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September 2009

Small Groups, Deep Connections September 2009
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Preliminary Startup Plans from Jean Speck, UU Church of Niagara Falls, N.Y.
  • Facilitation Experiences - Ray Boudreaux, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge
  • Small Group Ministry and Growth - Part 2 by Your Editor
  • Questions of the Month
  • Full Circle - August Questions
  • News and Events
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

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If you are not already a member, please join the Network and make sure your congregation is a member. The UU Small Group Ministry Network facilitates networking among SGM practitioners and makes current, practical information and resources available to ministers, program coordinators, and facilitators. Your membership funding will enable us to continue this important work. Download a Membership form: Membership%20Form.pdf.

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Letter from the Editor

Please share your questions and experiences with the other 1300 subscribers. Send them to me at

I hope that you'll engage with the second part of our series on Small Group Ministry and Growth. We'll look at the four kinds of growth that Lauren Mead identified in More than Numbers - the Way Churches Grow. How does a good Small Group Ministry program lead to maturational, incarnational, organizational, and numerical growth?

Last month, I asked for questions, issues and stories about starting or restarting a program. I got one message on this subject from Jean Speck, UU Church of Niagara Falls, N.Y. I still have some promises for articles during 2009. This is the most popular topic this year and the subject of many of the questions we're receiving. If you have just begun or begun again, I'd like to hear from you too.

As part of my commitment to serve facilitators and group members, as well as Program Directors and Ministers, I have included an article by Ray Boudreaux, a leader from my own congregation who attended the 2009 Mountain Institute. Please send me your facilitation experiences, tips and questions, so I can include them next month.

The Fall SGM Quarterly, focused on keeping SGM programs vibrant, will be distributed to members in October. If you are a Network member, you will receive a copy. If not, why not join now and receive this fall issue. You can check on our website to see whether your congregation is a Network member. We are financially independent of the UUA and depend upon membership and publications sales to cover our modest expenses. We offer a member discount of 40% off all of our UU SGM Network publications.

The Network website,, contains articles and sessions that people have contributed. It is updated twice a month. This month, there are links to church websites that contain good presentation of the church's small group ministry program. There are also four new sessions posted.

As this September issue goes out, I'm hoping your group is a blessing to you. Please send me your thoughts and experiences.

In faith that we're making this a better world,

Diana Dorroh
Editor, Covenant Group News
Program Director, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge

Preliminary Start Up Plans from Jean Speck
UU Church of Niagara Falls, N.Y.

I am a member of the UU Church of Niagara Falls, N.Y. I am facilitator of the team participating in The UUA's Pilot Project for growth. One of my reasons for wanting to start a group is to serve/involve/learn from some of those who don't currently attend morning services, including those who have trouble driving, hearing, etc. Hopefully we can have more that one covenant group to serve a variety of ideas. Are there topics, readings, models available on the website at no cost till we get up and running? I did offer a summer service modeled on the small ministry group format; no cross talk, time for check in, etc. It was well received. Thanks for any ideas and support you can offer.

Editor's Note: Yes we have topics, readings and models on the website at no cost. I am also willing to provide support via email. The Network Board is considering offering free consulting services, especially to Network members. Stay tuned.

Facilitation Experiences
Ray Boudreaux - Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA

My wife Kristie and I recently attended the UU Small Group Ministry Institute at the Mountain. It gave us an opportunity to reflect on our experience as leaders and participants in our small group ministry program we call Branches.

We became involved in the program at its inception 10 years ago. We and members of our first Roots (newcomers) class became Branches 1. I had just started coming to the church when the program was started. The Roots class introduced us to a church that puts its focus on the building of community rather than on the insistence of a belief system. I was introduced to people with backgrounds from all major religious traditions, races and sexual orientations. There was no selection process to the creation of a Branches group. The Roots class was randomly created as people arrived at our doors and expressed an interest in the church. This diversity is an important factor in the success and richness of the experience of Branches.

When we first came to the church, I had no idea what to expect. I was sensitive to any hint of proselytizing, and I found the atmosphere freeing. and I was fascinated by the reading we use for chalice lighting. I was ready -- all that was needed was a way to overcome my discomfort with strangers.

