After a two-year season of waiting, GatheringPoint Church of Nazarene in Bourbonnais welcomed Pastor Paul Johnson in early June. The result was a fresh tide of “rebooting,” so to speak. The church’s renewed vision sets a determined focus on reviving individual growth, in turn hopefully fostering involvement in community needs.
One of the changes sparked by this season of rekindling was a restructured framework for GatheringPoint’s small group system. Discussion of the changes began in the summer and a majority of the teams kicked off during mid-October. These small groups meet in the homes of local families with the purpose of building tight-knit communities of friendship, faith, accountability and prayer.
GatheringPoint has Olivet professor David Wine and his wife Donna to thank for rethinking the design of their discipleship program. Wine was a pastor at College Church of the Nazarene University Avenue before becoming a professor, and the Wine couple hosted small groups for over 15 years. GatheringPoint pastors Paul Johnson and Justin Knight are former members of the Wine’s college group. Soon after they were appointed to staff, the pair approached Wine, asking him to help reinvent the program.
“God has given me a lot of vision for this,” Wine said enthusiastically, and his passion for the project is undeniable to those who discuss it with him. Wine references the idea that the very first small group is God. The concept of Father, Spirit, and Son implies that the very makeup of God suggests a need for community and fellowship. Furthermore, he noted that Jesus’ earthly intentionality of serving a “small group” of 12 disciples motivated him to establish the group limit of 10.
After months of careful prayer alongside his wife, Wine completed a proposal, organizing a pyramid of deliberately-focused small groups. He drew out a series of 10 “L”s, or leaders, each assigned five “X”s, which stand for small group leaders. This installs a series of checks and balances, keeping every level both accountable and fueled spiritually.
The results have been visible in the growth of small groups. Group numbers have skyrocketed from seven to over 40 within weeks. New groups have been established steadily in order to keep up with the number of applicants. Thanks to a request made by Olivet Chaplain Mark Holcomb, the leadership team agreed to form college groups as well. Therefore, 12 of the groups currently consist of Olivet students and other college-aged individuals.
Shifting groups from the church location to host-homes generates personal connection between congregation members. Professor Dale Hathaway and his wife Heather are two of many Olivet staff members who are hosting a small group for college students. The couple previously served as group leaders for around ten years. Heather said it was amazing to get to know Olivet students on an individual basis. She recounted the story of how their small group took special interest in her eldest daughter’s homecoming. They helped do her hair and went along to the restaurant to “approve” of her date. The group became a lively home event, and stands as an example of how Olivet students have been “adopted” into local families through small group experiences.
Olivet senior Lindsay Hathaway, daughter of Dale and Heather, was able to be a part of the first day of the small group experience in a different host-home than her own. She said that she chose her group to find mentorship since she saw many common interests between herself and her host family. Students Tatiana Gonzalez and Nathanael Smith listed friendships and a desire to study and discuss Scripture in-depth as their biggest motivations for applying for groups.
While motivations vary from person to person, the results have been clear. Members of GatheringPoint are eager to grow, and the new small group system could provide the reawakening for which they have been waiting.
—Mariah Garratt, Staff Writer