Movement Building, Resources
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Socially “Hot” and “Cold” Group Dynamics in College Ministry

steam engineCollege ministry bible studies are infamous for being either socially hot or cold; one group hangs out together outside of the group, welcomes new people, and grows closer as another leaves as soon as it’s over, makes new people feel awkward, and never return the following year.

For three years I attempted to solve this group dynamic problem by making the groups “warm”–balancing out socially mature/energetic people with socially immature/quiet ones (mature and energetic do not always go together; nor does immature and quiet. I’m making a general contrast here). In those three years I saw ALL of the groups shrink and end the year with LESS energy than they started with.

Year four our ministry tried something different: letting the “hot” groups get hotter and the warm/cold groups get colder. We stopped seeking balance and focused on nurturing the relational bonds that organically formed between students. The results? Our hot groups ended the year with MORE people and energy than they started with, and our warm/cold groups performed similar to the other years. The net gain was larger in year four compared to those of the previous three.

A ministry structure that does not nourish organic relationships between students will stagnate at some point because it will end up making students work harder than necessary to build connections.

By employing this strategy for two solid years our ministry became significantly more socially mature and became even more effective at reaching out to a larger number of students the following years.

Are you sacrificing long term effectiveness in order to maintain social balance? Have you seen hot groups get hotter and cold groups get colder?

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  1. Excellent post. We’ve noticed this with our students. We have a discipleship chain setup for them to invest in the people below them. But what happens most is they end up investing along social lines rather than according to our “plan”.

    We’ll experiment like you did this next year and see how it goes.

    • thanks. the plan has to be there, but if it errs to much towards structure over relationships then it log-jams.

      staff and the most committed student leaders are the best executors of the plan–they get the vision and have built up enough capacity to push through the lack of relational commitment to keep the structure going. that’s where i would draw the line btw fostering organic relationships and building/maintaining a structure.

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