I have come to believe that most people crave community and intimacy. As Mother Teresa said "the spiritual poverty of the West is far greater than the material poverty of the East." In this culture it's hard to create real intimacy.

The Branches experience is designed to foster an environment where a small group (8-10 people) can, over time, become a closely-knit community. We learn to value our differences rather than use them to build walls between us. I am very grateful for the wealth of friends I now enjoy as a result of Branches..

Small Group Ministry and Growth - Part 2
Maturational, Incarnational, Organizational and Numerical Growth - Diana Dorroh

In this second article in a series on Growth, let's consider the four kinds of growth described by Loren Mead in "More than Numbers: the Ways Churches Grow." I am using definitions of the four values prepared by Connie Goodbread, the Rev. Susan M. Smith, and Penny Ramsdell.

Maturational Growth is the ability of a congregation to challenge, support and encourage each one of its members to grow in the maturity of their faith, to deepen their spiritual roots, and to broaden their religious imagination.

Sounds like what happens in Small Group Ministry, doesn't it? Small Group Ministry is a wonderful tool for allowing members to grow spiritually. Growth occurs when people adopt the spiritual practice of acceptance and listening. And, if there are enough small groups, the congregation grows maturationally, as the covenantal behavior spills over into committee meetings, congregational meetings, and all areas of congregational life. How many groups does it take? It seems to happen when 50% of the congregation is or has been involved in the program. Having every member of your church board in a covenant group is also a significant achievement.

Incarnational Growth is living out our core shared values. What is it that the congregation seeks to export from its life back into the life of the world, the social environment in which it exists? What are the good works that we are doing that will make the world a better place? Incarnational growth can be an ongoing process or a sudden event.

Small Group Ministry can help. It provides a setting where core shared values and their application to individuals and the congregation can be explored. Another observation is that maturational growth prepares the congregation to incarnate its values.

Organic Growth is the task of building the community, fashioning the organizational structures and infrastructure, developing the practices and processes that result in a dependable, stable network of human relationships and systems in which we can grow and from which we can make a difference.

Small Group Ministry builds and encourages members to become leaders. Leaders are recruited and trained to facilitate the small groups, of course, but more leadership also springs from reflection on the value of the church community. Also, the network of covenant groups is itself a new structure and this structure strengthens the church. It is worth noting that the Methodists call them "cell groups".

Numerical Growth is adding new members while maintaining the numbers that are already within the congregation.

These might include attendance and participation in small groups or religious education, and income and expenditures. Small Group Ministry helps with numerical growth by providing the connections that people coming to our congregations seek. We will explore this topic of numerical growth more next month, as we look at the metrics of growth.

Small Group Ministry, with its emphasis on intimacy and ultimacy, facilitates both maturational and incarnational growth. Since Small Group Ministry is so successful in promoting maturational growth, it also makes incarnational growth possible and readies a congregation for it. And in building leadership and providing connections, it promotes organic and numerical growth.

In my own congregation in Baton Rouge, LA, we have noticed a certain civilizing effect after about six years of having 50% of our members in Small Group Ministry. Leaders and other congregation members, for the most part, listen more and are more accepting. I would say our congregation has grown maturationally. We haven't had a significant church conflict in ten years and I'm hoping we all treat each other better when the next one comes. Leadership is trained and developed, continuously, since we have 32 group leaders at all times, but new community members also seem to be taking on leadership sooner because of their covenant group experiences. In one of our groups, the leaders observed that almost every member had taken on a leadership role within 2 years of the start of the group. Opportunities for incarnating our values presented themselves to us in 2005 in the form of Katrina and, in 2007, with the situation of the Jena Six, in which six black Louisiana high school students were charged with attempted murder following the hanging of a noose at the high school. Then, as one of our leaders said, "We incarnated our values and people came." We did seem to get some numerical growth after the incarnational growth. It all seems connected to me and inextricably woven with Small Group Ministry.

What are your stories? Which kinds of growth have occurred in your group or in your church?

Questions of the Month

Question One: (Repeated from last month) What's your growth story? Have you experienced growth after implementing Small Group Ministry? How much? Was that growth steady or did it accelerate, decline, or peak? When did you start Small Group Ministry? What percentage of your congregation participates in Small Group Ministry?

