Covenant Group News

UU SGM Network Home | Subscribe

February 6, 2001

CGNews #32

An occasional newsletter about a radical, new/old way of organizing your church. Read by 626 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.

Subscribe or unsubscribe at in the "Rev. Bob Hill" section.


My friend and colleague, Glenn Turner, has been talking and writing about Small Group Ministry for several years. Now retired from UUA/District staff work, he recently produced a well-written, thorough, and detailed paper entitled: "Designing and Implementing a 'Small Group Ministry' Focus for Your Congregation."

Below are excerpts from Glenn's new paper. Contact him (information at the end) for the 16-page version which contains helpful agendas for various kinds of meetings he believes will assure that Covenant Groups become a part of a church's new culture of service to those who seek it out rather than being just another passing fad. My biggest fear has always been that congregations, a year or a few years from now, will adopt a been-there-done-that-and-failed attitude about small-group ministry when, in fact, what they did was something much less than what Glenn and I and so many others are recommending. Any congregation incorporating Glenn's recommendations will avoid the pitfalls of halfway attempts. What we offer here is just a taste of Glenn's wisdom and practical advice. I urge you to get the full version from him. -- Bob Hill


In the past few years, the concept of a church ministry based on relationally-oriented small groups has captured the imaginations of Unitarian Universalists across North America. We are more aware of the hunger, not just with UUs but also with people across the continent, for intimacy and spiritual growth.

We live in a time when real participation and involvement in groups and civic organizations is markedly shrinking. Too often, what passes for "individualism" is a withdrawal from the institutions, which have long helped to carry and sustain our communal values.

Unitarian Universalism has been no less affected by the changed culture. Our growth has stagnated relative to the general population. It takes all the running we can do to stay in the same place. And, the kind of running we do, in trying to channel people onto committees to keep the church floating, too often leads to burnout and disillusion. It does not suffice to produce a new fund-raising technique or handbook on how to run a board meeting when we need first to address the basic spiritual and intimacy needs of our members! Hence the rising interest in "small group ministry," or "covenant groups."


My own enthusiasm for Small Group Ministry lies in the fact that it can be shaped and developed by any one of our congregations. There is no patent on the process even though papers, like this one, will give suggestions in response to questions.

In fact, I think that the success of Small Group Ministry will be in direct proportion to how much each church takes ownership of the process. It will be enormously helpful to share our stories of how this has worked for us ("us" meaning the individual churches) because that will give everyone more options and ideas on what does and doesn't work. Though Small Group Ministry may be developed in various ways, there are some essentials that make it what it is. Developing one or two small groups and letting it go at that is not Small Group Ministry. What's intended is making SGM a focus for the entire congregation with an outreach program and a vision to help extend the ministry of the congregation.


Other essentials include:

  • at least meetings twice a month (otherwise it's effect is diluted)
  • opportunities for check-in and spiritual growth focus (rather than basket-weaving)
  • open group concept - welcoming in 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 - some attention paid to "bridging" in addition to "bonding"... [I would say "church AND community". - Bob]


I realize that when a new concept begins to gain acceptance and receive positive publicity, the first impulse will be to "do it." The process I've laid out here takes about 6 months. That is not "instant gratification."

However, I think it will build a solid base of understanding for making a sea change in how your congregation develops its ministry. At the least, you are provided here with some of the issues involving the training of facilitators. If you skip the stage of an Implementation Team, you either have the minister setting the Guidelines, or the minister and the facilitators.

I believe the work should be more evenly spread so that the collaborative process and the buy-in will be more successful and burnout avoided. I will be interested in your feedback and comments on how SGM works for you, however you do it. Good luck. It's a great way to do ministry!

The Rev. Glenn H. Turner,
185 Tobey Rd.,
New Gloucester, ME 04260


The Rev. John Morgan, whose writings about small-group methods used by Universalists and others in the early days of the United States, reports that he is training seven new small group leaders in his church in Berks County, PA, and using his own new book, AWAKENING THE SOUL; A DAILY DEVOTIONAL GUIDE, as a "text."

"It seems to work well in helping people start a daily spiritual practice," he says, "and that helps the small group." It's in the new Skinner House catalog and available from the UU bookstore.

Know someone who might be interested in this topic? Feel free to forward Covenant Group News to others. Unitarian Universalists may feel free to use this material in any manner consistent with the growth of our liberal religion. Otherwise, all rights are reserved.

The Rev. Robert. L. Hill,
District Executive for the SW District, UUA,
713 660-7164