Desiring that students strengthen fellowship with their neighbors, Walker Hall and the Student Ministries Leadership Team have forged a new partnership.
While campus-wide Growth Groups have been a John Brown University tradition for instilling spiritual growth, a new pilot program focused on tying together social and spiritual aspects seeks to empower students as leaders on their halls. A resident, designated as a Growth Group Leader, coordinates weekly devotional meetings for their peers with the support of their resident assistant.
Genesis Ramirez, sophomore international business and marketing double major, is a SMLT student director and Walker Hall resident helping to oversee the new program. “The purpose of creating a pilot program with Walker is to have an extra point of leadership in the hall. Walker, coupled with SMLT, wants to reach out to students more effectively and help them to get involved on campus,” Ramirez said. “Having two points of leadership per hall will support the RAs in their task of keeping connected with their students. Also, it will help students to have someone else to reach out to.”
Walker, due to its central location and proximity to the SMLT offices, was selected as the Growth Group pilot dorm. “Since we wanted to take advantage of the flexibility that Walker has, we thought that starting growth groups in a central place will be helpful to engage with the students. Also, Walker is a fairly big dorm where we can reach out to more students and easily place them in small groups. Both aspects made the process more practical and effective,” Ramirez said.
Leading Legacy hall’s Growth Group, Farren McIntosh, junior outdoor leadership ministry major, focuses on empowering fellow students through the theme “Building Your Faith.” Summarizing her goal, McIntosh said, “How can we provide resources to the students so that they can creatively pursue Christian fellowship and investigate, dig deeper into the Word of God and their relationship with God?… We’ve already got this set community so let’s dive into that and create a Growth Group that’s specifically towards the needs of the girls on this hall.”
As a resident assistant in Walker, Daniel Arias Elizondo, sophomore mechanical engineering major, sees how the program has benefited his residents in its first few weeks. “We spend an important amount of time in the dorms. For this reason, the Growth Groups were created as a safe space for the residents to study the Bible, discuss different topics, and find other Christian friends that can become a support in the living areas,” Arias Elizondo said.
The importance of fellowship drives not only Growth Groups but also interactions with all residents for leaders like McIntosh. “The biggest thing it has is a built-in community where even if you can’t make it, you don’t change where you live for the next nine months. So, where I’ve seen other Growth Groups struggle with accountability and things like, ‘I can’t make it this Wednesday. I’m just not part of the group dynamic for that week,’ or ‘I don’t have time to read this study so I’m not going to go,’ [this program] allows for more of ‘this is your community and no matter your attendance, you’re still a part of it.’”
McIntosh has witnessed other residents wanting to take charge as well. “What’s been cool is that you have a wider age-range on this hall. There’s a couple of the older girls who are ready to pour out,” McIntosh said. “There’s a space for them to stand alongside the other girls … I get to worry about the logistics and they get to love on the girls, which is a dream come true.”
Ramirez encourages all students, no matter their year, to join a Growth Group. “As a freshman, being in a small group can help with the process of adjusting to a new community and the college life in general,” Ramirez said. “On the other hand, growth groups are also perfect for upperclassmen to gather with other upperclassmen and discuss the main challenges of life as they graduate. It does not matter at what stage of your life you are at; small groups drive us closer to Christ by creating meaningful relationships.”