large-scale chapel. I think small groups is a good idea because it allows more opportunity for discussion, and that’s what some people really need.”

Although students’ thoughts on small groups for chapel credit and spiritual development are mixed, Wilson said he believes God will have His way with the students. The first step, however, is getting the students to participate.

Chapel credit is important,” Wilson said, “and it’s bait, no doubt about that. But here’s the thing. Any person – no matter who you are – desires to be in relationship with others. And we believe very firmly in the power of relationships.”

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