Question Two: (Will be Repeated during 2009): Are you planning to start a new program soon or restart an existing program? Why did your church decide to do it now and what issues and problems are you facing?

Question Three: Facilitators, please share your experience with the thousand other facilitators on this list. What is your greatest challenge and how have you met it?

Full Circle
Share your small group ministry experiences with others.

Last month's questions:

The two repeated above and

How do you select sessions for your group? How does it work?

News & Events

* We plan to have the 2010 UU Small Group Ministry Institute in Southern California during the week before Labor Day.

* FACILITATING SMALL GROUP MINISTRY, Saturday, October 10, 10:00 am - 4:00 pm, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County, Churchville, MD. Speakers: Ann Davis, Susan Hollister and Helen Popenoe, SGM lay leaders in the Joseph Priestley District. A workshop for program coordinators and facilitators who wish to establish a Small Group Ministry program in their congregation (Sessions 1 and 2) or enhance facilitator training in established SGM programs (Sessions 3 and 4).

The Small Group Ministry Network is now on Facebook! Join us and contribute to the ongoing conversation around Small Group Ministry and Covenant Groups. The link is:


The SGM Quarterly journal is distributed to members of the UU Small Group Ministry Network four times a year. Issues are added to the web site after the subsequent issue has been sent to members. The SGM Quarterly features articles by ministers, program leaders, facilitators, and group members, as well as tips and other resources on Unitarian Universalist small group ministry and covenant groups. Join the Network to subscribe. Download a membership form from

NEW: Ten Years of UU Small Group Ministry, UU SGM Network, June 2009
This anniversary collection traces the rationale, vision, and magic of the spiritual revolution and presents the rich history of the small group ministry movement in classic articles and conference proceedings from its earliest proponents.

Network Members: $20 + $5 shipping     Non-members: $30 + $5 shipping

Facilitator Training and Development Manual, UU SGM Network, December 2008
The guide to implementing in-house training programs. Covers facilitator selection, initial training, and on-going facilitator support. Includes the Facilitator's Guide to customize for your program, use in training sessions and distribute to all group leaders.

Network Members: $15 + $5 shipping     Non-member: $25 + $5 shipping

Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry, UU SGM Network, June 2008
A compilation of more than fifty articles from five years of the Network's website and newsletters. Covers basic elements of SGM, program structure and promotion, the minister's role, facilitation, group development, session plans, and the application of SGM principles in multiple aspects of congregational life.

Network Members: $15 + $5 shipping       Non-member: $25 + $5 shipping

To order:

HEART TO HEART: Fourteen Gatherings for Reflection and Sharing, April 2009
by Christine Robinson, senior minister of First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, NM, and Alicia Hawkins, SGM program director at First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque.
Resources for fourteen group conversations on topics such as forgiveness, loss, nature, money, and friendship. Offers readings, journaling suggestions, and thought-provoking exercises to help participants prepare for the spiritual practice of sharing in community.

From Skinner House Books, UUA Bookstore,, April, 2009, $14

Who We Are

The UU Small Group Ministry Network is a grassroots organization of Unitarian Universalist congregations, ministers, small group ministry/covenant group leaders and participants.

Our mission is to help create healthy Unitarian Universalist congregations and a vital Unitarian Universalist movement by promoting and supporting Small Group Ministry.

The purpose of the Network is "to support small group ministry and related shared ministry models in Unitarian Universalist congregations through developing new resources, networking, and training opportunities."

In addition to the SGM Quarterly journal for members and the free, online Covenant Group News, we publish new resources for program coordinators and facilitators, sponsor a consultation booth and SGM workshops at General Assembly, offer a week-long SGM Summer Institute, help local leaders plan regional SGM conferences, and give workshops in congregations and districts across the nation.

The UU SGM Network is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization supported solely by congregational and individual memberships, donations and publication sales revenue. Network Board members donate their time and personal resources to spread the good news of small group ministry.

Contact Information

Steve Becker, President (
Rev. Helen Zidowecki, Vice President (
Diana Dorroh, Secretary and Past President (
Susan Hollister, Treasurer (

The UU Small Group Ministry Network
The UU Small Group Ministry Network,

Write to us by email:, Attn: Rev. Helen Zidowecki

or by mail: UU Small Group Ministry Network
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