Motivating Students to Make Calls to Faith in Small Groups

As a staff worker, you probably see why it’s important for your students to learn how to make small group calls to faith. But your students may need more convincing. Giving a call to faith makes people nervous—and that’s a good sign, because it is a big deal! Here’s a process to help you prepare them to take such an important risk.

1.    Invite them into risk. Don’t make it mandatory or you may foster resentment. Instead, invite them to trust Jesus. You invite people to risk so that their faith will grow.

2.    Start with early adopters. Working with a student or faculty member who is critical and difficult to motivate will be hard on both of you. Instead, I recommend working with early adopters first—students who are already willing to give it a shot and make it work. Then, when they see fruit, have them tell their stories to inspire others to do the same.

3.    Be together in it. Try to get a bunch of students to make calls to faith at the same time. I recommend making two calls to faith in a one-month range. That way, it will feel like you’re in this faith-leap together with your students. Have them text or call you after every small group so that you can all learn from what they are seeing God do. Then, together, you can all continue to cultivate faith throughout the community.

4.    Process their fears. Help students and faculty name and process their fears in Jesus. Handle the pushback, but press through with grace.

5.    Coach the call to faith. There’s a big difference between training someone to make a call to faith and coaching them. The first merely transfers information, while the second makes sure they follow through on taking the risk. Good coaching helps them practice to make sure they are faithful to make the invitation. Have your students role-play and watch how they do it in practice. We’ve found that, unless students practice the call at least three times before doing it in their small group, they’re unlikely to follow through. (See “How to Make Small Group Calls to Faith” for complete instructions on how to prepare.)

6.    Debrief and celebrate. Debrief is everything: it’s the difference between creating momentum around faith or unbelief. If you can, be there when students give a call to faith in their small group, and then debrief with them afterward. Staff member Geoff Gentry writes: “Sometimes it feels like debrief and celebration are on a spectrum. Debrief without celebration is depressing. Celebration without interpretation is shallow. We need both. Holistic debrief has healthy and fun celebration.”

7.    Create faith momentum. Testimonies are key; someone needs to tell their story of responding to God every week. Do this in real time. Keep momentum hot by giving God glory for all the ways he’s working in a given week.


1.    How much training do my students and faculty need before making a call to faith? If God is giving students faith, release them to take risks, but for the sake of their discipleship, make sure that you are matching the ministry activities they are doing with training, coaching, and excellent debrief. Some basic evangelism training, in particular, is helpful to have in place, such as the Big Story, the 5 Thresholds, relational evangelism skills, and the ability to share their testimony. Still, all of this training doesn’t need to happen before a student can do a call to faith. Sometimes training can happen on the go, simultaneously, or even in a hearty debrief.

2.    What if therearen’t any skeptics or seekers in my group? Everyone in your group needs to respond actively as they encounter God in Scripture. You don’t want to assume where people are at. Some longtime Christians may need to make a first-time adult decision. Others may seem like Christians, but actually don’t yet have a relationship with Jesus. When a leader acknowledges and articulates the importance of a first-time decision, you might be surprised. At San Diego Mesa College one year, we took four non-Christians to camp and came back with seven new believers. Good thing we asked! Offering regular decision moments helps people in your ministry articulate where they are at in that given moment and what decision they need to make.

3.    It won’t work on my campus or with my students. That’s not actually a question, but we hear what you’re saying.And I agree: you should contextualize this. Calls to faith are not meant to be a “one size fits all” strategy. This is merely a framework. It will still need to be molded for whatever context you may encounter.

4.    How much of thegospel do I have to share?There’s a spectrum from someone’s first “yes” to Jesus and their full understanding of the gospel. The Big Story covers the key parts for a first “yes.” Don’t let your students’ pursuit of the perfect gospel presentation keep them from taking this risk.They will only learn if they try it.

5.    What makes a successful call to faith? The leader experiences God. The people in the group experience God as well. The gospel is shared. People respond to God’s leading.

6.    What makes an unsuccessful call? If God asks the student or faculty member to do it, and they don’t. Or if a leader is pushed into it, and their faith is damaged. It’s okay if people say “no” to an invitation, but it’s not okay if the leader says “no” to God.

7.    What about the music and the moment? In large group, light and music often play a part in creating a moment. The same presentation in a small group will feel slick and produced. The strengths of a small group setting are intimacy and personal hospitality. A student can use these strengths to create space for a significant moment.

8.    Isn’t it awkward? Of course. It’s more natural to run away from God. So a first-time response to God may feel awkward, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Deciding to follow Jesus is one of the most significant decisions we can make in our lives. And inviting people to follow Jesus is not only scary; the Enemy also wants to stop you from doing it. Of course it’s awkward. But it’s awkward precisely because it is that important.

**Thank you to the following people who did some crazy risk-taking on the ground, and wrote up their experiences so calls to faith could be done in every corner: Geoff Gentry, Casey Groff, Greg Johnson, Kelly Joiner, Shannon Lamb, Ryan Pfeiffer, and Shelly Scott.