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January / February 2013

Small Groups, Deep Connections January / February 2013
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Covenant Group News
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Document Your SGM History for the Future, the UU SGM Network Board of Directors
  • Attendance Fluctuations, Rev. Helen Zidowecki, UU SGM Network President
  • Small Group Ministry Focus on Events, Rev. Helen Zidowecki
  • 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:
Individual and congregational memberships are our major source of revenue.
The Network is financially independent of the UUA.
Letter from the Editor


I hope your small group ministry program thrives in 2013. Please send your stories, issues and questions to for publication in Covenant Group News.

I continue to collect input on the impact of small group ministry on participants and congregations. Please consider sending yours for the March/April 2013 or May/June issues of Covenant Group News. You may either use these questions or write your own:
1. What difference has your covenant group made in your life?
2. What differences personally and communally have you experienced through small group ministry that couldn't have happened in any other way?
3. What difference does your covenant group program make in your congregation?
Send your facilitators' answers or your own answers, observations, and ideas to

This issue contains some interesting articles submitted by Board members. Susan Hollister, UU SGM Network Treasurer, compiled information from Board members and Network members in Document Your SGM for the Future. From Rev. Helen Zidowecki, Network President,we have an exploration of Attendance Fluctuations. This topic was raised by a new member to the UU SGM Network Facebook group. Also from Helen, an idea from her own congregation in Augusta, Maine, the Unitarian Universalist Community Church, where the sgm program has focused on March Women's History Month and Thirty Days of Love (January 19 -- February 17), the initiative of Standing on the Side of Love, from the UUA.

The UU SGM Network will host its seventh SGM Institute this summer. The dates are July 22-26 at Murray Grove Retreat and Renewal Center in New Jersey, a Unitarian Universalist camp and conference site. Please consider attending or sending your group leaders. It's an exciting and energizing experience to share ideas, successes and issues with other leaders from all over the country. In addition, we always get to some cutting edge topics and explore new ground together. Sending facilitators from the Baton Rouge program to the last three Institutes has strengthened and grounded our program. These facilitators continue to give glowing testimonials about their experience. See the Events section below for more information.

The UU Small Group Ministry Network is financially independent of the UUA. It depends upon membership and publications sales to cover its modest expenses. Check 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 SGM Journal by email or by mail.

The Fall/Winter issue of the SGM Journal went out to members of the UU SGM Network in early December. It included Newcomer and Family Covenant Groups; A Children's Covenant; Ten Things They Never Told You About Being a SGM Facilitator (ala David Letterman); Preparing to Experience Small Group Ministry; and A Good Method for Assigning Group Members, using multi-colored index cards. If you aren't currently a member, consider joining the Network to receive this and future 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 Journal. We have recently asked CG News subscribers to reaffirm their subscriptions. If you know someone who is no longer receiving CG News, they can subscribe via a link on the UU SGM Network website or directly:

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. They will need to confirm when they receive the confirmation email.
Please share your ideas, questions, and experiences with the other Covenant Group News 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
Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge

Document Your SGM History For the Future
From the UU Small Group Ministry Network Board of Directors

Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. - George Santayana

Documenting a Small Group Ministry's history and model preserves it for the future and ensures the integrity and longevity of the program. Is your program adequately documented? What is the appropriate place for this documentation?

As we learned at the SGM Network's General Assembly booth, a recurring concern is the lack of program records to guide ministers and lay leaders. The unfortunate result is that a congregation's small group ministry history and model may be lost during leadership transitions. Incoming clergy and program coordinators may be at a loss to know how the program started, how it works, and what guiding resources are available.

Consider these common scenarios:

  • The minister who started small group ministry in your church is leaving to serve another congregation.
  • The lay leader overseeing SGM and training facilitators has just stepped down.
  • Small Group Ministry is now in the portfolio of the newly hired Minister of Congregational Life.
  • A newly formed SGM Steering Team will now assume leadership of the program.

Transitions such as these require passing on our SGM program history. Before that can happen, we must decide what information is crucial and where it should be kept. In short, how can we best keep our institutional SGM memory?

The Small Group Ministry program at First Unitarian Church of San Jose, CA has done an exemplary job of documentation on their website. We spoke with Julia Rodriguez, long-time chairperson of San Jose's SGM Council, about the elements to include. The following list provides a starting place for preserving your own congregation's SGM history.

