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Why the Student Growth Group Model?

Growth Groups are part of the discipleship model for Mountain Brook Baptist Church, and we have decided to extend the Growth Group discipleship model into our Student Ministry. I know this might raise questions or concerns about the model, expectations, and implementation. If you’ll allow me, I’d love to try to address some of those concerns and give you a little more background into my thinking as we launch this new avenue of spiritual growth. 

We want to approach the Growth Group experience (and all of life with our students) with grace and generosity for one another. No other aspect or program of our Student Ministry has any stated expectations for attendance. Students can come when they are available and/or choose to do so. This is true for Sunday Morning Bible Study, The Brook, and most of our other special events & activities. We have chosen for Growth Groups to be different.

We have chosen to set forth expectation for students participating in growth groups for at least a few reasons. 

First, as a general rule, all people and especially students often rise to the bar set before them. Often, we adults signal our belief about the importance of something to students by our expectations for them in it. Educators, athletic coaches, and others give students high expectations in their arenas of influence. Students often meet or exceed the expectations placed on them in those arenas, while simultaneously being shaped to intuitively see those arenas as important and valuable. 

I believe Spiritual Formation is the most important thing in a person's life and hope by sharing high expectations I’m signaling to our students that spiritual formation is important, ultimately even more important than all those other good (but ultimately not eternally significant) arenas which ask so much of them. Restated, for students who choose to participate in Growth Groups we want to signal to them that we believe their growth as a disciple of Jesus is an important thing worth the effort it takes to prioritize in their very fully scheduled lives. We truly do think their presence, preparation, and participation is important.

Second, continuity in presence helps students to build trust with one another. Because of the nature of Growth Groups and the depth and vulnerability of relationships we hope to build within the groups, sporadic attendance or disengagement would be detrimental to the overall intention of the experience.

Third, and related to the second, the adage that one often gets out of an experience what one puts into an experience has at least some basis in truth. We want Growth Groups to be a meaningful, transformational discipleship experience for our students. If students regularly show up prepared and fully participate, I trust it will be a significantly more transformational experience than if they do not. 

For students who choose to participate in growth groups, we would like those students and their families to choose to prioritize Growth Groups. I feel the 70% attendance mark is an attainable ask for most; if it helps you, you might also think of it as being free to miss 30% of meetings each semester. I also feel it is attainable for our students to read a short passage of scripture and memorize a single verse each week. My hope is it will be such a valuable experience for our students they’ll show up 100% of the time, read much more than a short passage of scripture each week, and memorize the Bible by the yard. Nonetheless, as I noted above, in my experience students do best with clear expectations. This is why I attempted to be clear in my expectations for attendance, reading, memorization, and engagement - Presence, Preparation, Participation.

That said, we are not intending to be overly focused on the particular number of times a student misses nor what percentage of the weekly reading or memorization they complete. Expect no dogmatic legalism here!

Each week every student will have opportunity and be encouraged to share how reading and memorization is going for them. We’ll celebrate with those for whom it went well that week and lovingly encourage those for whom it didn’t go so well. None of our leaders will handle that time of sharing in such a way that any student would feel shamed or discouraged. 

The purpose for all we do together is to grow as disciples of Jesus whose seemingly impossible high expectations (be perfect as God is perfect) are exceeded only by his limitless grace. We’ll attempt to follow his model as best we can.

I know some are also concerned that setting such expectations might push students away from faith rather than drawing them toward Jesus. One is right to be concerned about such things because many students in fact do hang up their faith when they go away to college (or even before). Drs. Kara Powell & Chap Clark of the Fuller Youth Institute did a great work a few years back in researching the reasons why students often leave the faith after (or even during) high school. They published their findings in "Sticky Faith” - the title drawing on the idea of growing a faith that will “stick” into adulthood.

I’d encourage you to consider taking a look at their work in either Sticky Faith or The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family or any of their other great resources at their website.  

In a nutshell, their research findings highlight a few things that make faith much more likely to “stick” for young people. Those were: a web of intergenerational relationships, a robust understanding the gospel, a safe place to doubt, and, ABOVE ALL, their parents. Not surprisingly at all, parents are the #1 influencers when it comes to spirituality in young people. This is a humbling and challenging thing for each of us as parents to consider.

It is good Baptist theology with which I wholeheartedly agree that ultimately deciding to follow Jesus or not is a decision that no one can make for an individual except himself or herself. In all areas of life, but especially in matters of faith and discipleship, adolescence is the journey from childhood to adulthood, from full dependence to healthy independence (or better interdependence).

At the same time, I also recognize that the family is the primary place of discipleship in a child/adolescent’s life, and as Christian parents, while we cannot make the ultimate decision for our kids, we do have a responsibility to do all we can to raise them to be all God is calling them to become - praying all along the way for them to choose to follow in the way of Jesus. Mountain Brook Baptist and our Student Ministry wants to come alongside your family as you do just that.

Perhaps these (grace-filled) expectations for those participating in Growth Groups might lead to some good conversations in your home about how priorities are decided and lived out for your family. Perhaps you will take opportunities to engage together as a family in scripture reading and memorization. Perhaps you will even find an avenue for honest conversations about your own journey as a disciple of Jesus.  

I welcome further conversation about these and/or any other concerns you might have. Our student ministry team and I are always open to hearing from students, parents, and families and finding ways to better come alongside you in your journey of faith.

I hope many of our students will choose to engage in a Growth Group will find it to be a meaningful part of their discipleship journey.

Thank you for the privilege of partnering with your family.

Blessings,
Ben

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