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Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Phil 3:8)
Ministry must always be focused on growth. Chi Alpha is one of the places where this is most apparent: things move so fast in college ministry that the moment we relax and just try to maintain where we are is the moment the ministry starts shrinking.
It’s even more apparent because making disciples is a part of being a disciple of Christ. If a ministry isn’t making new disciples, it’s not healthy. You can’t be a healthy disciple of Christ and not make disciples.
So growth, making new disciples, must be a constant focus of every ministry.
But there is always a tension in this because growth requires change. How can a ministry keep its identity while still changing? We have to change somewhat to bring in new people (bringing in new people is itself a change anyway), but we also want to preserve who we are and what the ministry is.
And it can be very tempting to turn inward. You’re a leader in Chi Alpha because you love your group. You love it as it is. You want to enjoy that. But if we turn inward, if we become too content with how things are, we will never become more. Instead, the ministry will start to die.
It’s very easy to give up things you don’t like in order to grow. Something that doesn’t work well, or something that nobody likes, those are the things that are easy to drop.
But growth as a ministry requires giving up good things as well. Things we love. Things that may even be a foundational part of the ministry’s identity at times.
We give up good things to make room for better things.
Growth means that your group won’t continue being quite as tight knit as it has been. In a ministry of 40 it’s easy to know everybody, but that’s virtually impossible in a group of 200.
This was a hard transition for us to make. As a staff member, it’s a weird feeling when your ministry has grown from 15 people to more than 200. Students start talking about people in your ministry, and you don’t know who they are. And on some level, you feel like a bad staff person because you don’t know everyone in your ministry. But the reality is that no one can be expected to know everyone in a ministry of that size.
I know student leaders can feel that same way, too, when they’ve been a part of that transition. And if you’re a student leader in a Chi Alpha of 20 to 40 people right now, and you want it to grow, that’s a transition you’re going to have be prepared to make.
Trust me, it’s a good transition. It feels weird, and you will miss the closeness of the smaller group. Having a larger impact on your campus for the Kingdom of God is well worth it.
Probably the hardest of these growing pains that I’ve seen is in small groups. Especially as a student leader, you love your small group. You’ve discipled the students in your small group and you are all really close. And you’ve gotten big, because people love to be a part of a group like that. People want to be a part of a tight-knit community where people love spending time together and really care for one another.
So you started your small group with just you and two other people and, as it got better, more and more people came and it just kept getting better and more people kept coming and now your small group is over 20 people. And your small group is awesome and the relationships there are awesome and you just want it to stay like that forever.
But it can’t.
The larger a small group gets, it can’t stay as close-knit as it was. So you can either choose to devote yourselves to staying that close—in which case you become totally inward-focused and stop bringing in new people—or you can split.
Far too often, small groups choose to turn inward rather than split. But when a small group turns inward, it stops growing. And when it stops growing, it stops being healthy.
No, the healthy thing for a large small group to do is to split.
But splitting means becoming more distant with some of the people in that group. You won’t be spending as much time with them as you were before. It just won’t be the same.
But it shouldn’t be the same. Every relationship is different and so every small group is different. In order to grow, you have to be willing to maybe put some distance between you and some of your close friends so that you can bring in new friends, new disciples. It’s for the cause of Christ—you are making disciples.
I’m not saying you have to ditch your friends. Your friendships should remain strong. But they’re going to be different, that’s true. You aren’t going to be spending quite as much time together. And that’s all right.
Rejoice and celebrate the time you had to be that close. And rejoice and celebrate that all of you are going to be creating a similar environment and friendships with new people. From one awesome small group of 20, you are creating many new awesome small groups! You are creating something that will impact generations of students for Christ!
What is the alternative? The alternative is to turn inward and just focus on the people you have now. And then what happens? At the end of the year, some of you will probably graduate or transfer. Semester after semester, people will fall out—because of graduation, transfers, dropping out of college, or even fallouts in the relationships—and the group will die. And in four years at the most, nothing will be left of it.
You can make the sacrifice and give up something good in order to gain something that will last forever. Or don’t make the sacrifice and it will die. The choice is yours.
Whole ministries have made the latter decision. And often times they’ll wonder why they’re shrinking and dying out when the ministry is so awesome. It’s because they’ve turned inward. They weren’t willing to give up what’s good for what’s better. Sometimes they’ll be saved from extinction by a change in leadership. Sometimes they aren’t.
At Missouri State Chi Alpha, we look at everything we do after every semester and ask ourselves (1) What was terrible and we should never do again? (2) What was good but needs improvement for next time? (3) What was good but needs to make way for something better? We do this, not because it’s pleasant (it means days on end of day-long meetings to reinvent your ministry every semester), but because we want to impact the campus for the Kingdom of God, and if we don’t do it, we limit our impact.
I’m not saying you should do this every semester. We’ve found that the bigger the group gets, the more often you have to do this evaluation. When we were 15 people, we did it once each year, and that was enough. But we are in a fast-paced environment, and if we don’t adapt our methods to the next generation of students, we don’t impact the next generation of students with the Gospel.
Although it’s unpleasant, we have to be like Paul and countless other Christians before us. Make sacrifices for the Gospel. Giving up things that are bad and that you don’t like isn’t a sacrifice. Sacrifice is giving up something you love for the cause of Christ.
Are you ready to sacrifice your favorite thing in your Chi Alpha ministry in order to make room for something better?
All views expressed on this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, U.S.A., U.S. Missions, and The General Council of the Assemblies of God.