Big Ideas & 'Best Of'Blogathons

Large Group Revolution

Question: how many live events (talk shows, concerts, etc) have you seen that follow this format?

  • Ice Breaker
  • Skit/Announcements
  • 3 Songs
  •  Talk
  • Maybe one more song/Pray

I’m guessing none of them. I’m also guessing that these elements look very familiar to you.

For as long as I’ve been around collegiate ministry (this will be my 15th year), this is what constitutes your typical “large group” gathering on campus. It doesn’t seem to matter if the group is 25 or 125 or 1025, we instinctively do these things week in and week out.

To be fair, most entertainment follows a pattern. Movies use a three act structure. Classic sitcoms have the cold open, the jokes, and the comfortable endings. Late night talk shows have the opening monologue, the guests, and the musical act.

Having a tried and true structure is good practice.

But inside of each of those formats there are innovators. There are the Tarantinos who mess with the order of the acts. The Seinfelds that eschew soft, sentimental morality tales. And there are the Jimmy Fallon’s who take a well-worn format and breathe a new life into it.

I became a father 10 months ago, so I don’t watch late night, really ever, but I love what Jimmy Fallon does. He is not as polished as Letterman, he’s not as weird as Conan, and he’s not as workmanlike as Kimmel, but he does at least two things extremely well:

When you think about the mid-to-large sized gatherings you host on campus do students pick up on your community’s creativity and joy?

Campus ministers often lament the lack of resources, the high rate of turnover, and the inability to out-program entertainment. I’m not here to argue we need to out-Fallon Jimmy Fallon.

But far too often we stick to the familiar, we play it safe, and our gatherings lose steam and lack impact, primarily because there is little creativity and joy.

So, I would like to challenge campus ministers, student leaders, and anyone else doing the “large group” thing on campus this fall: try something different, take a risk, and let’s revolutionize the mid-week gathering.

At Boston University we are entering into a new, experimental phase. We’ve never done a mid-to-large gathering before. Up to this point we’ve left the worship and teaching to our church partner, and focused our campus activities on fun, community building, justice events, and small groups.

But, as our community grows, the need to bring everyone together on some kind of regular basis has become clear.

Here’s what our semester is going to look like:

  • Typical first week, connecting events, including our “First Fiesta” (aka Large Group)
  • 9 weeks of small group gatherings, interspersed by 3 more “Fiestas”
  •  A Fall retreat, and a one-day urban immersion called ReadRetreatServe
  • A handful of other connecting, fun, theme-based events

The Fiestas are the context for the “revolution”.

Music will be done by local bands. Food will be simple, but plentiful.

Teaching will be TED-style: short, provocative, and pointed towards discussion.

Conversation will trump conclusions and application (save that for the small groups).

The goal is to create the unexpected, to provide an easy invite for our core students’ friends, and to generate broader interest.

I’m curious: how are we going to revolutionize the large group gathering? How are we going to implement joy and creativity into those spaces?

I’d love to hear ideas, feedback, questions, and critiques!


  • Thanks, Stephen! “When you think about the mid-to-large sized gatherings you host on campus do students pick up on your community’s creativity and joy?” – Wow that’s a great question for leading any group from a corporation or a family. Good stuff!

    • Stephen Boutry

      Thanks Micahel! Appreciate the feedback!

  • Jim Whaley

    Stephen, Great post! Love being challenged to ‘not be normal’. We can definitely relate to this post. Our large group certainly doesn’t fit the norm as well. But your statement, ‘do students pick up on your community’s creativity and joy?’ personally challenges me. I will for sure b taking this to my leadership team this fall.

    • Stephen Boutry

      Awesome. Thanks!