Over the last decade I’ve been responsible for countless iterations of young-adult small groups: some have been good, some bad and some downright ugly.

I’ve learned a lot, not least how to cater for increasingly complex dietary requirements. I know the ingredients that make for a tasty vegan curry that even meat eaters would go for. 

But what ingredients make for small groups that change lives, relationships and frontlines?[1]

Let’s assume the basics: gather, food, prayer, bible, discussion. These elements matter, but as I reflect on my own learning, one thing stands out: when it comes to making small groups more than the sum of their parts, the move from safe space’ to brave space’ is crucial.[2]


Brave space doesn’t just ask that we bring our authentic selves, with our wounds and confusion. Safe space does that well enough, without necessarily helping us grow. Brave space asks us to go further – reflecting honestly on who we are and what we think we know, in order that we might better respond to God’s invitation to us. Small groups that embrace brave space are those that take responsibility for their own discipleship.

I’ve found that safe space has a stronger gravitational pull than brave space. Small groups left unchecked will always tend towards the therapeutic. To combat this, in my current small group we’ve instigated some policies that help keep us in brave space. 

Here’s three:

First, we’ve made the word should’ illegal. It invokes guilt, not a desire to change. Every time someone says their application is they should read the Bible and pray more”, we stop them. Then we ask them to rephrase without the illegal word. And that transforms applications from guilt-induced behaviour management into creative experiments in discipleship.

Second, we speak in the first person. Millennials in particular love to speak in the second person with a raised inflection at the end of a sentence: You know when you have to make a difficult phone call at work and it just makes you really anxious?” Instead, we challenge them to own it by saying, I have a difficult phone call to make at work and it’s making me really anxious”. Now they’re in a place to hear God’s invitation.

Third, we press the implications of the Bible into the ordinariness of life on our frontlines: primary schools, student corridors, GP practices, death metal bands. (For example, here’s a great story about how a similar small group wrestled with what grace looked like in one particular workplace). And when it comes to prayer, we don’t just pray for that week’s crisis; we pray we might bear fruit where we are, as we model God’s character, make good work, minister grace and love, mould the culture around us, speak up truth and justice, and share the gospel. The week after, we ask how it went – and then we do it all again.

Being a brave space rather than a safe space might not sound like a huge shift, but in my experience, the small groups that model brave space have attracted, kept and transformed young adults better than any others. Unless it’s just the vegan curry.

[1] At LICC we use the term frontline’ to mean any place you regularly show up with people who wouldn’t define themselves as Christian’.

[2] Check out Invitation to Brave Space’ by Micky ScottBey Jones

This blog is part of 7 Conversations, a suite of interactive, integrated resources for leaders in local settings seeking to understand young adults and bring them into a rock-solid relationship with Jesus.

7 conversations your church needs to have to reach young adults

7 conversations your church needs to have to reach young adults

A suite of resources to help your church reach, engage and disciple 20s and 30s Find out more