Forming support groups in a congregational setting
A quick-and-dirty guide to forming support groups in congregational settings.
A support group is typically a small group of people who are facing similar problems or issues, who come together periodically to share their stories and give each other moral and spiritual support (and sometimes to give each other practical advice).
Support groups may be open or closed, depending on whether new members are admitted or not. Some closed groups admit new members every so often -- perhaps once a year, or when they need to replace members lost due to attrition.
Organizational and logistical matters to consider:
1. Covenant or basic agreement
A short set of behavioral agreements ("covenant," in religious language) is needed.
- This agreement would include a statement of purpose for the group.
- This agreement would include a statement of confidentiality (e.g., "What's said in this room stays in this room").
- This agreement to be reviewed at each meeting.
2. How often to meet
Meet monthly, bimonthly, weekly, other? -- what time and day to meet -- where to meet -- length of meeting time.
3. Basic structure of a typical meeting
The basic support group in a Unitarian Universalist context will follow this format more or less:
- Opening words, and/or light chalice
- Check-in, where each person has time to speak without interruptions about her/his life since the past meeting; typically each person is limited to 3-15 minutes during check-in (depending on the size and purpose of the group; some support groups exist only to give members time for extended check-ins)
- Discussion or program time (optional), where members consider a specific topic related to their group's purpose
- Time to socialize
- Check-out, remind everyone of time and date of next meeting
4. Roles for group members
At a minimum:
- Convener convenes a meeting by reminding members of meeting times in advance
- Facilitator facilitates a meeting by keeping group members to agreement and time
Other roles may be appropriate for some support groups. Many support groups ask members to rotate in the role of facilitator, sometimes in the role of convener.
Child care, sharing or providing transportation, other logistical details.
6. Relationship with host congregation
This includes whether congregation provides support (financial assistance, training and support for facilitators, a place to meet) and whether support group provides support (typically monetary contributions each meeting) to the congregation. Support groups should know to whom they are accountable (Board, minister(s), etc.).