Experience in a course

Basic Idea

If your church has a course or something similar that people expect and is part of their calendar, but the concept of a small group is relatively unknown, you use the course to demonstrate the potential of a small group. The type of material you choose can be the same or similar to previous courses. However, instead of covering as one large group, you break into smaller groups (usually in people’s houses), each with their own ‘leader’ and possibly their own ‘host’.

The weeks run in the style of a small group with space for sharing and fellowship (food of some kind always helps), the study and discussion, and a space for prayer and reflection together. Ideally groups will run at different times over the week to enable the maximum number of people to participate.

The leaders can be prepared and trained in the weeks before so they feel equipped and prepared with the material. If there are hosts as well, they should be involved in any training as a way of supporting and building the two up as a team.

As the course draws to an end, you invite leaders and participants to reflect on their time together and whether they would like to continue with another topic/course/study afterwards. You can start with just one and gauge where people are as you continue.

It is important that leaders are aware that they are signing up to run a course, but that it is also a way of exploring leadership of small groups afterwards. They are only signing up to lead the course and there is no pressure to continue beyond it if they do not feel able. It is also important that as a church it is publicised as the ‘Lent Course’ or normal title, but also that it is being run a little differently this year to give us a taste of learning together in smaller groups. The idea of small groups should not be hidden, but equally the usual character of the course should not be undermined.

A few positives:

  • It’s already a recognised slot in the church diary.
  • There is a core group of people to trial and start with.
  • Allows people to experience the setting and style.
  • Creates space for training leaders.

A few potential drawbacks:

  • Difficult if people have a very set idea of what to expect from the course.
  • Relies on having enough leaders to cover all the groups.
  • May need to consolidate groups if people do not continue.
 

Preparation

1.   Decide on an established event. E.g. lent course, advent course.

2.   Decide on the structure that you would like and suggested days/times for each group to take place. Ideally they will be similar in structure but the details may be different, you may reflect and adjust this with your leaders, but it’s helpful for them to know what they are agreeing to do.

3.   Identify and ask potential hosts and potential leader/facilitator.

a.    It is helpful to have both so that they can support each other and it does not over burden.

                                 i.    Host – consider their welcome, inclusion but also whether they have space in their house to host.

                                ii.    Facilitator – this person is leading discussion, prayers etc. However, the aim is that they are people who will facilitate a discussion and encourage people to share their views, ideas and stories. Therefore they do not need to be experts or have all the answers.

                               iii.    Those asked should reflect the range of genders and ages within the church.

                              iv.    If you have any existing small groups, it would be worthwhile inviting them in to follow the same style during this period.

b.    Think about who will work well together.

4.   Choose material that fits with the time of year, but that also that can be used in a smaller group.

If the course is 6 weeks, then this needs to start 6 weeks before.

5.   All the hosts and facilitators meet together and go through the study together week by week.

c.    The first is not led by a new leader, but by the vicar or someone who has been involved in the process. They introduce the style of the groups (fellowship, homely, growing faith, etc) and facilitate the first session of the course.

d.    Subsequent studies are run by the facilitators, ideally in pairs (they may plan the discussion together, or split prayers and study time. It’s best to be consistent though). Those not leading that week are participants as a normal study.

e.    This help each leader to grow in confidence because they have prepared and tested it before. It gives them an opportunity to see things that don’t work or questions that might arise. It also means the whole group can consider if there are any spaces the material may need to be adapted. Then when they are leading their own group they feel more prepared and equipped.

6.   Publicity should have been happening during this time (or longer if that is usual within your church). Publicity works best if it is in the newsletter, mentioned from the front and through personal invitations.

a.    It is helpful for people signing up to tick all the available times they can do, rather than their one preference. This can help balance out the groups in numbers.

 

7.   At the end of these weeks, they are then sent out ready to lead using the material and preparation they have developed as part of a larger team.

Running

1.   Let people know which day/time they are part of. Share the leader/host’s name, venue etc (make sure you have permission ahead of time). Make sure people have any material or other details prior to their first session.

2.   On the first night, the leader and hosts will welcome everyone in, have a space for introductions and run their first session, which should follow the structure you agreed on.

3.   Those in leadership should get in touch with each set of leaders afterwards to ask them how it has gone and if they need anything for the next session.

a.    The communication, encouragement and support is important beyond the first week. It doesn’t need to be long but needs to allow space for any issues or concerns to be raised.

4.   It is really handy if you are sharing briefly in church each week. Perhaps each leader could take in turns to summarise the main point. This helps to involve those who are not taking part, it also emphasises the shared material and learning of the different groups.

5.   Several churches have done this over Lent or Advent and have placed the timings so that the last one takes place after the holiday. This one tends to be given a celebration feel as part of the Christmas/Easter celebration.

 

a.    This can be really effective to draw people back together after a break.

Continuation

So far this is just an annual course with a difference, although all will be aware that it is different. Timing is often key with the next bit and you will know your church best.

1.   Things to consider and do:

a.    You will need to have planned the next material to use, this can be done well in advance or as a result of conversations about potential needs with the leaders you have.

b.    Towards the end of the course, you need to have discussed with facilitators and hosts if they would be willing to continue. This means you know how many groups you will have available and when.

                                         i.    It needs to be clear that the aim is to keep these groups running, with new material and courses, but also that it is not a lifelong commitment.

c.    It is helpful if the facilitators and hosts share with their own groups that there will be another course coming up after this one ends, as it becomes a personal invitation.

                                         i.    Some do this in the final celebration week, some the last week before the break. Although, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that there may be more coming.

d.    It also needs to be shared in church to allow those who couldn’t or didn’t take part to join in. This is one reason sharing snippets in church is important, it brings involvement but also the potential to interest.

2.   Prepare for the new course:

a.    Hopefully all hosts and facilitators will want and be able to continue, but that may not be the case. Work out what times and groups will still be running.

b.    If you have an individual host or facilitator, think about how to use them well.

                                         i.    You may make a new pair of leaders for a new group.

                                        ii.    You may add them to an existing team that would like support or that will be quite large with the idea of them becoming two groups in the future.

c.    Find space somewhere to celebrate with all those who have led…whether they are continuing or not. It may be a pudding evening, a simple lunch after church…but something that shows your appreciation. Include a space for them to share about the positives that have come from the group and how they have personally grown or learnt.

d.    Of the participants who are continuing, you may need to move some of the groups around (do check availability first). Try and keep them balanced in numbers etc.

3.   Start the new course. This often works well if they are moving straight into it, but logistically this may not be possible. There should not be a long gap though.

3.   Start the new course. This often works well if they are moving straight into it, but logistically this may not be possible. There should not be a long gap though.

Beyond

Support and ongoing training are really important. This should involve a space to share concerns/issues, to share positives and encouragements, to celebrate their leadership and to receive resources and training.

A lot of churches do this three times a year, but this may not be the same for you. If this is used, it is best to do it towards the end of the previous term so they are ready at the beginning of the next term. Suggested resources are given for following term, discussions about where they are and where they are going can take place, alongside sharing and celebrating.