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Thursday, January 4, 2007

Q & A in Interconnections Newsletter

Q We started a small group ministry program two years ago and the groups really took off, but now we're starting to see problems with several of them. Is that normal?

A Peter Bowden, a church consultant and a cofounder of the UU Small Group Ministry Network,, says, "In my consulting work I have yet to find a congregation with a 'mysterious' reason for small group ministry failing. Across the board, problems are the result of some failure to implement a viable model or a failure to support this ministry prior to launching. Sustaining a healthy small group ministry requires a great deal of time, energy, and resources. Small group ministry isn't rocket science, but it is hard work. And well worth it."

"After the establishment of a new program," Bowden continues, "it is common for congregations to let small groups run on autopilot, especially when more urgent matters demand attention. However, it takes regular vision casting and support between group facilitators and skill training for small group ministries to not only stay on track, but to thrive."

Another reason for failure, he says, is that while groups are designed to build intimacy and connections they can sometimes become too inward-looking, at the expense of being open and welcoming. Also, over time the focus of groups naturally drifts toward the interests of group members, Bowden says. Such "small group drift" can move the focus of the group away from leadership development, shared ministry, and outreach.

The UU Small Group Ministry Network offers members a quarterly newsletter addressing the "perils and promises" of small group ministry. An email list, covenant_group_ministry, is available at

To join the UU SGM Network mail a check made out to "UU SGM Network"($35 individuals/$60 congregations) to UU SGM Network, 155 Evarts Street, Newport, RI, 02840. Include an email contact and a brief description of your program.

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