New This Spring, Community Groups Meet Mondays Opposite Chapel

Following a shift in the spiritual formation schedule on campus, dozens of groups meet across campus, spending time in prayer, reading Scripture, and supporting one another.

By Monique Kleinhuizen '08, GS'16, contributing writer

May 01, 2023 | Noon

Bethel University community groups

Director of Campus Engagement and Student Activities Jenna Holst ’17 co-leads a community group of women who are exploring different types of prayer

Sit down with a student, faculty or staff member, or alumnus, and ask them to describe Bethel. It likely won’t be long before you hear the word “community.”

The word is used often to describe the type of place Bethel is, where there’s not just great academic programs or a lively campus atmosphere, but warmth. At Bethel, we belong. 

A recent shift to the campus schedule was designed to foster community-building in a deeper way among students. Historically, time has been set aside campus-wide for Chapel in Benson Great Hall Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:20-11 a.m.

“We ‘invite, inspire, but don’t require’ students to attend Chapel,” explains Campus Pastor for Spiritual Formation and Care Matt Runion. “I love that model. We truly put it in the hands of students to develop the discipline to choose to be in community, to worship together.”

Small group experiences and discipleship are also key components of faith formation on campus. The Shift program—formerly “RIOT”—is a cornerstone of the first-year student experience. Shift groups meet in residence halls and are led by older students. They’re well-attended, with proximity and relatively open schedules allowing meaningful relationships to form through regular meetings and life done side-by-side.

But Runion and his team have noticed that when students return for subsequent years, a number of factors make it more difficult to meet consistently in small groups. More returning students have cars and work or live off-campus. Their schedules get busier with internships and involvement in academic programs, clubs, and activities. Lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have also impacted students’ ability and interest in connecting with one another face-to-face.

“There’s a sense of isolation and disconnection from each other. As a pastor, I see and feel it all day, every day,” Runion says. “They’re trying as best they can, but they don't know how to do it or don’t see opportunities to do it. What we want most desperately is for them to develop skills and habits to sustain their faith—for life—and you don’t do that by yourself.”

The Christian Formation team has created a searchable, online directory of community groups to help students plug in to a group. It’s organized by interest, time, location, gender, and topic of study. Though the formats differ—and each group has its own content and personality—there are three main components intentionally incorporated into all of them:

  • Students “share their lives” through mutual exchange, accountability, care, and challenge
  • Students spend time in prayer: in some way, prayer plays a prominent role in the life of the group
  • Groups are centered on Jesus, encouraging students to, “be with Jesus, to become more like Jesus, so we can do what Jesus did,” Runion says.

Though they aren’t required to meet on Mondays at 10:20, many choose to take advantage of the set-aside Chapel time slot to meet with one another. Meeting during the campus-wide lull in the modular class schedule allows staff and faculty to step in to lead groups that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Runion also encourages the Bethel community—both on-campus and off—to join him in supporting this initiative in prayer. He hopes that—just as Chapel and Vespers have become a trademark part of what happens on Bethel’s campus—community groups become part of the fabric of a Bethel education.  

“The first step in students’ faith journey is to get to a place like Bethel: to walk the halls, sit in lounges and live in residence halls, and be with people committed to being a covenant people. But just being in a place like this doesn’t challenge and sharpen you like submitting your life to a small group of people, where you have something to offer to them and they have something to offer to you. This is that second step into community.”

— Matt Runion, campus pastor for spiritual formation and care

Ava Johnston ’23 is a relational communication major with a minor in biblical and theological studies, and she started a community group for her fellow women’s soccer players.

“We spend a lot of time sharing what we are struggling with, what we are learning from God, encouragement for one another—and we also spend time in prayer,” she says. “Being teammates provides us the perfect opportunity to do life together and this group is providing us with an intentional space to do that…it has been a huge plus to see our trust grow on the field because of what we are doing off the field. It has been such a blessing to have time to pour into others and be poured into.”

Chris Gehrz is professor of history and co-chair of the Department of History, Philosophy, and Political Science (HiPPos). He co-leads a HiPPos community group with Associate Professor of Political Science Andy Bramsen. They’ve been working through the Lord's Prayer, petition by petition. For Gehrz and Bramsen, it’s provided a unique opportunity to connect with students outside of academic settings. 

“Getting to study Scripture and pray together gives me a regular reminder of what I love most about Bethel: that we can bring all of ourselves—mind, but also heart and spirit—to our life together in a learning community centered on Jesus Christ.”

— Chris Gehrz, professor of history

Jenna Holst ’17 is Director of Campus Engagement and Student Activities and co-leads a group with Lissner Hall Resident Director Mya Kubik ’17. Ten women are learning about and practicing different types of prayer: The Lord's Prayer, The Prayer of Examen, Intercessory Prayer, Lament Prayer, Imaginative Prayer, Singing Prayer, and Listening Prayer.

“This group has been such a blessing to me as a staff member, as it has given me connection points with students I don't normally work with—and platforms to have deeper faith conversations with those that I already know,” Holst says. “We have had sweet experiences with the Lord together in prayer, and shared intimate prayer requests with one another, which bonds our group in a deeper way than any coffee date or meal in the DC could! I love that this group connects women who would normally not know each other's names and gives consistent accountability and space for each of us to connect with God and focus on truth. I'm a huge community group fan, and think this is just another space that makes Bethel special.”

Finance and marketing major Derek Fromm ’25 is part of a men’s group led by Associate Dean for Campus Engagement Nate Gustafson and Associate Dean of Residence Life

Nick Cedergen. The “Donuts and Dudes” group is studying The Gospel-Centered Life, which “talks about the righteousness given to us freely by Jesus and how we can shrink the work of the cross by minimizing our own sins and not fully realizing God’s righteousness,” Fromm says.

“This group has been a great experience to learn more about myself and grow alongside a great group of people I otherwise would not have known on such a deep level. It is a great place to be vulnerable and honest, and I know the guys care about me and my struggles. I have grown a lot from this experience, and I continue to learn how I can ignore some of my sins—and in doing that, I don’t fully let God work in my life. Also, the free donuts are a real bonus!”

Grow Your Faith at Bethel

As a Bethel student, you’ll enter into a genuine community that’s striving to discover what it means to live out Christ’s love in a complex world—together. From Chapel to Vespers student-led worship to community groups and discipleship opportunities, there’s something for everyone, at every stage of their Christian journey.

Learn more