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Weekly Large Group Worship Events: Dying, Growing, or Both??

Recently on my Blog (www.arlissdickerson.blogspot.com) I posed the question, “Has the Day of Weekly Large Group Worship Events Passed?”  Some believe that it has or that a ministry is more spiritual or discipleship oriented, if they do not have a weekly large group worship event, but rather focus on small groups.  I got a ton of comments and different views.  Some even asked why I was opposed to large group worship events for students.  It points to some of the different thoughts and challenges in regard to weekly college student worship events.pews

Let me state two basic ideas and commitments of my own.  First, I love large group worship events for students and cannot imagine a ministry I led not having one.  Second, I believe every ministry is different and must make decisions relative to their own situation.  No two campuses or ministries are just alike.  But, my point in addressing this issue is that a ministry should not drop their large group event because it may be the new idea and cool thing to do.
Some are dropping their weekly large group event because other church or campus based ministries with which they are partners offer a similar event and it is just more of the same.  While others are in what can only be described as a “Competitive situation” and they have decided they cannot do an event that matches the bigness, quality, experience or whatever of another ministry’s event and so it is time for them to do something different.
A key question that has to be asked is, “What is the purpose of our large event?”.  There are three basic purposes of a college large group worship experience:
  • Community:  It is a time and place that students can gather to meet others who share their commitments and to feel loved and known.  Many attach some sort of social event or meal before or following many or even each of their events.  At the very least, they make hanging out before and after an obvious part.
  • An Entry Point: There is no big commitment necessary to come and sit in and be a part of a large group worship.  A student does not have to share their views or even know how to find Leviticus in the Bible.  This event is used by many to point students to their small groups where the more individual discipleship takes place.
  • Worship and Teaching:  Some College Ministers say this is the time and place that their core students can invite friends and know they will hear the Gospel proclaimed.  Others speak to the ignorance of the Bible by even students who have grown up in the church and the necessity of basic teaching.  It also offers the venue to speak to specific college student questions and issues that will likely not be addressed in a worship service at church for all age groups.
Jonathan Clark, Baptist Campus Minister at Murray State in Kentucky, says, “It (their weekly large group) is not the most important thing we do, but it serves as a catalyst for many things.”  He goes on to say that it, “connects students to our small groups, which is the most important thing we do.”
The Baptist Collegiate Ministry at McNeese State University in Louisiana where Keith Cating is Baptist Campus Minister has just built a new 9,300 square foot building at a cost of $1.6 million that will seat 220 for worship and 150 at their Lunch Program (they have 2 back to back with 300 in attendance.).  There are other large Baptist Campus Centers under construction in the south.  So, it is not just this one place.  Yet, some say one of their struggles with having a weekly large group event is not having an adequate or convenient place to have it.
Issues that Affect Collegiate Worship Events:
  1. Students expect excellence or some would say are more picky due to attending high profile events.
  2. Students feeling known and cared about over the long term can outpace the speaker being super cool.
  3. Many Students want to be allowed and even challenged to think….and participate in the event…not just have a performance put on for them by professionals.
  4. Events need to start and end on time….Respect they are students with many obligations and commitments.
  5. Students need to be allowed and taught how to lead in such events to prepare them for service in churches for years to come.  This is an investment of time not just for now, but for their service for the rest of their lives.
Questions to Ask Before Quitting Your Worship Event:
  1. Why am I quitting….really?
  2. What other events or ministries will replace the teaching, community and entry point aspects?
  3. Are there others I could enlist that would be a rotating team of quality speakers that might ease the strain of just one person speaking each week?
  4. How will not having a weekly large group event affect the  awareness of our ministry by students who are not already core students?
  5. Honestly, have I invested the time and planning to have a quality event or am I just stumbling into it each week?
  6. Then, what is best and right for this ministry….not the one down the road or that gets all the press?

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Guest blogger Arliss Dickerson served as Baptist Campus Minister at Arkansas State University for 32 years and currently serves as a leadership consultant for Collegiate Ministry through Lifeway.

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