Small Group Ministry Session Format

Part of SGM Training

Image of small tiles in a mosaic, forming a spiral.

Most Small Group Ministry sessions have a similar format or pattern, with some variations. Here is an overview of a typical format with explanations of:

  • the purpose of the patterns of community building that are embedding in each element
  • forms that the element might take

Opening

Purpose

  • To acknowledge the beginning of sacred time together
  • To signal that a "container" of time and space is being established
  • Introduction of the session's theme

Forms

  • Chalice lighting
  • Opening words
  • Opening song
  • Can be chosen and/or led by facilitator or participant

Sitting in Stillness

Purpose

  • To create space between outside stressors and the time spent in the small group
  • To work toward being fully present to the group process

Forms

  • The facilitator invites everyone to sit together in silence.
  • Start with a minute, then lengthen the time as participants' comfort level increases.

Check-in

Purpose

  • A time to share the joys and sorrows in our lives
  • A time to put down what we’ve been carrying so we can be fully present with each other
  • A time to be companions to each other in the journeys of our lives by listening and being fully present to each other
  • A kind of ministry and a kind of pastoral care

Forms

  • Listen without interruption, even if it's to show support.
  • Have each person light an individual votive candles from the chalice at the beginning of their turn.
  • Offer an assortment of meaningful objects around the chalice that people can pick up when are ready to share, and set down when they are done.
  • Pause between each person's sharing.
  • Using a circle format so that people know when their turn is coming can lower anxiety.
  • Using a "popcorn" format allows people to check in when they are ready. If you find your group sitting in stillness waiting for one or two last people, ask gently if they’d like to check-in, reassuring them that it’s fine to pass or just to light their candle in silence.
  • Using body language (e.g. the participant makes eye contact when ready to share and the facilitator nods to acknowledge it's their turn to share) can work for groups who are comfortable with more subtle forms.

Readings

Purpose

  • Content shared during the meeting provide
  • A time to put down what we’ve been carrying so we can be fully present with each other
  • A time to be companions to each other in the journeys of our lives by listening and being fully present to each other
  • A kind of ministry and a kind of pastoral care

Forms

  • These will be quotes, poems, and short prose related to the discussion topic. Hopefully, they are new ways of looking at the topic and set off new thoughts in people.
  • Encourage a pause between readings so that people have time to process each one.
  • Share the task of reading aloud. Have people volunteer or take turns around the circle.
  • The group may develop its own norms about how they’d like to do this.

Questions/Prompts for Discussion

Purpose

  • Framework for reflection and discussion

Forms

  • Encourage a pause between reading each question/prompt so that people have time to process each one.
  • Choose one at a time and have everyone respond to the same one.
  • Allow each person to speak to the question or prompt that is most meaningful.

Silence Following Reading of Questions/Prompts

Purpose

  • Allows people to really dig deep and allows quieter people to find their words.

Forms

  • Have participants sit in silence for a few minutes before sharing begins.
  • Encourage this silence to be longer than a few seconds, working toward few minutes.

Responses To Questions/Prompts Without Cross-Talk

Purpose

  • Gives time for people to be "heard into speech"
  • Encourages others to listen and not to compose a response in their own head
  • Avoids dynamics of unthoughtful responses, disagreements or challenges,
  • People can try out new or tentative ideas, and share tender stories and thoughts.

Forms

  • Each participant is allowed several minutes to share deeply, without interruption.
  • Gently interrupt anyone who jumps in and tries to have a discussion and reassure them that there will be time for that shortly.
  • Allow for a pause of silence between each speaker so that everyone has a chance to absorb what has been said.
  • If you find yourself waiting for one or two people, gently ask them if they’d like to speak, reassuring them that it’s fine to pass.
  • If you find that you have long-winded people, set a time limit.
  • Your group may develop it's own agreed-upon norms about how much time to spend in this section and in discussion.

Discussion

Purpose

  • Provides an opportunity to ask clarifying questions of one another
  • Provides an opportunity for participants to offer thoughtful and covenantal responses to earlier responses
  • Less structure can create space for creative interchanges and more richness
  • Caution: Less structure can also allow some participants to dominate, especially along lines of privilege and identity.

Forms

  • Continue to take turns in a circle or using other forms that ensure that all voices get a chance to be heard.
  •  Wrap up the discussion about ten minutes to fifteen minutes before the end of your two hours so as not to rush your ending.

Group Reflection

Purpose

  • Provides closure for the meeting
  • Provides an opportunity to comment on group dynamics
  • Provides an opportunity to bring up problematic behaviors
  • Creates an opportunity for appreciation and gratitude
  • Creates an opportunity to change group dynamics
  • Develops "muscle memory" around taking time to reflect after any gathering

Forms

  • Invite participants to share their "Likes and Wishes" i.e. what went well, and what they wish had gone differently.
  • Use a checklist that include intentional behaviors that your group wants to cultivate, particularly with a lens of anti-racism or dismantling systems of oppression.

Closing Words

Purpose

  • To acknowledge the end of this sacred time together
  • To signal that a "container" of time and space is being opened
  • Closure for the session's theme

Forms

  • Extinguishing of the chalice/candles
  • Closing words
  • Closing song
  • Can be chosen and/or led by facilitator or participant