We launched MERGE in the fall of 2006 with three goals: to connect 18-25 year olds to God, to the church, and to each other. Our first two gatherings in September and October of 2006 consisted of worship and teaching. That’s it. And then we started asking ourselves what we could do to facilitate connections between the people coming to MERGE. It was time for our first adjustments.
We took a step in the right direction by replacing the rows of chairs with round tables. We took breaks in the message for discussion questions, trying to keep the prompts surface-level enough to not be invasive while staying connected to the theme of the teaching. Breaking the ice was a slow process, but it was clear that this was taking us toward fidelity to our goals. We stuck with this model through the end of that school year and took a break for the summer. The first year of MERGE was done, and to be honest, we still had more questions than answers.
How do you forge community from scratch?
How do you nurture that community in a way that makes it formative for people's faith?
How do you ask discussion questions that are safe without being superficial?
How do you make a room that seats 2000 feel great with 200?
How does a college age ministry find a focus in a town with more than half a dozen campuses ranging from commuter and tech schools to a small evangelical college to an elite private Catholic university?
How do you reach out to 18-25 year olds who are coming to weekend services but are otherwise disconnected when the church has dozens or even hundreds of programs and serving opportunities vying for promotion in the weekend service?