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November-December 2011

Small Groups, Deep Connections November-December 2011
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Evolution of UU Small Group Ministry, Part 2 by Rev. Helen Zidowecki, UU SGM Network Board President
  • SGM Myths -- Facilitators' Meetings Don't Work
  • A Request for Social Justice Themed Session for Use at General Assembly 2012
  • News and Events
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

Join the Network
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:

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Letter from the Editor

Greetings. This is a combined November and December issue.

If you have something you'd like to write about in 2012 or a story you'd like to tell, please contact me, Like the rest of the UU SGM Network publications and services (the Quarterly, website, General Assembly booth, trainings, and institutes), Covenant Group News is better when people share ideas, issues, successes, and failures---both at the group level and at the program level. With sharing, we can all learn from each other. If your style is more collaborative, consider joining the CG News team to help choose topics and themes and solicit articles.

In this issue, we continue the series on the Evolution of Small Group Ministry with From Group to Congregation by Rev. Helen Zidowecki, UU SGM Network Board President. We also continue the series introduced last month on Small Group Ministry Myths -- with our second myth, Facilitator's Meetings Don't Work.

Please send in your small group ministry myths and program design choices that you are reconsidering. I'd particularly like to hear about your facilitators meetings. Please send me your experiences, successes, problems, and issues with facilitators' meetings.

Also in this issue, there is a request for social justice themed sessions for use at Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ in 2012.

The UU Small Group Ministry Network is financially independent of the UUA. It depends upon membership and publications sales to cover the modest expenses. You can check on our website to see whether your congregation is a Network member. As an added incentive to membership, we offer a member discount of 40% off all our UU SGM Network publications and $25 off of Institute registrations. As a member, you will receive the Quarterly journal by email or by mail.

The fall issue of the Quarterly was sent to SGM Network members in September and the Winter issue will be distributed in mid-December. It features "How to Really Listen," "Documenting Your SGM Program's History," the story of Emerson Listening Circles in Marietta, GA, and the first of three articles on elements that enable deep sharing in covenant groups. If you aren't currently a member, consider joining the Network to receive these issues.

The Network website,, contains information about the UU Small Group Ministry Network, articles by leaders in the SGM movement and an extensive selection of sessions that people have contributed, as well as a complete archive of Covenant Group News and the SGM Quarterly.

If you are a coordinator and would like all the facilitators in your program to receive Covenant Group News, just send me the church name, city and state and facilitator names and emails and we'll add them to the email list.

Please share your ideas, questions, and experiences with the other 1,500 subscribers. Send them to me at Thanks to Anne Haynes, from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, IN, for proofing this edition.

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

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

Evolution of Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry -- Part 2 --
From the Small Group to the Congregation -
Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President UU SGM Network

The October issue of CGNews included "First Evolution: Making Small Group Ministry Unitarian Universalist." This issue focuses on the "Second Evolution: From the Small Group to the Congregation." The "Third Evolutions: Small Group Ministry for Everyone" will be in the January edition.

The Second Evolution moves from the person and the single group to the broader congregation. Participants in small group ministry learn a different way of being with each other, through listening, sharing, and being present. Small group ministry, done well in the respective groups, changes how people interact beyond the group itself. How you minister to each other--and yourselves--matters.

I do not recall talking in the early years about the impact that small group ministry would have on congregations, beyond keeping people connected, that would result in growth and increased pastoral care. However, congregations reported starting intentional personal check-in at the beginning of meetings, and check-out during or at the end of gatherings - paying attention to where we are in our own lives, even as we do the work of the church. A coincidence? I don't think so.

Increased listening to others and sharing our own thought from the heart as our own, without needing to defend, argue or persuade, brought a gentleness in communication at general congregational meetings. I personally realized this after attending a couple of congregational forums to address some critical issues in my home congregation. Some hard things had been said in ways that people could hear without becoming defensive. We had learned to listen in small groups. In reality, small groupministry has transformed the congregation.

