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is Small Group Ministry? When the terms "Small Group Ministry" and "Covenant
Groups" were introduced to the Unitarian Universalist Association
in the late 1990's many people said, "Hey, we have some small groups
meeting in our congregation. Guess we've got small group ministry!"
Time and time again I meet leaders in congregations who are working
with small groups and think they are doing what I mean by small group
ministry. Below is my defintion and resources I personally recommend
you start with. Note that there are many wonderful kinds of groups meeting
and ministering in our congregations. I value the majority of them.
However many are not what I am talking about when I say Small Group
Ministry. This leads to a lot of confusion so let me clearly state my
Bowden's Defintion of Small Group Ministry Small Group Ministry a way of "doing church" which strives
to deepen and expand the ministry of a congregation using an intentional
system of lay led small groups. Imagine all that your congregation is
trying to accomplish, everything your minister, staff, leaders and members
are called to do as a community. We have learned that we can design
lay led and clergy supported small groups to accomplish this work and
ministry. At the heart of healthy congregations and life/world changing
ministries we find 1) strong relationships, 2) engagement with meaningful
issues, 3) leadership/leadership development, and 4) inspired action.
You might think of Small Group Ministry not as a new program, but an
alternative model for doing what Unitarian Universalist congregations
have been doing for years.
do you start a small group ministry?
one is to do your homework. Congregations who start too fast end up
regretting it. You have my personal guarantee on that point. There are
many ways congregations implement small group ministries. How your build
your culture of small group ministry, the purpose for groups, and how
you train and support group leaders will determine whether your group
you work on developing your ministry, remember not to work in a vacuum.
Talk to the person on your district's staff who has small group ministry
in their portfolio. Talk colleagues with small group ministries. Look
to congregations you respect and interview their leadership. Take the
time to bring in an outside consultant to work with your team. Working
with someone who knows this ministry inside and out can save you massive
amounts of time. If you can't find a consultant or trainer in your area
contact someone (like myself) who offers independent consulting/training.
Check with your district office for the best person to support you.
More on consulting/training.
suggestions to start with My #1 recommended resource for those wanting to start a congregation
wide small group ministry -- a group program that is is generally focused
on expanding and deepening the work and ministry of the church -- is
Glenn Turner's paper Designing and Implementing a "Small Group Ministry"
Focus for Your Congregation" by the Rev. Glenn H. Turner. In this paper
Rev. Turner gives a general overview of small group ministry, a specific
plan for studying the topic, and suggestions on designing and launching
your own program.
heed the words of the Rev. Bob Hill. Speed kills. If you try
to launch or grow a program too quickly you will run into problems.
Take the time to study, contact other congregations. Don't make decisions
until you have learned what the terrain is like, including the common
pitfalls. We now know what makes a small group ministry thrive, bumble
along or flop.
you have a basic handle on what Small Group Ministry is (from Glenn
Turner's paper) I'd work with an "exploratory group" or as
Glenn calls it, an "implementation team", and study the following
material. At a minimum make sure you have read Glenn's paper, Bob Hill's
book, and the resources by Calvin Dame.
would also recommend reading at LEAST the following three non-UU resources.
Our UU literature is not complete. It is essential - I think - that
you hear Andy Stanley's arguement for being a RELATIONAL CHURCH, that
you learn how to DESIGN COACHING STRUCTURES necessary for growing
healthy groups, and that you are exposed to Carl George's vision and
passion. Carl George's work inspired our UU small group movement.
stop there. Keep reading... In
addition to these UU resources, make sure you take the time to read
the resources by denominations that have been working for years to
master "doing church" via small groups. Below are my recommendations.
isn't rocket science, but it is harder than it looks Small
group ministry is not rocket science, but it is a lot more complex
than one would think. I often talk about it in terms of being like
an iceberg, what you see above the surface is held up by what you
don't see. If you don't take the time to learn what is under the
surface, all those things that need to happen to support this ministry,
it is more likely than not that your small group ministry will sink
instead of grow.
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