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January / February 2014

Small Groups, Deep Connections January / February 2014
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Brochures for Small Group Ministry
  • Alternatives to Leaders Meetings in a Covenant Group Program
  • Book Review
  • SGM Notes for Congregations
  • Upcoming Events
  • Web News
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

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Letter from the Editor


I thank you for your continued interest in Covenant Group News and the Small Group Ministry Network, and hope that small group ministry in your congregation is thriving! If you are looking for inspiration or ideas, we hope you will find those here. Please consider sharing the news from your program by sending us a note or a short article. Just email it to us at:

In this issue we have two articles. One facilitates the sharing of brochures created by congregations for their small group ministry programs. Next we hear about facilitator meeting alternatives and enhancements at Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge from Kristie Boudreaux, Branches program coordinator with husband Ray Boudreaux. While many congregations use the model of regular facilitator circles or meetings led by a minister or coordinator, this article presents another way of handling communication with facilitators.

There is a review of Bill Donohue and Russ Robinson's book The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry from Susan Hollister. SGM Notes includes contributions from two SGM Network member congregations: Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, MO, and Countryside Church UU in Palatine, IL.

Under Upcoming Events, there is an announcement by Helen Zidowecki for a May 3, 2014 workshop entitled "Groups: Vital Parts of Congregations," to be held in Bangor, Maine. Registration information and a website are included.

Anne Haynes, Guest Editor
Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, IN

Write to with comments, questions, and suggestions.

Brochures for Small Group Ministry
Contributed by Anne Haynes, Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, IN

Recently there was a thread of messages on the UUA's Covenant Group Ministry listserv from people wanting to see examples of brochures/pamphlets/flyers for small group ministry programs from other congregations. It seems there is interest in sharing these brochures that are used to publicize our programs. If you have a brochure you would like to share with others, please send it to us at:

Some of the major elements that are shared in these brochures are, but not limited to: description of the program and philosophy behind covenant groups, number of people in a group, how facilitators are supported, who may join a covenant group, whether service projects are part of the program, etc. We would love to hear from you with a copy of your brochure. We will create a place on the SGM Network website for sample brochures.

Alternatives to Leaders Meetings in a Covenant Group Program
Contributed by Kristie Boudreaux, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA

In the summer of 2012, Diana Dorroh, a driving force in the implementation and administration of the small group ministry program at our church, decided to step down from the coordinator position she had held since 1999. My husband Ray Boudreaux and I happily agreed to continue her efforts by becoming co-coordinators of the program.

While the groups were definitely thriving and individual members were ministering to each other, it seemed as though the facilitators themselves might be in need of some attention. Because attendance at our facilitator meetings had declined, our assistant minister, Rev. Nathan Ryan, and Ray and I decided to try something new. The three of us scheduled time to meet with the two leaders of each Branches group for an hour or so to simply listen to them talk about themselves and their groups. We asked them how their group was doing as a collective and as individuals. We asked them to tell us the story of their group. We asked how they, as leaders, were doing and if/when they hoped to step down.

For us, these meetings turned out to be surprisingly productive and fun -- and even more than that, the facilitators seem to have enjoyed them just as much. We found that in many cases, the two facilitators never actually have an opportunity to take an in-depth look at their groups, and this confidential meeting with us provided them the space and time to do that.

As an added benefit, we were able to identify and place about ten new group facilitators, as this venue allowed for discovery of potential leaders in each group and the church as a whole.

