HANNIBAL – Hannibal-LaGrange University has launched a new core group program to help students strengthen their faith through a community environment.
Implemented by HLGU Director of Campus Ministry and Missions Titus Vester, the newly established core groups provide an option for students who wish to collaborate with other students toward the goal of life together enriched by scripture.
“Scripture calls us to live in a community and exist in a community,” Vester said. “We’re described as being a family of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. The idea was to provide a core group of friends that students could rely on.”
Prior to the creation of the new core groups on HLGU’s campus, student resident assistants were asked to lead bible study small groups in their dorms and help with on-campus ministry work. While the resident assistants are still relied on for leadership, Vester says the focus has shifted to volunteer leaders for the groups.
Before the new program was implemented, Vester said only two or three students would show up to respective dorm bible study time; now, eight leaders have stepped up and are currently running a total of seven groups on campus. These student leaders assisted in the recruitment of students to their core groups.
“I like telling our leaders that they are missionaries, not preachers,” Vester said. “You are not trying to give a message each time you meet in hopes your group listens to you. Instead, you’re trying to foster a community where you invest in each other and are involved in each other’s lives. Live among them and do life together with them.”
The core groups are a key component toward accomplishing the three goals of the HLGU Department of Campus Ministry: experience spiritual growth and a profound love for God, engage in Christian community and service, and exemplify Christ through godly character and conduct.
The groups aren’t all about bible study, as the groups are encouraged to participate in each other’s lives and not just study scripture. Core groups may forgo a weekly Bible study in favor of getting coffee or attending a group member’s athletic contest. According to Vester, this allows the groups to talk about lives for a chance to apply their Bible study to life.
The seven groups on campus range in concentration. Some are varied with students all across campus, while others may be just student-athletes on a particular sports team who all are gathering together. The leaders also come from diverse backgrounds. While some do have a Bible or Christian ministry major at the University, they come from programs all over campus. The groups numbers range from smaller four-member groups to a 15-member Bible study.
“We were overwhelmed at the number of students who wanted to be a part of this,” Vester said. “It was the first time we’ve done this and I didn’t know what to expect as far as interest, but when it was all said and done, we’re near 25 percent of our students involved.”
Student leaders select the course of study their group wishes to take with guidance from Vester. Some students are doing lessons from books of the Bible while others are studying hermeneutics. Vester believes that when aided by the department of campus ministry and missions, student leaders are better-equipped to use their gifts.
“We’re empowering them to do what they’re already doing,” Vester said. “They already wanted to lead, they just didn’t know how to get groups like this started, and we help them use their gifts most effectively.”
One key focus with the new core groups is giving new students an opportunity to engage with the returning students on campus. The intentional community provided from these groups could assist freshmen or transfer students with their transition to HLGU by giving them a core group of friends to rely on and live life with.
Vester has set lofty goals for the next step of these groups. He hopes that this time next year, over 50 percent of HLGU students will be in a core group. In the next year, he’d also like to see core groups begin focusing on community involvement or missions. He has a vision of core groups adopting missions trips or doing community service to continue the goal of serving together, a picture of HLGU’s motto, knowledge for service.
“There are a lot of benefits to having core groups, but primarily, they teach students to love their neighbors,” Vester said. “To build a community and learn to love God in a profound way, not only through their Bible study, but how they relate with one another. That’s the way Jesus taught us to do: love God, and love your neighbor. We want to give them that community and assist them to identify in God.”