Brochures boost Small Group Ministry

The March/April issue of Covenant Group News, the online newsletter of the UU Small Group Ministry Network, describes a brochure the UU Fellowship of Vero Beach, Fla., created to explain that congregation’s small group ministry program to congregants and to others who enter the building.

Vero Beach member Pete Kersey notes: “We created our brochure when we realized that everything we wanted to pass on to the congregation about covenant groups/small group ministry was too much to swallow in a letter or flyer format. The brochure allowed us to include pictures, graphics, and text in a format that was a page-turner, easy to look at, and full of timely and relevant information, including what the movement was about, when we were recruiting members, and how to join. We have found it to be an effective piece.”

More information is here. The Small Group Ministry Network website invites other congregations to submit their brochures.

Small Group Ministry is a program of intentional lay-led small groups that deepen and expand the ministry of a congregation. The Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry Network is a grassroots organization of small group leaders and participants. It publicizes information from many sources and encourages networking to enhance the development of Small Group Ministry. Congregations with small group programs are encouraged to join.

Small group ministry resources from the UUA Bookstore

Five resources are available from the UUA Bookstore for small group ministry programs and other spiritual sharing groups:

  • Soul to Soul, a 174-page book published in 2011, is the second collection of small group offerings by Christine Robinson and Alicia Hawkins. From the bookstore website: “Covering wide-ranging topics such as addiction, grieving, and personal resilience, Soul to Soul offers new opportunities to explore life issues with others.” $14.
  • The Pen and the Bell, published in 2012, is available as an eBook and includes both meditative and writing exercises. “The Pen and the Bell is about how to achieve mindfulness and creative fulfillment in spite of long to-do lists. It’s about gaining access to our deeper selves in the workaday world, and bringing forth this authentic self in our writing.” $15.
  • The Sustainable Soul by Rebecca James Hecking, was published in 2011. It is a “guide for a journey toward ecological spirituality and sustainable culture,” according to the website description. It includes guided meditations, art projects, and ideas for actions. $14.

A comprehensive list of small group ministry resources, including information on how to form such programs within congregations, can be found at the website of The UU Small Group Ministry Network.

Small Group Ministry Network offers variety of resources

Leaders of small group ministry programs and groups are encouraged to join the UU Small Group Ministry Network. Members receive a monthly newsletter and a quarterly journal. Both include practical information about small group ministry. Other resources include many free session plans, several books and other publications available for purchase, and an online discussion group where ideas can be shared with others.

The June/July issue of Covenant Group News, the monthly publication, includes an article on what to do about low attendance. The Summer issue of the SGM Quarterly journal has an article on how small group ministry can help a congregation weather change.

A new resource from the UU Small Group Ministry Network is the publication Social Justice Work: Preparation, Action, Reflection Through Small Group Ministry, by Helen Zidowecki and Susan Hollister.

Skinner House resources online

Skinner House Books, a Unitarian Universalist Association imprint that publishes titles on UU history, theology, biography, and worship, has a variety of free resources online at These include discussion questions, small group ministry plans, webinars, videos, related articles, and author interviews—all designed to help congregational leaders deepen their congregation’s engagement with Skinner House books.

Skinner House also invites leaders to share feedback about how these resources are used and suggest ideas for improvement. If your congregation has developed a resource that would be useful to others, share it through Skinner House. Contact Skinner House Editorial Director Mary Benard with comments and suggestions.

Small Group Ministry resources available

The Small Group Ministry Network will present an institute August 30—September 2 at Camp deBenneville Pines in the mountains above Los Angeles. The institute will focus on learning to do small group ministry and exploring its impact on congregations, building facilitator skills and creating effective sessions. Information is available on the SMG Network website,

Various publications are also available from the network. They include Small Group Ministry with All Ages, Spiritual Journeys: 101 Session Plans for Small Group Ministry Programs, and Small Group Ministry 2010, Celebrating Congregations. The network publishes a quarterly newsletter which is available to members. The current Summer 2011 issue includes articles on strengthening congregations through small group ministry, a profile of the SGM program at the UU Church in Eugene, Ore., and creating credos. A monthly newsletter is available online to anyone.

The network is open to small group ministry participants and leaders. Membership is $40 for individuals and $100 for congregations. The network is supported by its members.