Book Review

Review of The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry by Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson
Contributed by Susan Hollister, Eno River UU Church, Durham, NC

The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry is a trouble-shooting guide based on the experiences and observations of the Willow Creek network of 1000+ congregations. It's designed to keep small group ministries running smoothly after they've been established. The authors define seven key areas of small group ministry breakdown starting with "Unclear Ministry Objectives." Each point is illustrated with real life examples and is followed by strategies for problem solving and tools for developing solutions. Donohue and Robinson see program purpose as key to defining your small group ministry model and structure and getting everyone headed in the same direction. "When you determine your small groups direction, express that in a well-formulated model, and then align yourselves around specific goals, you'll feel remarkable energy." Failure to define program purpose can lead to confusion and indifference, they say. Later chapters address lack of point leadership or oversight, poor facilitator training structure, neglect of ongoing leadership development, a narrow definition of small groups, and neglect of the assimilation process. As I read this book, I was reminded of the prophetic words of SGM consultant Peter Bowden: "Start as you wish to continue." Although the book is intended as a diagnostic tool for faltering small group ministries, it could also be used at the outset as a guide for small group ministry design, implementation, and evaluation.

SGM Notes From Congregations

Covenant Groups at Eliot Unitarian Chapel, Kirkwood, Missouri
Contributed by the Covenant Group Development Team: Roz Marx, Ann Lemon, Bonnie Kwentus, Julie Triplett, and Reverend Michael Hennon, Pastoral Care Minister

Our Covenant Group program at Eliot Chapel started in 2003 and many of those original groups are still meeting. We currently have 16 active Covenant Groups. Existing groups renew their commitment and new groups start in October or April of each year. We use a combination of information tables after services, monthly newsletters, and weekly emails to actively recruit new members and facilitators twice per year.

In Spring of 2013, to efficiently fill 28 openings (one new CG plus 18 openings in existing groups) we hosted a Sunday after-service "Mixer" with food and information. Facilitators introduced themselves and led sample Covenant Groups of 6-8 people. Approximately 30 attended and lined up to fill many of the openings. In 2014 we plan to start 2 new groups specifically for new members at Eliot Chapel. We'll utilize the 7 UU Principles session plans from the SGM Network website,

For the first 10 years, the program was led by our ministers. About 2 years ago, we created a lay leadership team of 3-4 members called The Covenant Group Development Team. This team organizes skill-building sessions for existing facilitators, provides support with any issues they are facing, trains new facilitators, recruits new facilitators and members, and matches new members to covenant groups. We utilize the SGM Network's Facilitator Training and Development Manual and Facilitator's Guide to develop orientation programs and educational materials. In addition, we each volunteer to be a liaison to Covenant Groups that are in transition (e.g., those that are starting, have hit a hurdle, are planning to change facilitators, or have decided to not continue as a Covenant Group).

To help with our biggest challenge, recruiting new facilitators, the Covenant Group Development Team is designing a "Path to Becoming a Facilitator" to identify, develop and orient potential facilitators from our current Covenant Groups and congregation members. (Hill, R.L., The Complete Guide to Small Group Ministry, pp. 25-34). Facilitators may share responsibilities for parts of the Covenant Group meetings or designate "substitute facilitators" when the lead facilitator must miss a meeting. These informal, volunteer "apprenticeship" roles can nurture Covenant Group members to transition to the facilitator role when the current group leader steps down, or to eventually facilitate their own new group.

Chalice Circles at Countryside Church UU, Palatine, Illinois
Contributed by Martha Blus, Chalice Circles Co-coordinator

Countryside Church UU, with approximately 310 members, is in its fourth year of Chalice Circles. Our purpose is to help cultivate new and deepening connections among individuals and to offer a "home base" within our growing congregation. To date there have been five to six circles every year, with up to ten participants in each circle including two co-facilitators. We've found that a maximum of ten enables the most effective sharing. We've been fortunate with a good match between the number of volunteer co-facilitators and persons wishing to participate in Chalice Circles.

Daytime and evening circles meet monthly at church from October through May and are reconstituted every year. Publicity takes place in July and August with registration in September. In Summer 2012 we had a lay-led service about Chalice Circles called "Building Community & Seeking Meaning (Intimacy & Ultimacy)." To promote continuity, all circles cover the same topic each month. We use Heart to Heart and Soul to Soul by Christine Robinson and Alicia Hawkins, as well as topics from the UU SGM Network website. Among this year's topics are Heroes & Heroines, What Has Life Taught You So Far?, Friendship, and Resilience.

