Implementing - Groups
(comments at end of section)


Groups are ways of integrating people into the congregation and of developing leadership.
*People are invited to join small group ministry.
*People gain confidence in small groups and may be willing to become leaders in other areas of the congregation.
*People increase the depth of connections and ways of relating through small group ministry that extends to other parts of congregational life.

Oversight functions, usually done by the Small Group Ministry Coordinator
*Maintain a data base of facilitators and groups, including meeting time, people interested in joining a group, and pertinent notes regarding group development.
*Follow up on group status at leadership meetings, and/or connect with facilitators to track changes in groups.
*The number of groups varies with the configuration of groups, leaders/facilitators available, congregational vision for small group ministry, and other groups within the congregation.

Size: Smaller.
There needs to be an adequate number of participants for diversity of discussion. In a smaller congregation, this could be 4-6 in order to have at least 2 groups, with the expectation of growth.
Size: Larger.
People are able to go deeper in discussions and bonding in smaller groups, preferably 8-10 maximum, including facilitators.
Number of Groups: Smaller number.
Suggest that congregations start with at least two groups. This offers variety in group availability, gives the facilitators support, and makes small group ministry more of a program than a group that could be seen as exclusive.
Number of Groups: Larger number.
*Focus is on the health of the groups rather than on the number groups or people involved. *Participation in a group is an option and an opportunity, but not everyone is interested or able to be in a group.
Selection: Random
*Selection is frequently based on meeting time. *Groups offer unexpected relationships and greater diversity.
Selection: Affinity group
*Selection is based on like interest or characteristic.
*If the priority is its affinity or focus, it may not truly be small group ministry.
How Assigned: By Coordinator.
*Members are assigned by the minister or coordinator with input from the facilitators, who may also suggest members. The facilitator is not 'in the middle' if there is a concern about placement.
*This also may increase diversity of the group.
How Assigned: Self-select.
*Members join a group by preference.
*It may limit the diversity or someone who requests to join but may not be perceived as fitting into the group.

Composition factors. The diversity of the group enriches the small group ministry experience.
Note: Unless specified, the term 'participants' means people involved regularly with the congregation, even if they have not signed as 'members' of the congregation.

Time With Church: Diversity.
*New members with longer-term members gives broad connection to the congregation and traditions.
*Longer-term members reaffirm their commitment as they integrate newer members.
*There needs to be an awareness and willingness to explain terms, expressions, and traditions.
Time With Church: Similarity.
*May be easier to give orientation to newer members
*Newer members may feel a bond around that 'newness' and feel more comfortable.
*Longer-term members may have deeper discussion because of shared time in the congregation and in UUism.
Beyond UUs and Congregational Membership.
*People who are not members of the church may be included. However, this is a program of the church. Suggest that facilitators be church members (have signed the book).
*Small Group Ministry can be an outreach function of the church. However, it must be clear whether eventual membership is the focus or requirement.
Church Participants.
*Small group ministry is a program to integrate people into the church community.
*This is ministry of the church to its members.
Relations: Partners/Relatives in the Same Group when:
*The integrity of the group will not be compromised if partners or relatives participate.
*Each person will be able to fully participate with the other present.
*This shared experience enhances own relationship.
*One person may not participate if not able to come with partner or relative.
Relations: Partners/Relatives NOT in the Same Group when:
*Such close relationships interfere with the openness and equality of group discussion.
*Relational issues interfere with or distract from the group.
*Each person benefits more from being in different groups.

Need to be prepared to make a change if the relationship interferes with the group process.
Diversity of Demographics (such as gender, sexual orientation, abilities, racial background, age).
*Each person is a unique and more than the sum of the characteristics.
*There may be a preference to have more than one person with a specific characteristic in a group, such as gender.
Similarity in demographics.
*There may be comfort within the group with shared characteristics.
*There may be decreased diversity and a narrower group experience.
Special Consideration
People who present special consideration may
(a) not able to be in right relationship and cannot seem to listen or share time fairly.
(b) continually challenge the model.
(c) challenge the boundaries, with sharing that would be more appropriate for a therapy group or that contains over-sexualized, racist or homophobic comments, etc.

*A member should not absorb an unequal amount of what is supposed to be mutual ministry, to the detriment of the full group.
Special Considerations: Actions
*Make the covenant clear and part of ongoing group meetings.
*Review the basic elements of Small Group Ministry, and the assessment tools annually and as needed. This will reinforce the intent of the model.
*Be aware of your reaction to the boundary challenges. Possibly suggest that the needs of the person exceed what the group has to offer.
*Seek advice from the minister, program director, or your coach. You need this support. Give one of them a call.

"Extra Grace or Care Required" By Diana Dorroh, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA, Covenant Group News, January 2010

--The length of time a group continues needs to be enough to establish deeper relationships. It is critical that the expected time be known to the participants as the group starts. No matter how long groups are together, there are always revelations and surprises!
--Groups meet frequently enough to maintain continuity in personal connection. A session lasts long enough for significant check-in and exploration of the topic (usually 1.5 to 2 hours per meeting).
--The meeting space must free from disruption and distraction, readily accessible, and comfortable. The space can be arranged with or without a table.
--Have as many options as possible for meeting times, such as evenings, variety of days and times. If on Sunday, a group meeting should not limit attendance at worship.

