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July 10, 2004

CGNews #65

A free monthly newsletter about Small Group Ministry read by 1006 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.

* A message from the Rev. Bob Hill
* Covenant Groups at General Assembly 2004
* Issues & Resource Needs Identified at GA
* How the UU SGM Network works
* Shared Ministry Covenants
* C is for CLOSED
* SGM Quarterly Schedule
* New Resources Online


Dear Friends,

Five years ago, the first "Covenant Group News" went out to a list of folk I'd accumulated, all of whom, I believed, had expressed interested in what we now often call Small Group Ministry. I offered subscriptions to "an occasional email newsletter" (I didn't want to impose deadlines on myself) at an attractive price: no cost. By word of mouth, or more likely by word of email, news of the interviews and articles spread and at one point more than 800 folk were on the mailing list. Early contributors were Glenn Turner, Calvin Dame, Brent Smith, Thandeka, and Jim Robinson, to name a few.

Now two organizations have formed to carry the work of learning about the successes and failures of Covenant Groups and passing on the lessons. One is the Center for Community Values, chaired by Thandeka and Michael McGee. The other is the UU Small Group Ministry Network, the organization sending you this newsletter. I serve as an advisor to both groups, and I am pleased to announce that I have passed on the CGNews mailing list to this new "guiding coalition" of advocates for Small Group Ministry. I will be a contributor of material now and again, perhaps, but I'm happy to have my newsletter and Peter Bowden's newsletter become the same newsletter under his capable leadership.

If, of course, you prefer to stop hearing about our good news, follow the instructions at the bottom and reduce your email load by one newsletter. Thanks for your interest.

Best wishes,
Bob Hill


If you attending our association's June General Assembly conference heard the buzz about covenant groups. Why the buzz? I think it is because our association has finally learned that small group ministry is an essential part of "good church". Small Group Ministry was upheld in a plenary presentation by the Rev. Bob Hill, the Friday morning worship was on covenant group ministry (See full text of sermon at, the Rev. Bill Sinkford, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, spoke of it in during a report on the UUA's growth team, and approximately 250 people participating in covenant groups during the conference.

Despite some space issues, this pilot program was a huge success. At the Covenant Group celebration for group facilitators many reported that participants ended up connecting with each other throughout the week. They attended long plenary meetings together, ate meals and more.

Intimacy and ultimacy among 4,000 UU's? You bet!

Expect to see more covenant groups at GA next year.


While most people at General Assembly attended morning plenary sessions and afternoon and evening workshops, Mellen Kennedy and I (Peter Bowden) spent the week in the exhibit hall. No, we don't have plenary aversions. And yes, we did want to attend workshops. But we had a more important mission...

  • to spread the news about small group ministry
  • to help our people with struggling ministries
  • and to identify the resource needs of our congregations

We did this at the UU SGM Network exhibit booth. Despite being placed on the "Dark Side" of the exhibit hall there was a line to speak with us! What did I learn from my 30 hours in staffing our booth?

  1. The majority of our congregations are working with small groups now, but a lot of them are having trouble.
  2. Our ministers are not being trained in small group ministry in seminary.
  3. Congregations in ministerial transition have often have trouble if the interim is not SGM literate.
  4. Many, many ministers can't get groups to do service projects.
  5. A huge percentage of groups have excessively high levels of confidentiality leading to closed groups and therapy like groups.
  6. Regular training and leadership development is not happening
  7. Many groups - are you holding on - do not have covenants.
  8. Groups are not growing and are often not connected with the larger church community.

I left the exhibit hall each day with a growing sense of urgency. We have got to develop more advanced resources. What one person called "second generation" resources. Fortunately that is exactly what we are planning to do!