Facilitators meet as a circle once a month to exchange feedback, support, experiences, ideas, planning, and sometimes our own sharing topic. For example, the topic in January was "What does the New Year mean in our lives?" Each year brings increased enthusiasm for Chalice Circle service activities, both within the church (greeting and ushering, deep-cleaning the kitchen) and in the community (providing meals to local homeless shelters, collecting for local food pantries).

Our plans for the immediate future focus mainly on keeping our current program strong and growing. Longer-term possibilities include a circle beginning midway through the church year, a single session "Try It, You'll Like It" circle, and using Chalice Circles to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community in our area.

Countryside has many groups organized around similar interests or subject matter, but in Chalice Circles content is secondary to relationship building - the topic is merely the vehicle for nurturing connections. Chalice Circles are playing a growing, important role in helping newer congregants form attachments to and within the church. They also give longer-term members an opportunity to "fill up their spiritual tanks," providing a welcome balance or alternative to their often more administrative church responsibilities.


Saturday, May 3, 2014 9:30am - 3:00pm
Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor, 120 Park Street, Bangor, ME

Congregations are invited to bring teams from various committees and parts of the congregation.
Celebrate the groups in our congregations and their vital roles.
Explore how groups include and exclude people who come to our congregations.
Consider the relationship between Small Group Ministry and other groups.

*The vital roles of groups -- Board and Committees (Membership, Worship, Music/Choir, Religious Education, Buildings and Grounds, Small Group Ministry, Social Justice, Social Activities, Finance and others) and groups (Buddhist meditation or Goddess groups, men's or women's groups) will be identified and celebrated.
*How groups include or exclude visitors, newcomers and ongoing members will be explored.
*What we derive from the church experience is influenced by involvement in a group or groups.

Many congregations find that Small Group Ministry enhances the life of the congregation, including committees and groups. This workshop explores the collaboration of the groups within the congregation and Small Group Ministry. There will be handouts for participants and a resource packet for each congregation.

COST: $55 per congregation (may be less if more than 5 congregations participate), regardless of the number of participants from a congregation. Teams of 3-5 are suggested, representing various groups within the church and those interested in Small Group Ministry. Congregations will be billed by the NNED after the Workshop.

FOOD: Coffee will be available on arrival. Bring your own LUNCH. Microwave and refrigerator are available.

Registration is by the Northern New England District, by sending this form to:
NNED/UUA, 10 Ferry Street #318, Concord, NH 03301, or on the website at
Registration is due by April 28, 2014.

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Implementing Small Group Ministry, an evolving resource for starting, restarting, and enhancing programs, is based on input from congregations and program leaders, as well as workshops, SGM Institutes, and Network publications and electronic media. Implementing addresses these broad areas:

Small Group Ministry Overview
Starting, Rejuvenating and Restarting Small Group Ministry
Program Oversight    •     Visibility for Vitality    •     Group Leadership
Group Formation    •     Topics & Sessions    •     Service Activities

Each section presents general information and guidelines plus options to consider.
Comments and contributions welcome at

Two new members-only areas will soon appear on our website. A Members Section will feature Small Group Ministry activities in member congregations with the opportunity to communicate and add comments or questions. Specific Focus Sections for Ministers, Small Group Ministry Lay Leaders, and Religious Educators invite exchanges of present Small Group Ministry involvement and challenges. Based on these interchanges, new SGM resource materials will be developed to address congregations' present-day needs.

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Social Justice Work Through Small Group Ministry - Thirty-four sessions for preparation, action and reflection on topics of multiculturalism, radical hospitality, immigration, racism, marriage equality, and earth justice.

Small Group Ministry with All Ages - Implementation strategies, leader training, session development, and session plans for children through elders.

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

Spiritual Journeys: 101 Session Plans for Small Group Ministry Programs - Sessions on Spiritual Journeying, Personal Beliefs and Values, Spiritual Challenges, Just for Fun, Being Human, Holidays, and Special Use subjects for life events.

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

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

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