Ten weeks into the school year, 100 students have rallied to create a fast-growing student-led worship gathering they call The Big Group.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in Augusta,” said Shane Padgett, the student evangelism pastor at Warren Baptist Church, who spoke at one of the group’s recent Tuesday night gatherings. “Twelve years doing student ministry and I’ve never seen anything like it. It reminds me of the See You at the Pole movement. It’s entirely student-led.”
Chase, 17, and Caleb, 16, went on a trip this summer with South Carolina’s NewSpring Church.
“We got back on fire. We wanted to go to school and have an impact. We wanted to have a good year,” Chase said. “I said, ‘Why not start a small group?’ Caleb said, ‘Why does it have to be a small group? Let’s make it a big group.’ That’s where the name comes from.”
The first week, five students met for prayer at a Panera Bread restaurant. Soon, the group was holding outdoor worship services at Lady Antebellum Amphitheater. Martinez Baptist Church recently volunteered space. At a recent gathering – just two months after The Big Group was started – 115 students poured through the doors for two hours of worship, prayer and small group discussion.
A 10-member board of students leads the group. They attribute the rapid growth to word-of-mouth invites and their social network of choice: Twitter.
“Twitter blew it up for us,” Chase said.
On Twitter, students share how The Big Group gatherings help their faith. They encourage others to come and have even offered to pay for one another’s gas if it’s the difference between making the trip or not. Local pastors, too, are weighing in, tweeting their prayers and encouragement to the group.
In its short history, the group is already drawing students from Grovetown, Lakeside, North Augusta and Greenbrier high schools. Though it’s held at Martinez Baptist, it remains unaffiliated with any church or denomination.
“We definitely wanted it to be different,” Chase said. “We didn’t want it to have this church-intimidation factor. We wanted it to be God-focused, serious. It’s a really unique thing and not like a lot of youth groups.”
Padgett, who shared his testimony and preached from the Gospel of Luke last week, agreed.
“When you come through the doors here, they mark your hand with magic marker, numbers one through 10,” he said. “You break up into small groups by number. It’s cool, not cliquey. It’s inviting. I think that’s why it works. Everybody’s totally welcomed at The Big Group.”