My family and I moved back to Florida at the end of the summer. We’ve found ourselves juggling new jobs, four small kids, and a snake (long story). Visit our house, and you’ll find happy chaos. That happy chaos means we can’t realistically bundle our crew up and head to someone else’s home for a small group. Not right now.
But I’m deeply committed to small groups, committed enough to try something new. I’ll do as much as I can to connect myself with a community of people gathering around scripture and prayer to connect with God and each other. And I’d encourage you to do likewise.
But, take warning, finding a great small group in your life after college may be surprisingly challenging.
On the Other Side of Graduation
Chances are, your college small group came to you. Eager leaders invited you, followed up with you, and welcomed you. Your fellowship announced the small group at a worship night or large group meeting or via an email list or ‘Snapped’ it at you. Perhaps a friend invited you.
The soil of a college campus is one of the most fertile places for a small group to grow. The campus buzzes with intellectual curiosity and nobody knows everyone. Everyone you encounter has an education advanced enough to earn admission to the institution. The demands of adulting still rest lightly on our shoulders. And small groups were designed with you in mind: the schedules, the topics, even the icebreakers.
That’s not so on the other side of graduation. Life’s demands escalate. That’s what you wanted when you got your degree, right? More responsibility, more opportunity. You face new constraints on your time and energy. Your brain tells you: “Sure, small group sounds nice. But so does Uber Eats and Netflix.”
And the small groups available to you might not be led by or filled with people your age. They might not have ever heard of an InterVarsity-style Bible study. They might not study the Bible at all. In fact, your church may not even offer small groups.
None of this should surprise us. Our churches exist in a different context and serve a different population than our college ministries. Of course they don’t offer us exactly what we found in InterVarsity. That’s okay.
Community in Every Context
Though our context changes, our need for community never goes away. God designed each of us to live in reconciled and grace-filled relationships with others. Follow Jesus for any length of time and his Spirit will nudge you toward fellowship.
We see this so clearly when we look at Jesus. Although he had plenty of one-on-one conversations with his disciples, he drew a community around himself. And though he preached to crowds, he offered his best spiritual training to his friends as they walked with him or sat at his feet in small groups.
When Jesus launched his movement via the early Christian church, the believers gathered together in their homes daily, ate together, and listened to the apostles’ teaching. They experienced great joy in their life together.
When persecution broke out, the church graduated from their close and connected community and scattered out into the world. Along the way, they continued to form small groups. They continued to pray together and hear from God. They continued to care for each other and advance God’s work in the world. They continued to eat together with glad and sincere hearts.
What more can I say about the monastic communities, about the Moravians and the Methodists, about the missional microchurches and house churches operating underground to break hard ground for the kingdom of God? What can I say about the daily prayer meetings, about the reams of manuscripts printed, about the ways God gave boldness to lead to those who were an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity?
Your small group experience in InterVarsity stands as part of a much larger story of God’s work in the world. Take heart. There’s more than you’ve seen. And God has something for you in this next season.
3 Tips to Help You Find A Small Group in Life After College
1. Factor Relationships into Your Search
I encourage you to make a church’s small group ministry and opportunities a core concern when you look for a church after graduation (click here to learn more about finding a church). Worship and preaching matter. Sacraments matter. Ethnic diversity matters. So much goes into our calculus when we go looking for a church...but don’t forget about small groups!
You need space in your new fellowship to know people and be known by them. The particulars about that context may look very different from what you’re used to (I mean, I’m in an online small group!), but the Christian life is life with relationship in the center. And we can’t see growth in our relationship with Jesus if we aren’t connected in meaningful ways to the people he loves.
Here’s a question to ask as you search for a church: How might I build meaningful relationships with people here?
2. Be Open and Flexible
I’ve had thousands of InterVarsity students graduate out of ministries I’ve led over the last 15 years. This challenge comes up for them over and over again. Your next experience of community won’t be like your last experience of community. And that’s a blessing.
God wants to do something new in you and through you. He’s bringing you into a new season of life and into a new set of relationships. Grieve the change, then lean into the new. Join the Sunday school. Check out the men’s / women’s ministry. Take initiative. Don’t roll your eyes.
Here’s a question to ask as you take this next step: What might God have for me to receive in this new situation?
3. Receive Before Leading
This is the piece of advice my InterVarsity staff gave me as I graduated. He knew leadership instincts and momentum would have my 21-year-old self trying to take charge when I landed in a church. That wouldn’t have been healthy for me. We’re God’s beloved children before we’re called to serve. We’re invited to be servants as the foundation of our leadership. You don’t have to jump in and lead right out of college.
Be an active receiver. You’ll radiate blessing to the people who you encounter who are already leading. Listen to them with respect. Ask them questions and learn from them. Show them honor. Find something positive in every session. Pray for the people around you.
The secret-sauce for a lifetime of ministry in your church: your giftedness doesn’t require a position. Embrace that for a season (even a brief season!). When the time comes for you to lead, you’ll be ready.
Who knows how the Lord might grow you during the season of receiving right after graduation?
Steve Tamayo serves as the Associate Director of Strategy for LaFe, InterVarsity’s Latino Fellowship, and as a Digital Media Specialist for InterVarsity's Multiethnic Initiatives. He’s married to Amy and together they have four children and lots of adventures. You can find him on Twitter at @yostevetamayo.