Congregational issues should not become part of small group ministry conversation per se. However, a session can provide a deeper way to consider themes of congregational life. Samples of specific session plans include: Congregational Change, Transitions in Leadership, the Mission and Vision of the church, Sacred Space, etc. Such session plans can be used by ongoing groups or developed for special meetings.

Session Plans are frequently developed as responses to broader cultural and societal events and issues. These include:

Events that impact all of us, such as September 11 or the Knoxville shooting
Acts of nature, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes
Cultural factors, such as economic issues

Small group ministry is being recognized and held up in conjunction with many areas of our Unitarian Universalist experience. Within the larger UU world:

*Small group ministry session plans are developed as resources for considering GA resolutions.
*The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee develops session plans around a number of their focuses.
*And the UU Small Group Ministry Network is working on session plans around planning for, responding, and reflecting on immigration and other social justice issues for General Assembly in June 2012.

What we do in the Small Group Ministry/Covenant Group sessions matters.
How we implement Small Group Ministry as part of overall congregational life matters.
And as more people become involved with Small Group Ministry, there is an impact on Unitarian Universalism overall.
All because Small Group Ministry expands beyond the individual group!

Small Group Ministry Myths --
Facilitators' Meetings Don't Work --
Diana Dorroh

At the UU Small Group Ministry Network's General Assembly booth this summer, Network volunteers talked to numerous people who were unable to get their facilitators'/leaders' meetings to work as they thought they should. Several of them simply said "facilitators' meetings don't work." It began to sound like a chorus. This is a good opportunity to review the purpose, range of options, and Network recommendations for these meetings.

Basic Purpose:

  • To connect the groups to the church and the minister(s)--critical, if you have a minister, because small group ministry is ministry shared by the minister with the leaders
  • To support the leaders
  • To provide coaching and training for leaders
  • To develop connections between the leaders

Examples of Additional Purposes, added by individual congregations:

  • To test drive sessions before the groups see them
  • To serve as covenant group(s) of leaders

Decisions to be made:

  • Frequency
  • Format
  • Attendance Requirements

Frequency -- Originally, the norm was monthly leaders meetings, in addition to one or two covenant group meetings that leaders must also attend. Over time, many programs have changed their frequency to every six weeks or bi-monthly, with about 5 -- 7 meetings per year.

Format -- A simple agenda that includes discussion of group issues and problems seems to be the best way to address the leaders' needs for support and coaching. And when the leaders' needs are met by the meetings, they will be more likely to attend, so the connection to the congregation and minister(s) happens also. However, I know that many congregations use a covenant group format or conduct a session as a test drive before it is used in the groups. Whatever you're doing, I recommend that you ask the question: "Are our facilitators' meetings providing the support that our leaders need?" Or more generally, "Are our facilitators getting the support that they need?"

Attendance Requirements -- I've recently heard of congregations that make attendance at leaders' meetings a requirement for continuing as a group leader. If you're doing this, please share your experience with us However, there is merit in a more relaxed standard also. If your congregation has 7 leaders' meetings per year, you might consider attendance by one of the leaders from each group at 3 of those meetings a minimum standard or requirement. That's probably enough to connect the groups to the church. I've found that leaders attend when they need support most--as new leaders or when they have an issue or problem they'd like help with. The challenge to program leadership is to persuade more leaders to attend regularly to share their experiences and expertise with other leaders. You might consider a covenant for your facilitators' group that includes regular attendance.

In summary, the frequency of meetings and your standards for attendance will be related to your program goals. For example, if you want most of your members to belong to a covenant group, you'll be looking for a way to make leadership more attractive and easier for current and potential leaders, which may include fewer facilitators meetings. On the other hand, if your goal is to assure a consistent and high level of quality among the groups, and you are willing to have a smaller program, you'd perhaps have more frequent meetings and higher attendance standards.

The Facilitator Training Manual, published by the SGM Network, includes a section on conducting effective leaders' meetings. It discusses the purpose of meetings, elements to include, and mini-training topics. This comprehensive resource is available from the UU SGM Network, The cost is $25 ($15 for Network members) plus $6 shipping and handling.)

