North Central College senior Tyler Ward presented his concept of “fellowship bands” to hundreds of United Methodist college students at the biannual Imagine What’s NEXT conference in Denver, Nov. 7-9. His idea of social faith is growing increasingly popular with North Central College students. Click here to view his presentation.
“I feel like I’m planting the seeds for something bigger,” says Ward, comparing the What’s NEXT event to a TED conference, where people of different cultures and disciplines come together to share novel ideas.
Surrounded by some 600 students, Ward talked about fellowship bands, a social worship method he has researched extensively during his time at North Central College. The idea is simple: get together with a small group of friends once a week and discuss the intersection of faith and personal life. While the concept isn’t complex, adapting it to the lifestyles of modern American college students is as complicated as it is important, according to Campus Chaplain Eric Doolittle.
“It’s about the future of the church,” Doolittle says. “Church attendance has been on the decline the past 20 years, and Tyler is looking at new ways to engage people through faith.”
To prepare for the church’s future, Ward looked into the past. His research took him to Europe in fall 2013 as he worked to awaken the dormant, centuries-old principle of fellowship bands. North Central awarded him a Richter Independent Study Fellowship to conduct his College Scholars Honors thesis research at Canterbury Christ Church University in Canterbury, England, where he studied contemporary Wesleyan societies. He soon became fascinated with fellowship bands and envisioned his fellow students taking part in the movement.
“It’s about being an ‘every day Christian,’ not just a ‘Sunday Christian,’” Ward says. “People are really taking the idea and running with it.”
Since introducing fellowship bands to North Central College during fall 2014, Ward has seen quick growth within the program. Four bands—consisting of three to four members each—formed after the program’s introduction, with more students expressing interest every day. Doolittle says he isn’t surprised with the renewed interest in fellowship bands in a social media world.
“Just because we’re sharing lots of information doesn’t mean we’re building a sense of community,” Doolittle says. “There’s a genuine desire among our students to have a deep, meaningful connection to someone with similar life experiences.”
Ward and Doolittle expect fellowship bands to continue popularizing on campus through Focus, a student-led worship service, and encourage students to form and join fellowship bands this winter.
Ward, who is majoring in religious studies and plans to pursue a leadership role in the United Methodist Church after graduation, envisions the program reaching more students around campus and expanding to schools across the nation. For Doolittle, this attitude defines Ward’s character.
“Tyler takes his faith and makes it matter,” Doolittle says.
The Imagine What’s NEXT conference, where Ward spoke, is organized by students and ministers, with a focus on the future of the United Methodist Church. The event invites students from around the nation to present fresh ideas to rejuvenate faith in the modern world.
Written by Troy Kelleher ’16