Essential elements to document:

Small Group Ministry mission and goals
The program's "creation" story
The timeline from planning stage to program launch
The people or roles involved
The program model and policies, including participant guidelines
Program publicity, recognition, and celebrations
Session format and topic sources
The facilitator training program
The facilitators' guide or manual plus additional resources
Promotional materials including brochure, fliers, Q & A, and sign-up form
Program budget information
Staff and ministerial liaisons?
Resources available, including the UU SGM Network website, Network member benefits, and renewal information

Safe-keeping locations:
Preserve the essential elements of your SGM history in the minister's files, the program coordinator's or steering team's notebook, and in the facilitator's guide. Include the program's history and policies on the Small Group Ministry page of the church website. For long term safe-keeping, add a complete documentation of the SGM program to your congregation's policy and procedures manual. Lastly, make note of who maintains the participant database and where it is stored.

Consider annual updates to your history with the addition of program evaluations, changes, and improvements; enrichment training topics; and participant data.

For further information about what and how to document SGM history and policies, visit the web pages of The First Unitarian Church of San Jose: and

Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President UU SGM Network

A question about fluctuating attendance was raised on Small Group Ministry Network Facebook, with some responses. There is no single answer and answers will differ from location to location and from time to time. For each suggested reason for change in attendance, expect a counter experience of success. So much for easy resolution! Maybe the "givens" are what we use to define the situation and the "options" that we have to address it. This article is to invite comments here and on Facebook, so that we can enhance our understanding of the problem. The concern crosses geography and demographics of our congregations. Here are some beginning considerations, incorporating some in the Facebook responses.

Defining the current situation within your congregation
Keep note of who is in which groups, why people join and leave groups. When people leave, have an exit interview that will give an idea of the reason for the change. Some of the responses might include inability to continue a commitment, unmet expectations from the experience or the group, or group dynamics and leadership. The importance is to ask. There are various evaluation tools available to assess the status of the program and groups.

Assess what is going on in your congregation and larger community. This includes the place of Small Group Ministry within congregation, the opportunities and expectations that people will participate, and the competing activities. Change in leadership within the congregation and within the Small Group Ministry program itself may also influence attendance. While it is possible that the whether the groups meet once or twice a month, or whether the groups are ongoing or time limited, may be factors, the concerns about attendance cross those factors. However, change in the demographics may be a factor. Is there a change in the interest for specific times, such as evening versus daytime, possibly related to work status (part time versus full time, retired) or younger families with children.

Considerations to address the situation may include altering ways the program is structured. For example, if the groups are time limited, give the option of having continuing groups, and visa versa. If groups meet twice monthly, give the option of meeting once a month, and visa versa. If groups all follow the same session plans or are tied with the sermon or a shared topic, allow for selecting from the broad variety of topics available.

There are several ways to describe groups. One is usual or traditional groups, usually selected based on time available to meet. Another is affinity or groups comprised of people with common interest, such as parents, gender or age, etc. I see a third type emerging -- a focused group around a specific topic, such as the Thirty Days of Love and Women's Issues mentioned in another article, or Newcomers groups. We need to consider attendance in all the various uses within a congregation to truly assess the concern about attendance.

The ABC of Attendance:
A. Awareness of who is participating. Attend to those who are active, and be attentive to those who could be.
B. Basic elements of Small Group Ministry are being followed.
C. Choices for enhancing groups and programs are varied from time to time, and place to place.

This article is only the beginning, the opportunity to consider the importance of attendance to the success and vitality of Small Group Ministry/Covenant Groups. Your thoughts and experiences are welcome, by writing to the Network or continuing to share on Small Group Ministry Network Facebook. We will capture sharings. And this will be included in the Summer Institute as well as the new section being planned for the website on Implementing Small Group Ministry. There is no one answer, but we all can benefit from the experiences of each other.

Rev. Helen Zidowecki

In the congregation I attend in Augusta, Maine, we have started drawing attention of specific Small Group Ministry sessions for the upcoming couple of months. These draw from current and new session plans, and remind us of older ones that we might not have used or want to use again. I would like to start doing that with the session plans and resources through the Network. Such notations will be on the Network Home Page. There are two major themes that I would like to draw to your attention immediately.