Small groups use special practices

The November issue of Covenant Group News, the monthly newsletter of the UU Small Group Ministry Network, includes an article on using Skype to connect people who can’t attend a meeting because of distance. Skype is software that can be used to connect two computers so that a distant person can be seen as well as heard.

“It was a great experience,” said a facilitator from Hamilton, Ontario. “I believe it has tons of potential applications for all kinds of ministry.”

Another article explores a group at High Plains UU Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., created for parents with small children. The group includes childcare. It has two trained facilitators, who, if enough people attend, hold two sessions. The groups sometimes have a choice of child-centered or spiritual growth topics.

The Church of the Larger Fellowship, a congregation that serves isolated UUs through the Internet and by mail, holds online small group sessions that can last three to four weeks. The facilitator sends out an opening reading and invites members to check in by email over the next few days. Then a topic is posed and more time is allowed for receiving responses. Then a few more days are provided for closing and evaluation and then there’s a final week for informal chatting. The Rev. Lynn Ungar, CLF minister for Lifespan Learning, said these groups work especially well for people who are shy or need time to process.

More information on the UU Small Group Ministry Network, including how to join and sign up for Covenant Group News is here. The network also collects discussion topics and makes them available to members.

Unintended consequences of small group ministry

The April 2010 issue of Covenant Group News, for leaders and members of small groups, includes an essay by the Rev. Steve Crump of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, La., about some of the “unintended consequences” of small group ministry.

He notes that small group ministry “encourages right relationship and diminishes acting-out behavior in the larger church community because the modeling of right relationship in small groups extends to right relationship in other areas of our lives as well.” Small groups also teach the art of hospitality and encourage good communication, he says.

Subscribe to Covenant Groups News and find out about small group ministry here.

Worship with a small group focus

Many smaller congregations served by part-time ministers are faced with the sometimes daunting task of filling the pulpit while not having the funds to secure professional ministers. This task, while challenging, has the potential of generating new and innovative styles of worship, says the Rev. Marguerite Sheehan, of  First Parish Unitarian in Northfield, Mass.

First Parish has begun hosting a monthly “Chalice Sunday Service,” which combines a traditional service with a “small group ministry” model. The service includes all the elements of a meaningful worship service, including opening words, hymns, a children’s time, an offering, and a prayer or meditation. In place of the sermon, a lay member chooses a centering topic (reflected in the hymns and a reading) that is offered for reflection.

The congregation is invited to gather in a circle, listen to the reading and a few thought-provoking questions, and then each person has the opportunity to share a short response (without interruptions or cross conversation.)

There is also time built in for the participants to offer gratitude to other people in the circle who may have stimulated their hearts and minds or offered a divergent response, thereby challenging their own thinking. This model encourages reflection on a broad range of spiritual and religious concerns and reinforces deep listening and fellowship.

The “template” is easy for lay leaders to plug into, says Sheehan, “which means that a wide spectrum of the congregation feels confident in stepping up to the plate to facilitate the services. Visitors to the church report that they feel welcomed into Chalice Sundays.” For more information, email Sheehan.

Newsletter supports small group ministry

An article in the October issue of Covenant Group News, a publication of the UU Small Group Ministry Network, notes the power of moments of silence during small group ministry gatherings. Diana Dorroh, editor of Covenant Group News and program director at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, La., writes:

Silence is a powerful tool for any facilitator. It can be used after a particularly moving sharing occurs. For example, if one member tells a story about the death of a family member, the facilitator can call for a moment of silence. This honors the sharing that just occurred and prepares the way for the next member, who may have been planning to share something joyful.

Some groups routinely allow 15 seconds of silence after each sharing. This honors each person and creates a clean finish of one sharing before the next begins, similar to passing a talking object. It’s also like a small silent prayer after each person’s sharing.

Silence can also be used when a difficult situation occurs (such as an inappropriate comment.) Calling for a moment of silence may . . . allow you to think of something gentle to say, something beginning with “I” and followed by a loving statement to call everyone back to the model and the covenant.

Copies of Covenant Group News are available online. You can also sign up to receive each new issue by email. The UU Small Group Ministry Network also has an email discussion group that supports leaders of small groups.