Small Group Ministry: Beyond the Basics Workshop
General Assembly 2005 Event 3071
Speakers: Rev. Calvin Dame, Dr. Mellen Kennedy, Peter Freedman Bowden
"We are a part of the entire universe yet we think we're apart from it," said the Rev. Mellen Kennedy, paraphrasing Albert Einstein. Kennedy is one of the co-coordinators of the Small Group Ministry Network. Einstein went on to say that if we can get past the "delusion of apartness," we can truly bond with others and "come to a place of spiritual groundedness." According to Kennedy, this is the basic goal behind small group ministry programs, which seek to create deep and meaningful connections between persons in Unitarian Universalist congregations.
Although this workshop was designed to go "beyond the basics," Kennedy said truly excellent small group ministry programs must continue to pay attention to the basics. She gave a quick overview of what goes into small group ministries.
Small group ministries consist of between 6 and 10 people who meet at least once a month under the guidance of a trained facilitator. These small groups create a covenant, which includes basic ground rules, a way to welcome new members, and regular service projects to the wider congregation. The meeting format is fairly consistent, with some kind of opening reading or chilce lighting, a time for participants to check in with each other, content or discussion, a time to check out at the end of the meeting, and a closing reading, song, or prayer. Kennedy also pointed out that any time a new member joins, the covenant must be reviewed.
The Rev. Calvin Dame said that in order for small group ministries to succeed, "What there needs to be in place is a vision." Dame, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta, Maine, is the president of the board of directors of the Small Group Ministries Network.
Dame also said that small group ministry programs need both empowered lay leadership and support by the congregation's minister or ministers, in order to move beyond a basic program. (In congregations without a paid minister, the congregation's board must fully endorse the small group ministry concept.) The minister(s) and board should support the overall vision of small group ministry, and ideally the minister(s) should preach at least once a year on small group ministry, and offer strong support to lay leaders. Conversely, a minister cannot implement small group ministry by herself or himself. Dame's congregation in Augusta, Maine, has one of the longest-running small group ministry programs of any Unitarian Universalist congregation.
"What do you do to assure the quality of your small group ministry program?" asked Peter Bowden, co-coordinator of the Small Group Ministry Network. A key problem for small group ministries, according to Bowden, is what he calls "small group ministry drift." This happens when small group ministry programs drift away from the basic concepts of the program. To keep from drifting, Bowden suggested a three-part process of "vision, huddle, and skill training," or "VHS."
"Vision" refers to constantly reminding participants and the wider congregation of the vision of small group ministry. "Huddle" refers to regular opportunities for small group facilitators to meet, review the basics of small group ministries, and learn how to mentor new leadership. "Skill training" means helping facilitators build skills in such areas as dealing with difficult people, carrying out service projects, etc.
Bowden advocated for regular "quality control" in order to have successful small group ministry. Regular meetings with the facilitators of small groups is perhaps the best way to do "quality control." "One problem is subversive leaders," said Bowden. "You train them, empower them, set them free, but they don't necessarily agree with it [the vision of small group ministry]." Therefore, ministers and lay leaders have to be sure that facilitators are constantly brought back to the basics of small group ministry.
Finally, Bowden encouraged congregations to set high standards for small group ministry programs. "We are way, way too soft on our expectations," said Bowden. "Don't be a low-expectation program."
Reported by Dan Harper; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.