These resources are an excellent tool for a weekly adult formation class, an Advent or Lenten series, or for a book club. A small group setting can be a safe space that encourages each person to share their story, help build rapport, grow together, and feel that we are each a fellow pilgrim traversing the difficulties of life. A nine week program where each week the group deeply examines one of the nine fruit of the Spirit is recommended. For each meeting the accompanying video for each fruit of the Spirit and paired opposite such as Love vs. Indifference, Joy vs Addiction, etc. can be watched to help spark conversation.
It is also helpful to consider the size of the group. Too large, and sharing will be difficult. If you are hosting an adult formation class, you can have several tables so that each particular group is not too large. The course could also be done online through Zoom.
It is recommended that a facilitator has led a small group before or is someone who can be trusted to maintain boundaries. This will help keep the group focused and produce good fruits together. If you have multiple tables of participants, you will need a facilitator at each table. This person should help invite others to participate, especially if they have not yet shared. A facilitator will be aware of nonverbal cues, especially if it looks as if someone wants to share. They can help make space for them to do so. A small group leader can also help keep the group on target with time. A facilitator will also help the group follow norms that they set for themselves.[i]
When a small group comes together, setting established expectations and boundaries can help everyone feel safe. These can be recorded, written or even distributed after the first meeting so that everyone has easy access to expectations. The facilitator should feel empowered to help maintain the norms. Some common group norms are:
“Use I statements” as not to project feelings on others or try to fix. These include things like, “In my experience I feel…” or “I get anxious when…” When people share how bad fruits are working through them, we can listen and allow them to find the strength to overcome their bad habits. Members of the group are NOT encouraged to fix one another. The group discussion focus questions are meant as active listening tools to drive deeper reflection. The group members should refrain from using their personal experience or opinions to fix others. The power of listening and being heard is very transformative. When in small group discussion no one should dominate the time. Encourage others to speak if they have not spoken already. Allow each member to pass if they do not feel comfortable answering. They can simply say “pass”. Agree to keep discussion confidential or open and free. Sharing someone else’s personal reflection or confession outside with the general public can be very damaging. Be sure to get confirmation from group members whether sharing their reflections is okay with them. Agree on whether cell phones are to be silenced, turned off, or available for emergencies. These are just some ways to ensure a group will have better cohesion and trust. With better cohesion and trust the Holy Spirit has more room to work.
When each of the members of a group are together, the facilitator can invite someone who has not gone first previously, to reflect on a focus question or check in. Once the person has shared, they can then invite someone else until all have shared. This helps shift the power of a group away from just one person.
Meal (30 minutes)
For group discussion it is often nice to meet over a meal and to break bread together. It’s optional though highly recommended as it builds excellent rapport.
Check In (15 minutes)
When inviting others to share, remember to use the mutual invitation. Group participants should be allowed to pass if they would like. This provides a sense of safety. If someone passes, they can be given a time after everyone else has shared if they would like to share something of their own.
Chapter Questions (45 minutes)
At the end of each chapter there are focus questions to help dive deep into the fruit of the Spirit. It is recommended to focus on one chapter per week as well as the focus questions for that chapter. For group discussion, small groups should have adequate time to reflect and share with one another each of the individual questions at the end of each section. If one particular question is of greater interest or has more energy around it than others, it is not important to get to every question together as a group. It can be helpful to invite everyone in a small group to answer and think about a particular question for themselves first for several minutes before coming back to the group.
Check Out (5-10 minutes)
The group members can be invited to share how they felt God was at work amongst them. They can also share where they felt the least or greatest energy. Closing with a prayer will also help mark the time that was spent together as sacred. Group members can alternate who leads prayer at the end of the meeting to ensure more voices are heard.
Other Items to Consider:
Logistical concerns such as when and where to hold meetings, how often to meet (weekly or monthly), who will bring food if there is a meal, whether to use name tags, or how to RSVP are all important items to consider.
If the group has chosen to read the entire book first, people may like to share how they are using the tools and resources when they check in at each weekly meeting. Another possibility is to have the group meet several months after the series is complete as a sort of check in with group members so that they can share their progress.
There are many ways these resources could be adapted for group discussion. May the Holy Spirit inspire you to produce love, joy, and peace that will last!
[i]“The Way of Love: Small Group Facilitation Guide and Curriculum,” The Episcopal Church, accessed September 23, 2019, https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/documents/way_of_love_small_group_curriculum.pdf.