Excerpted from A Covenant Group Source Book, second edition, revised (The Center for Community Values, 2003).
A covenant group is a small relational group made up of six to twelve people who meet regularly to establish and nurture themselves in their own beloved community. Covenant groups provide an opportunity for group members to build strong relationships with each other and with the larger organization of which the small group is a part.
Covenant groups encourage people to talk, learn, work and play together over time. Members may tell their life stories, offer support, and engage in work to serve the larger community. Covenant groups offer expanding opportunities for growth, caring and connection within a congregation. Covenant groups offer caring affiliative networks, mutual responsibility, leadership opportunities, and a way for people to build and strengthen their communities.
In a covenant group, people experience a relational individuality that affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person. People experience themselves and each other as part of the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part. Together, people establish communities that embody the values of justice, democracy and human dignity. Each person is treated equitably. Each has a voice and is heard. And each person is respected for his or her own intrinsic humanity. The defining purpose of a covenant group is to bring people into right relationship with each other and with the larger world.
Covenant Groups: The Pattern
Size: 6-12 members
Meetings: At least once a month, perhaps twice a month or once a week
Leadership: Leader and co-leader are chosen and trained to facilitate the group's process. Leaders of groups meet together with the minister as a covenant group for ongoing training and support. Area ministers may also form a covenant group.
Covenant Group Meeting Format
A typical covenant group meeting format is as follows. Each component of the meeting is important to the group's relationship and effectiveness.
Meeting Frequency: A covenant group meets at least once a month, perhaps twice a month or even weekly. A group needs to meet often enough that there is continuity from meeting to meeting. If the group meets less than once a month, it will be more difficult for activities and relationships to carry over from meeting to meeting.
Group Size and Growth Pattern
Ideally a covenant group will have between six and twelve members. A group needs to be small enough that each person can speak, be heard and be known. It needs to be large enough to generate energy and provide continuity.
There are a variety of ways that groups welcome new members and grow. Each group is started with the intention of welcoming new members to the group. Newcomers can be encouraged to attend at least three meetings to see what the group is about. Through this process of newcomers visiting and deciding to become members, the group will grow. As new members come into the group, a group peaks out in size at about ten to twelve members. At that point, new members no longer continue coming into the group. However, all groups over time experience attrition of old members who leave due to various life circumstances. Each time an old member leaves, this can create an opening in the group into which a new member is welcomed, keeping the group dynamic and vital.
Another strategy for welcoming new members is for a well-established group to birth a new similar group. This is done by a co-facilitator of the first group leaving that group, either temporarily or permanently, to help facilitate and get the new group started.
Yet another method for bringing in new members is for the group to divide when it reaches about twelve members, thus resulting in two groups of about six members each. These two groups are then open to new members to join. In practice this approach can be very challenging. However, when generating new groups is seen from the outset as a part of the covenant group experience, members can anticipate and thus are less stressed by the process.
Regardless of the method used to bring in new members, the key idea is that the groups stay open, dynamic, welcoming and not cliquish or factional. The covenant to welcome new members also means a commitment within the congregation to keep developing new groups.
The members of a covenant group, early in the group's formation stage, create and agree to abide by a set of covenants. These covenants are a key part of what distinguishes a covenant group from other kinds of gatherings. The primary covenant will be about how the members agree to be in relationship with each other over time. Together, the group establishes a community in which justice, democracy and human dignity are embodied. Thus, the members agree to abide by a set of ground rules for right relationship.
A second covenant is a commitment to welcome new members to the group. Some groups always have an empty chair at each meeting to symbolize and remind themselves of the new members who are yet to come. The purpose of this covenant is to keep the group connected to the larger congregation and to prevent exclusiveness or factionalism. In practice there are a variety of ways of bringing new members into the group.
A third covenant is an agreement to engage in service to the congregation and larger world on a regular basis. This covenant helps to reinforce the group's connection to the larger organization of which it is a part. It helps group members develop and maintain an external focus, providing opportunities for members to put their values into practice.
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Last updated on Thursday, February 21, 2013.
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