Small group ministry is intentional, lay-led small groups that deepen and expand the ministry of a congregation. Two key focuses are intimacy, or building community and deepening relationships, and ultimacy, or the opportunity for deeper spiritual exploration and search for meaning. Small group ministry is also called covenant group ministry, because the members in a group make an intentional commitment to one another.
Peter Bowden, co-founder of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Small Group Ministry Network, defines small group ministry in "Getting Started with Small Group Ministry" (UU Planet Ministry & Media, 2007) as "a way of 'doing church' which strives to deepen and expand the ministry of a congregation using an intentional system of lay led small groups." He says,
At the heart of healthy congregations and life/world changing ministries we find 1) strong relationships, 2) engagement with meaningful issues, 3) leadership/leadership development, and 4) inspired action.
Small group ministry contains all four of these elements.
We can ask, what makes a small group a "ministry group?" The answer lies in the name itself. Small means a group with a maximum of eight to ten people. Groups of this size provide an ideal opportunity to relate on an intentional level.
Group is a gathering of individuals, sometimes selected at random, sometimes selected for a specific interest or characteristic.
What separates these groups from others in the congregation is "ministry." Ministry is the process or act of caring for another. This relates to the spiritual as well as the physical and emotional well-being of the group's participants.
You might consider establishing a small group ministry specifically for youth if your congregation is currently running a small group ministry program. If so, the small group ministry leadership team and the religious educator should decide if the youth small group ministry will follow all the same procedures or if adaptations are needed. Facilitators for the youth small group ministry will need the same training and support as other small group ministry facilitators. However, the group might meet more often or membership might be more fluid. For other adaptations to consider, see the section below, How is doing small group ministry with youth different?
Can you do small group ministry with youth if your congregation is not committed to small group ministry with the rest of the congregation? Yes, you can. However, without a small group ministry leadership team in place, you will want to plan carefully to ensure support for the group and its facilitators.
Reverend Glenn H. Turner, in "Designing and Implementing a 'Small Group Ministry' Focus For Your Congregation" lists elements common to most small group ministry:
- Meets at least twice a month
- Opportunities for check-in and a spiritual growth focus
- An open group concept — welcoming new members and birthing new groups
- Facilitator/apprentice approach — nurturing new leaders for new groups
- Collaboration — facilitators meeting monthly with minister/coach for ongoing training/support
- Concept of service to the church or community.
Chapter 2, Planning and Implementation, examines ways to include these elements.