Duration: Undefined Term
*Groups that are together for more than a year need to remain open to ways to keep the group 'fresh' and welcoming.
*People who have difficulty establishing relationships may be more comfortable with a longer commitment and less change.
*Longer term groups may provide opportunity for a person to feel ready to move into more active role, including leadership.
Duration: Specific Term
*It may be easier to get commitments for facilitators and group members for shorter periods of time, such as a year. However, more facilitators will be needed if the groups go less than a year.

"Building Community: The Spiral in Small Group Ministry"
Invitational Group. This can be available for visitors, people new to the congregation, or those who have not committed to a group. The topics need to be engaging and the appropriate depth, with a time for getting to know basic information about the participants.
*This allows flexibility for people to attend, but will not provide the intimacy that is part of the ongoing groups.
*If a group attendance becomes consistent, it can be develop into an ongoing group.
*Covenant needs to be included in each session
Focused Group.
Time-limited series, one or more, with a focus on a topic.

*If the time is a few weeks or a few sessions, it may appear more as an adult religious education program than a focus on ministry This must be considered in presentation.
Meet Twice Monthly. This seems to be a realistic schedule for many groups to maintain a sense of connection. If a person misses a session, the gap of connection is "manageable". Meet Monthly. While the amount of time that the group can commit to meet is reasonable, it is more difficult to maintain connection. If a meeting is missed, the time between connections is long.
Meet in Homes.
*This helps the group members understand and appreciate home setting of the members and adds to group bonding.
*Offering home for a meeting is an option rather than a requirement. Meeting in a home might be inconvenient or a burden for a group member.
Meet at the Church.
*The space at the church needs to be available to the group at the designated time (on the church calendar), and the group use of the space is a priority (versus other groups or rentals).
*Meeting at church may be more convenient for group members.
Geographic Proximity.
*With wide geographic distribution of congregations, meeting in closer proximity may be a necessity.
*This may be an outreach to a geographic area.
*Will limit contact with other parts of the congregation.
Geographic Considerations.
*Plan to pool transportation to meetings.
*Participation from a diverse area may increase understanding of the geographic considerations in the work of the congregation as a whole, including cultural factors.
Provide Food.
*Consideration includes simplicity of preparation, food preferences and limitations of group members, and the place of food in the total group experience, such as beginning, a break, closing.
*Food should not interfere with the overall purpose of the group, which is spiritual depth.
No Planned Food. Even if food is not planned or provided, it should be clear whether or not it is acceptable to bring food. Example: it might be acceptable or usual to bring lunch to a lunchtime meeting.
Meet Beyond the Session: Yes. Members may plan on attending worship together, or participate in activities outside of the session time, as deeper connections among the members develop. This is voluntary and may involve some or all of the group. Meet Beyond the Session. No. Members that are not able or do not wish to participate beyond the sessions are valued for the time they can participate.

--Groups remain open to changing membership, regardless of how or when.
--The size of the group is critical, and increasing size may necessitate change in a group.
--A process for welcoming and saying good-bye needs to be a planned part of group process.

Groups are for community and spiritual development. Anticipating that the group will change helps to prevent exclusivity. Change Occurs.
*People change connection with a group for a number or reasons, including scheduling, differing expectations or needs. This may result in the person leaving the group.
*Groups change as part of program practice, such as designation time.
Group Splits. When critical size is met, the group could split, with either a member of the group or an external person becoming the new facilitator of a second group. Start New Group. When several people are interested in joining a group, start an entirely new group rather than add to an existing group.
Planned. Announce the changes several meetings before they are to occur. Engage the group in planning a special welcome or good-bye, regardless of whether it is one person or the entire group that is changing. Unplanned. When the departure of a member is sudden, such as conflict or death, allow time for healing before adding a new person to the group.

Congregations are becoming increasingly aware of how to live in community in 'right relation'. We have only begin to look at the connection between the right relations in a group and the larger community, or what that means related to our Principles.

Theological basis:
*Honors the inherent worth and dignity of all members, friends and guests.
*Supports the religious diversity and spiritual growth of members and friends through Small Group Ministry by encouraging open and inclusive small groups where individual expression and group dialogue fosters respect and celebration of shared, different and divergent ideas and experiences.

Concern Arises/Process to Resolve:
*When conflict or other concerns about group dynamics arise within a small group, the individuals involved should attempt to resolve the problem through open, respectful dialogue.
*If the issues are not resolved promptly and did not involve the group leader, the issues should be brought to the attention of the group leader for further attempts at satisfactory resolution.
*All attempts at resolution should be guided by the principles described above.
Issues Not Resolved Within the Group
*There needs to be a process for bringing the issues to the attention of the Coordinator.
*The Coordinator may consult with the minister or the Committee, and together they will, again based on the principles described above, determine and undertake any intervention necessary to resolve the ongoing problem.

If in the judgment of the Committee, group dynamics have deteriorated to the point that the group can no longer function in a way that meets the purposes and goals of the SGM program, there needs to be a process for disbanding the group. The coordinator will refer any members of the disbanded group who wish to continue in the SGM program to another group when openings are available.

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