At the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, where Rev. Steve Crump and I have co-led a small group ministry program since 1999, we hold 90 minute leaders' meetings about every 6-8 weeks, for a total of about 7 per year. Steve's presence and support at these meetings has been a great blessing to our church and to our program. Our congregation has 388 members and 250 covenant group participants. We distribute a list of our participants by group at each meeting and ask for updates. Steve gives opening and closing readings and a short visionary message. We do brief individual check-ins, but our main topic is the groups' issues, problems, and successes, and a brief report on the most recent meeting. Steve often asks questions about individuals in those groups and might talk to a leader after the meeting about an individual participant. So our connection goes both ways. We have about 40 co-leaders of our 23 groups. Some leaders attend about 6 of our 7 meetings per year; most of these leaders are on our steering team. Leaders usually attend when they're new to group leadership and when they have a particular problem, but most of our leaders send me an email report on their group before the meeting if they won't be present. I'm comfortable with attendance if one of the group's co-leaders attends 2 or 3 times a year. Unfortunately, about 5 of our leaders never attend. This is a continuing issue for our program. Meeting attendance varies from 10 to 25. However, every meeting "works" for the leaders who attend, as well as for me and for Rev. Crump. Each meeting keeps the groups connected to the church, facilitates shared ministry, provides support to the leaders and allows the leaders to make connections with each other.

Let us hear your experience with facilitators meetings. I'll include them in the January 2012 issue of Covenant Group News. diana_dorroh@hotmail.

Social Justice As Spritual Practice

Engaging, Sustaining, Reflecting on Social Justice Work Through Small Group Ministry

We are looking for session plans for Small Group Ministry/Covenant Groups regarding Social Justice Work, specifically:
*Mindful Engagement and preparation to do Social Justice work.
*Sustainability of Spirit and Action.
*Bringing General Assembly experience back to the congregation.
*Social Justice as part of living our UU faith
*Issues as Immigration and Migration, and Racial and Economic Justice.

We look forward to receiving your session plans. We will be establishing the a Social Justice section on the Sessions section of the Network website, and are planning a Social Justice resource to be available at GA.

Share your insights, strategies and experiences.
Send your comments to Diana at
We'll print them in the next CGNews.

News & Events

See Events for all events, more details and registration information.

The source for session plans, networking opportunities, Small Group Ministry resources, news of events and workshops, membership renewal forms, and back issues of Covenant Group News and the SGM Quarterly.

For information on training opportunities see the Event Announcements

UU SGM Network Publications

Order forms available from

NEW! Small Group Ministry with All Ages, June 2011
Imagine a congregation where all ages are talking together. From its firm foundation in adult programming, Small Group Ministry is evolving to become an inclusive opportunity for all ages to connect, listen, reflect, and learn with each other. This publication explores small group ministry by age group and with mixed ages and presents ways for covenant groups to become an integral part of the momentum toward multigenerational congregations. Includes implementation strategies, session plan development, and sessions for single and multi-age groups.

NOW ON CD! Spiritual Journeys: 101 Session Plans for Small Group Ministry Programs
This exciting new book offers a wide range of original, ready-to-use sessions covering Spiritual Journeying, Personal Beliefs and Values, Spiritual Challenges, Holidays, Just for Fun, Being Human, and Special Use subjects for events that affect our lives. Themes are drawn from art, literature, UU liturgy and hymnals, current events, and religious scriptures.

Small Group Ministry 2010: Celebrating Congregations
The 2010 compilation celebrates the work of over 100 congregations that have contributed to the UU Small Group Ministry movement since 2004. There are profiles of contributing congregations, including when and how their program started, how many groups and participants they have, and their unique challenges and success stories.

To order any of the above publications or to get a list of all our publications:

Small Groups, Deep Connections

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

Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President (
Steve Becker, Vice President (
Diana Dorroh, Secretary (
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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