Of the surveys completed by congregations with existing small group ministries the top resource needs identified were:

  • cultivating new leadership
  • integrating small group ministry into the life and ministry of the congregation
  • ongoing training materials for facilitator meetings
  • how to develop session topics

Next steps? Our UU SGM Network leadership team will be meeting later this month for our first annual retreat. We will be mapping out resource development plans for the coming year. If you did not attend GA and would like to share your resource needs with us, just send an email message with your name, congregations, and resource needs to:

Deadline: July 20th


This June the UU Small Group Ministry Network was launched as a new membership driven organization. Supported by membership fees and generous donations we are now developing resources, training materials and a new quarterly journal. These resources will be shared with our members through a member only website (starting late summer). We are also publishing a quarterly journal for our members/donors, the SGM Quarterly.

THE KEY: Our new resource fund is generated by individuals and congregations membership fees ($35 and $60 per year). That means the more members we have the more valuable each membership is. *wink* wink* More members means more resources. We believe we can transform lives and our faith through this form of ministry. Do you? Would you like an ever growing collection of resources at your finger tips?

Learn more or join at

Send membership and donation questions to


You've heard how important it is for any shared ministry group to have a covenant. That being a mutual behavioral agreement. For ministry groups the covenant typically outlines the group's purpose, structure, its relationship to the church community, and how various logistical and ministry issues will be dealt with.

But what about the covenant between the minister and the shared ministry leaders?

In many of our congregations only the groups are covenanting together. Just as a group needs to form a covenant, so to should the minister and the shared ministry leaders. This is essential if leaders are expected to attend a small group where ongoing support and training happens. It is important to outline the responsibilities being taken on by the shared ministry leader and the minister(s). This includes how they will be in relationship with each other, meeting or reporting schedules, and any other obligations.

Suggestion: Form a covenant with any individual who is taking on a new ministry on behalf of the church.

C is for CLOSED

Confidentiality is something that group members automatically suggest when the group creates its covenant. Why? We have experience with confidential groups. Makes sense. The problem with this is that confidentiality allows for very deep disclosure. What is the result of this this level of sharing? Members do not feel comfortable having newcomers join the group and sharing moves into areas best left for private conversations, pastoral calls, and therapy groups.

If the intention is to extend the ministry of the church and support the health and vitality of the community, groups need to be more open. This just doesn't happen with high levels of confidentiality. There is a middle path between ANYTHING GOES and CONFIDENTIAL.

Suggestion: Try encouraging groups to have a policy of BEING RESPECTFUL in sharing.

Is this a common recommendation? Yes. But you might have missed it! It is in Bob Hill's book, the Complete Guide to Small Group Ministry" on page P.32.


The following are the featured topics for this coming years Small Group Ministry Quarterly issues.

Fall 2004: Recruiting New Members

Winter 2004: Developing Session Topics

Spring 2005: Grounding Groups Through Service Projects

Summer/GA: 2005 Cultivating Leadership


The following new resources are available online. See the resource spotlight on our site

Designing and Implementing a Small Group Ministry Focus for Your Congregation
By the Rev. Glenn H. Turner. This updated version of Turner's popular work now references chapters of Bob Hill's book, the Complete Guide to Small Group Ministry.

Finding Your Path,
by Michael Tino. PDF 54 pages. June 2004. In Finding Your Path, participants are asked to think about their gifts and values, and to connect those gifts and values to what they do in the world. This curriculum is intended to address the transitions of young adult years and the need for us each to find our calling in life. Michael Tino is the Director of the UUA's Young Adult and Campus Ministry Office.

Adventures in Small Group Ministry
Peter Bowden's ongoing account of his learning from research and work with our congregations. New posts weekly. ATOM Syndicated site.


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.

Archived back issues and a sign-up link are available at


The Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry Network
Online at

Peter Bowden
Rev. Mellen Kennedy

Rev. Calvin Dame, President
Rev. Helen Zidowecki
Rev. Steve Edington

Advisory Board:*
Rev. Bob Hill
Rev. Glenn Turner

* Lay leaders and additional members on the way.