From Small Groups to Student Missionaries

It’s small group season at Pioneer!

Discipleship comes in many forms across our campus and our church. One of the most common is the small group. It’s seen in Sabbath Schools, in Grow Groups and the natural connections people form around friendships and common interests. I think about how Jesus utilized the table and fellowship to craft intimate moments of discipleship with those he was closest to. Think about his feet being anointed and the aroma wafting through the house during what could be considered a small group meeting. The lesson resonates still to this day about devotion to God being the most important aspect of faith. Small groups provide the space where lessons like that can learned. They also are places of shared connection and refreshing after times of intense ministry activity or life changes. I think about our campus small groups (which are a strong part of our Grow Group program – there are 16 run by and for our students!). Among those small groups we have a special group dedicated for our returned student missionaries to reconnect and share moments of faith and difficulty from their time abroad sharing and being the gospel.

The following excerpt is written by Kelli Coffen, AU Student and Returned Missionary Teacher.

“I don’t know if there is anything more exciting than someone asking you to share pictures from a recent trip or adventure you have just returned from. The joy of getting to relive the experience and share the details and funny moments you experienced precipitates laughter and smiles from your captivated audience. 

Last week I got to experience this joy as our student missions small group kicked off and our conversation quickly turned to our time serving and the joys and sorrows that accompanied our time abroad. It can be incredibly difficult to capture the true essence of spending a semester, summer, or year as a missionary, but the comradery and understanding that only fellow missionaries can provide is such an exciting place to be. Finally feeling like you can share the intimate details and be honest about the hardships of being away from home, living in a new country, learning how to be a teacher, and just missing out on life back home. How do you convey that to someone who has never experienced it? 

Nestled around tables full of dinosaur coloring pages and snacks, these returned student missionaries began to open up when their fellow SM’s began asking questions about what they did, what it was like, and if they missed it. Soon phones came up to show pictures of beloved students or pets, well-loved living spaces, and favorite dishes they had experienced. Stories poured out from everyone as they related to each other’s experiences and affirmed the hardships and joys that they each experienced in their own ways. It was clear that connections were being made and bonds just beginning to form between these students tied together by a common experience in ministry. 

These intimate connections and personal stories may never make it to the stage of Pioneer or a vespers program, but the impact they had will be felt in the relationships formed from this mutual exchange of lived-experiences. That’s part of the beauty that comes only from small groups– individuals feel empowered to share openly and honestly in a way that church services and pews just can’t provide. There is an implied intimacy that comes with a small group where you are able to learn everyone’s names, make a personal connection, engage in a Bible study or activity together, and truly see one another for who you are. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” I’ve felt so blessed to be able to begin to experience this building up in a small group and cannot wait for more individuals to be able to open their camera rolls and share their adventures to allow us to build them up and build community.” – Kelli Coffen

If you are looking to have a small group experience like the one described above, check out our Grow Groups at There you can find one around aligning with your interests and your discipleship needs in your current season of life. Or, maybe you have a passion to help others by leading one. We have a spot for new groups, too! Either way, don’t miss out on a key piece of the discipleship journey. Join a Grow Group today.