Small Group Ministry Participant Handbook
Welcome to the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta. I am glad you are considering Small Group Ministry. If you arrived at UUCC seeking deeper connections with people and greater meaning and purpose in the busyness of your life then Small Group Ministry may be just what you are looking for. We know that the activity of Sunday morning services and fellowship can be an overwhelming and sometimes lonely place to develop meaningful and sustaining relationships. This ministry offers a wonderful opportunity for newcomers and members to become connected to the wider community, eight people at a time. Small Group Ministry encourages people to explore their faith and share their spiritual journeys with each other. There may be a group that is awaiting your arrival into the empty chair set up for the new member entering the group.
I hope you choose to join a Small Group Ministry and begin the adventure of nurturing intimacy and ultimacy in our community.
Rev. Carie Johnsen Rev 10/12
WHAT IS SMALL GROUP MINISTRY ABOUT?
In 1999, we began Small Group Ministry to offer us another path to realize our mission as a congregation and religious community. We know that a vibrant and vital religious community needs to provide resources in four areas:
Worship is the shared experience at the heart of our congregation. Small Group Ministry offers the opportunity to deepen that experience.
Learning means stepping onto the spiritual path toward knowing one's self better, growing in understanding of the world and pondering questions of faith: how to live, what to believe, how to act, how to respond to the mysteries of life. Small Group Ministry provides the opportunity to address these questions in the company of other searchers.
Community answers the need for connection and real intimacy that is a deep yearning in our society and essential to the life of a religious community. Small Group Ministry is one avenue to speak to this yearning.
Service is a grateful response to life's blessings. Small Group Ministry is an opportunity to serve our congregation and the wider community though projects large and small.
WHY CALL IT SMALL GROUP MINISTRY?
At Unitarian Universalist Community Church the ministry of the congregation is widely shared. Small Group Ministry is one among many opportunities to care for others and to be cared about as well.
Small means a group with a maximum of 10 people. Groups of this size provide an opportunity to relate on a more intentional level.
Group is a gathering of individuals, sometimes selected at random, sometimes selected for a specific interest or characteristic.
Ministry is the process or act of caring or being present with another. This relates to the spiritual as well as the physical and emotional well-being of the group participants.
WHAT ARE THE BASIC ELEMENTS OF SMALL GROUP MINISTRY?
- Small Group Ministry promotes intimacy through listening and intentional personal relationships, ultimacy through focus on meaning and significance, and growth through practice of leadership skills.
- It is recommended that each group develop and abide by a set of relationship ground rules called a covenant, to welcome new members, and to engage in service to the congregation and the larger world.
- Group leadership is provided by a trained group leader and by session facilitators.
- For each gathering groups select a session plan from a large collection. The session plan is a guide and springboard for the discussion.
WHAT HAPPENS AT A GROUP MEETING?
The focus of the group meeting is the topic of the selected session plan. Participants each receive a collection of session plans and more are available through the internet. Groups decide how to select the session plan and decide on their own order and pace. Topics include personal religious histories, spiritual practices, loneliness, fear, poetry, music and healing, among many others.
The session plans are simple and include:
Opening Words: The opening serves to gather people in, to remind participants of the special opportunity of the gathering, and to reflect on the chosen topic. Some groups light a Chalice as well.
Check-in: Participants share news of what has been happening in their lives. Each group develops its own customs as to the length of sharing or how to respond. This portion of the meeting may expand from time to time when circumstances call for it.
Topic/Discussion: A paragraph or two lays out a topic and presents questions that will elicit thoughtful discussion and significant reflection.
Check out/ Likes and Wishes: This is a format for feedback on the session itself or on how the meeting went overall.
Closing Words: This brings the formal session to an end.
HOW OFTEN DO GROUPS MEET?
Each group develops its own schedule; the most common pattern is to meet twice a month on a first and third or second and fourth week schedule. Some groups choose every other week, every third week or once a month. The regularity of meetings is an important component of the intimacy, fellowship and growth which participants experience through their groups.
HOW LONG DO MEETINGS LAST?
Sessions are designed to be two hours long, and groups are encouraged to be respectful of the time.
WHERE DO THE GROUPS MEET?
Each group decides whether to meet primarily in member's homes or at the church.
WHAT IS EXPECTED OF A SMALL GROUP MINISTRY PARTICIPANT?
Participants should bring a positive attitude, as well as a willingness to share and grow. An important expectation is that members give the meetings high priority. There are two covenants that guide group participation. One of them is developed within the group by the members and describes the expectations that members have of one another. The other is between the group and the larger church community. The congregation expects that groups will stay connected to the church through service and through members’ participation in church-led workshops and leader meetings.
Participants are encouraged to promote our community’s Small Group Ministry recognizing that new participants will be placed in a group by the Small Group Ministry Coordinator with the goal of broadening connections and balancing group sizes.
WHO WILL KNOW WHAT I SAY?
Respect for confidentiality is fundamental to building the trust that allows intimacy to flourish. Each group is encouraged to be clear about how confidentiality is practiced within that group; it is an essential element of the group's covenant. When a member has a need which might be addressed by the minister or a pastoral associate, the member can be encouraged to make that connection, or another member may ask permission to pass the concern along to the appropriate resource.
IS SMALL GROUP MINISTRY THERAPY?
No, it is not. While participants in the groups often report feeling more connection and increased satisfaction in their lives, Small Group Ministry is not therapy. We offer intimacy, reflection and spiritual growth.
HOW ARE TOPICS SELECTED?