Thirty Days of Love (January 19- February 17), the initiative of Standing on the Side of Love, from the UUA includes a Session Plan
This is a slight revision of the original Standing on the Side of Love session plan. It can be used with ongoing groups and as a special focus event in which the participants are divided into several small groups.

March: Women's History Month. The sessions from the "Circles of Reflection: Engaging Women in Justice Work" session at GA 2012 are in the Small Group Sessions Directory on the Network website: Reproductive Justice (3 sessions, particularly pertinent on the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade; and Failure Is Impossible (3 sessions). Six additional session plans developed originally by the UU Women's Heritage have been added to the Small Group Sessions section. These plans can be used by ongoing groups or as a special focus during Women's History Month in March.

Please continue to send session plans that you have developed around the above focuses or other topics to

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

News & Events

Murray Grove Murray Grove Retreat and Renewal Center
Lanoka Harbor, NJ 08734
Monday, July 22 (3pm) to Friday, July 26, 2013 (11:30am).

We are planning to have
  • Tracks for New and Revitalizing SGM, Facilitator Training, and Small Group Ministry With All Ages
  • Small Group Ministry Sessions daily
  • Open evening sessions on topics such as Best Practices in Small Group Ministry; Meetings for Ministers, Religious Educators, Lay SGM Leaders; and SGM as Congregational Outreach and Service
  • Material related to various congregational sizes and length of time with SGM program.
An Institute is more than a workshop. While learning from each other, we are defining critical parts of implementation and "growing edges." Participants will be major presenters of the content. Contribute to the evolution of UU Small Group Ministry

See the Flier for more information and the sample registration. However, registration is done on line with credit card or by sending a copy of the registration with a check to the address given. Thanks to Metro New York District for making this online registration possible. Cost for full Institute at Murray Grove $400, with early registration and membership discounts. Options are available for commuters.

For information about Murray Grove, see There is a pool, and there is some open time for 'vacation' activities.

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 Journal.

For information on training opportunities see the Event Announcements

UU SGM Network Publications

Order forms available from

NEW Social Justice Work: Preparation, Action, Reflection Through Small Group Ministry
The publication includes
--The Process of Social Justice work, with distinct phases of preparation, action, and reflection.
--Background and use of Small Group Ministry, and
--34 session plans for Social Justice work
Book $25/$15 for members CD $20/$15 for members

Small Group Ministry with All Ages
Explores multigenerational covenant groups and their integration into congregations. Implementation strategies, leader training, session development, and session plans for children through elders are included. June 2011
BOOK Network Members: $20 plus $6 shipping Non-members: $30 plus $6 shipping
CD Network Members: $15 plus $2 shipping Non-members: $20 plus $2 shipping

Spiritual Journeys: 101 Session Plans for Small Group Ministry Programs
Sessions on Spiritual Journeying, Personal Beliefs and Values, Spiritual Challenges, Holidays, and more. Themes drawn from art, literature, UU liturgy and hymnals, current events, and religious scriptures. June 2010.
CD Network Members: $15 plus $2 shipping Non-members: $20 plus $2 shipping

Small Group Ministry 2010: Celebrating Congregations. Over 100 congregations relate their SGM program origins, challenges and success stories.

Small Group Ministry for Youth. Twenty-five sessions for middle and high school youth.

Implementing Small Group Ministry. Download from Online Resources.

Facilitator Training and Development Manual. A guide for training and support plus a handbook on CD to customize for group leaders and facilitators.

Small Groups, Deep Connections

Social Media

In keeping up with the newest technologies, we are working to help others keep up with our activities and join the conversations by expanding to social media.

We have added some new pages to Facebook. First is the Small Group Ministry Network group, in which people are encouraged to post their own thoughts and comments. We will also be posting some events and announcements there as well.

Another group is the UU Small Group Ministry Lab, which is general discussion area to exchange ideas, resources and session content.

If you are not yet a member of Facebook, joining is completely free to everyone.

We have also started a blog, entitled Small Groups, Deep Connections, to help share older materials to a larger public as well as new articles and announcements. It is still being developed, and can be found here

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 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 (
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
c/o Treasurer
4303 Swarthmore Rd.
Durham, NC 27707

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