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History of Small Group Ministry (SGM) at San José

This is a tale of the development of SGM at our church and what we thought was really important.

How we got here:

  1. To taste what small groups might be like we tried the Rev. Barbara Hamilton-Holloway’s “Evensong.” We loved it, but it wasn't long term. There were only eight sessions and no structure for sustainability. We found out that there is a hunger in the congregation for the small group experience.
  2. The Board of Directors talked about it for several months. One board member pointed out that there were many unanswered questions about what SGM would be in our church. This board member eventually volunteered to lead a task force to answer those questions. The task force chair developed a job description for task force members and reviewed it with the board president and Senior Minister. The board president recruited members of the task force. The members of the task force represented various groups in the congregation, and each came with a variety of skills and orientations. The task force chair set a worshipful, purposeful, mutually respectful tone that led to serious consideration of the impact SGM would have on all aspects of the ministry of our congregation.
  3. The task force initially reviewed and refined the questions. It was from these questions that the task force developed policies. Initially, the questions focused on the following areas
    1. Goals of SGM
    2. Leadership
    3. Establishing and maintaining groups
    4. Content of the small group session
    5. Group responsibilities
    6. Group functioning
    7. Congregational responsibility

  4. The task force met for nine months. (We originally thought it would be a three month job.). Members addressed the questions, researched existing current work including evangelical Christian programs. They thought out the effect of SGM on existing groups within the church. The task force worked in small teams of three or four to flesh out answers to the questions, and the task force as a whole finalized the answers, which became the policy, and eventually were converted to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ0. This FAQ continues as a guiding document for the SGM Council.
  5. When about two-thirds of the questions had been addressed, the task force began specific plans for implementation, including announcing the approach; recruiting leaders, content team, leadership development team, and membership team; creating initial content; and establishing initial groups.
  6. The board and Senior Minister made a firm commitment to SGM to establish it as an integral part of the church ministry. This has had various effects. For example , all small groups meet the first and third weeks of the month. Therefore, all other church meetings are scheduled for the second and fourth weeks so as not to conflict with small groups. No member should have to choose between church work and small groups.
  7. Policies covered the following areas:
    1. Goals of SGM
    2. Leadership
    3. Establishing and maintaining groups
    4. Content & process of gatherings
    5. Group responsibilities
    6. Group functioning
    7. Congregational responsibility
    8. Evaluation and assessment processes
  8. We rolled out the program by discussing it at social hour, at the all-church retreat, and by leading sample sessions called "tasters".
  9. Leaders were recruited by invitation only. To make the process more formal, people have to fill out an application for leadership. All leaders are trained. Every group has two leaders. All leaders participate in monthly leadership gatherings, which are structured to support, nourish, and train leaders.
  10. When groups start we ask that they meet weekly for four weeks in a row to develop momentum. After that they move into the regular schedule.
  11. There is a really good support structure for the program. This includes a council that has representatives of three teams: leadership, membership, and content. 
    1. The leadership team recruits, trains, and supports the leaders. Each leader receives a monthly call. There is a leader gathering once a month that extends the leader training and provides time for networking. 
    2. The mMembership team has both a database and matchmaking function.
    3. The content team creates all materials used in SGM.
  12. When the content team met it considered what was necessary to enable the goals of our program. The team created leader notes to enable the leaders to be extensions of the ministry of our church. The sessions have a fairly formal structure to make it possible for people with differing styles to be in the same group. The content varies in style so everyone find that some sessions fit their style and some sessions challenge them.

Every session includes q preparation, an order of worship and leader notes. The leader notes help the leader to smoothly lead the session. The leader notes enable the leaders to be extensions of the ministry of our church. The notes provide extra context and resources. The content team has written special sessions for the life events of members, and sessions to mark the milestones of the groups. 

  1. All meetings are treated as worship, including the small group sessions, the leader gatherings, the council meetings, the team meetings. They all begin and end with chalice lighting and readings.

 

Through it all, and to this day we constantly return to our goals and policies to see that we are on track. What was really important:

  1. Identifying the need/want for SGM within the congregation. After Evensong, there was no problem "selling" this to the church.
  2. Commitment from the ministers and Board. SGM changes everything in the church. It changes the way ministers minister. It extends the ministry. It can affect every program in the church in the long run.
  3. Goal setting. We spent months working on our goals and it was time well spent. We "own" those goals. They are not just pretty words. Take a look at the first page of the FAQ. Those are our goals.
  4. Time really must be spent on the structures to make it sustainable. Everything must be written down or else it is just a one-time happening. Leaders need support, content must be written, and a smooth growth process must be developed.

 

Each of us brings a separate truth here. We bring the truth of our own life, our own story. We don’t come as empty vessels… But rather we come as full people- People who have our own story and our own truth. We seek to add to our truths and add to our stories. This room is rich with truth, rich with experience. All manner of people are here:

Needy… joyful… frightened… anxious… bored…

We all bring our truth with us. May we all recognize the truth and the story in everyone’s life. And may we hear and honor the truths that we all bring as we gather together. Together we have many truths. Together we have a story. Together we are a community.”

(Opening words for a small group, by Penny Hackett-Evans)