The groups generally select their topics from various resources. The UUCC Topics Workgroup develops topics around suggestions that have been submitted and works with groups as they develop their own sessions. There is also an extensive range of session plans on the UU Small Group Ministry Network (www.smallgroupministry.net) under Group Session Plans. Guidelines for developing session plans that you are considering using are available from the Small Group Ministry Committee.
HOW DOES THE IDEA OF SERVICE FIT IN?
From the beginning, the idea of service has been woven into the fabric of Small Group Ministry. Every group takes on some kind of service in the church or in the wider community annually. Past years have seen groups participating in worship on Sunday, leading fund raising events, helping with painting in our buildings or adopting a family in need during the Christmas season. Service beyond the group is important for two reasons. First, it helps to offset the natural tendency of small, intimate groups to become self-absorbed and disconnected from those outside the group. Second, service is necessary to a growing spiritual life, a life of faith.
HOW DOES A PERSON FIND OUT MORE OR JOIN A GROUP?
To join a group or learn more contact Coordinator Kathy Kellison at firstname.lastname@example.org 445-4415(h) or 622-4774(w); Rev. Carie Johnsen at 622-3663 or email@example.com or the Church Administrator at 622-3232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO IS IN CHARGE OF SMALL GROUP MINISTRY?
The Small Group Ministry Coordinator is the most visible face directing this ministry, but she is not alone. There is a Committee that meets with the Coordinator to explore ways of keeping the program a strong part of our congregation into the future. Group members bring feedback to the Coordinator to help guide and shape Small Group Ministry. The hope is to evolve as the congregation changes so that Small Group Ministry will remain vital.
WHAT DOES THE SMALL GROUP MINISTRY COMMITTEE DO?
The SGM Committee works to ensure the vitality of the Small Group Ministry program as it furthers the mission of the church. The Committee is comprised of the SGM Coordinator, who is hired by the Board and supervised jointly by the Board and the Minister; the Chair of the Committee, who is selected through the Nominating Committee; and at least three members from the congregation who have participated in the Small Group Ministry program.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE SMALL GROUP MINISTRY COORDINATOR?
The Coordinator oversees this ministry of the congregation. She promotes Small Group Ministry so newcomers to the church know that it is available and what it does. She recruits and trains group leaders and meets with them for counsel and guidance. She connects interested individuals to groups that meet their scheduling needs. The Small Group Ministry Coordinator meets regularly with the staff of the church to assure that this ministry continues to further the goals of the congregation.
WHAT DOES THE GROUP LEADER DO?
Small Group Ministry group leaders support the life of the group. They make sure the group begins and ends on time, remind people of the next meeting, and contact members who miss a meeting. They stay in touch with the Small Group Ministry Coordinator and the Small Group Ministry Committee, to maintain a connection with the congregation.
HOW ARE GROUP LEADERS TRAINED?
New group leaders meet with the SGM Coordinator either singly or in a group for an initial training. Leaders learn about the history of SGM at our church and are introduced to the Basic Elements of Small Group Ministry, so that everyone has the opportunity to understand the intent of this ministry for the congregation. They also learn about group dynamics and look at how to respond to some possible rough spots that can occur in groups.
Ongoing training is in the form of leader meetings with the SGM Coordinator. At these meetings leaders discuss any concerns they have and review how the groups are doing in meeting the goals of Small Group Ministry. In this way the groups stay in touch with one another and with the larger church.
Finally, the Coordinator is available at any time if questions or concerns arise about interactions in any of the groups. One does not need to be a skilled facilitator to be a group leader. Those skills will develop over time
WHAT ARE GROUP FACILITATORS?
At each meeting of a group, one person is the designated facilitator. This is the person who reads opening and closing words and presents the questions for discussion. When a group is new, this person is the group leader, the person who has been trained in the Basic Elements of Small Group Ministry and has had an introduction to group dynamics. As the group evolves, members grow comfortable with their covenant and get to know one another. It is common for groups to begin to rotate the role of facilitator among the members who are willing. Some of our group leaders got their initial experience as occasional facilitators and then became trained leaders. The Small Group Ministry Coordinator offers 'facilitation training' from time to time. Anyone interested in facilitating in a group is invited to attend.
HOW ARE HEALTHY GROUP DYNAMICS SUPPORTED?
Group leaders and facilitators have skills and have attended trainings to help sessions run smoothly. If a participant feels that additional help is needed, the Policy for Supporting Healthy Group Dynamics in SGM is available from group leaders, the SGM Coordinator, SGM Committee members and is in the UUCC Operations Manual.
HOW LONG DO GROUPS STAY TOGETHER?
In the original vision for Small Group Ministry, taken from successful evangelical programs, groups would grow to twelve or so, and then split, with the facilitator taking one group and an apprentice facilitator taking the other. This has not worked for us; once groups feel connected they do not want to split. However, as the circumstances of people's lives change, they may choose to leave their group. While it is sad to say goodbye, new members are warmly welcomed and expand the circle of connection. The Small Group Ministry Coordinator fills vacancies with an eye to serving the overall vision of Small Group Ministry. People who leave a group may request to join another group at a later time.
In addition, groups may have a specific time limit, such as a year, set when they are created. When the group has ended, members may request to join another group. This presents an opportunity to become acquainted with more people in the congregation at a deeper level over time.
WHAT RESOURCES ARE THERE FOR SMALL GROUP MINISTRY?
The UU Small Group Ministry Network website (www.smallgroupminstry.net) is the most comprehensive source of information about Small Group Ministry. UUCC is a member of the Network and has contributed session plans and other articles over the years.