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Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • A "talking object" which can be easily passed from hand to hand, such as a stick, a shell or a rock-one for each listening circle
  • Leader Resource 1, Listening Circle Facilitator Guide

Preparation for Activity

  • Arrange chairs in a single circle for groups of ten or fewer, or in multiple circles some distance apart for groups larger than ten.
  • Recruit facilitators if needed for multiple groups. Explain the listening circle concept so volunteers are comfortable with the facilitator's role. Copy Leader Resource 1 for all facilitators.

Description of Activity

Explain that the "listening circle" is a spiritual practice found in many different traditions. Say, in your own words:

In a listening circle, people sit facing one another, and are invited to speak, one by one, from the heart, in response to a broad question. Each speaker may share with the group their own experience, feelings and point of view in response to a question. Each person has a turn to speak when they are passed a "talking object." Listeners are invited to listen from their own hearts. They are not to interrupt, clarify, offer advice, agree, disagree or engage in cross-talk. The idea is to listen deeply without judgment, focusing on the listener's statement of their experience and not on formulating your own response. This is a different kind of group process from what many are accustomed to. It can be a way for leadership to engage many voices and perspectives as a congregation considers leadership, rather than the management, questions, such as "Who are we as a congregation?" / "What is our purpose?" / "Who is our neighbor?" / "How is this faith community called to be in the world?" / "What is this faith community called to do in this world?"

Explain that while the concept is simple, a listening circle can be a powerful experience. Tell the group they will try a listening circle now.

Invite participants to move, with facilitators, into the listening circle space(s) you have arranged.

Have each facilitator lead a listening circle, as directed by Leader Resource 1.

After the groups have experienced the listening circle process, bring the entire group together. Invite feedback on the process itself. Ask participants what kinds of issues/questions might be appropriate for a listening circle process. Guide them to identify three important features for listening circle questions in a congregational setting:

  • Leadership questions, not management questions
  • Open-ended questions, with no right/wrong, either/or answers. Questions framed to elicit positive contributions (e.g., what the congregation does well, as opposed to what needs improvement).

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