Loving the idea of small groups in principle and having compelling content to delve into is often relatively easy for ministry leaders. The nuts and bolts of training facilitators, doing sign ups, creating seeker-friendly environments for select small groups, and more…these things can be a real challenge. Especially if having lots of small groups is new or represents a significant cultural shift for your setting.
Here are some resources to jump start your planning:
1. Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups (Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas, 2008).
This book comes from two pastors who boast of a 100% congregation participation rate in small groups. Now, I have no way to independently verify that statistic–but this book is filled with concrete and practical guidelines from the size of groups, doing sign-ups, how to train and recruit facilitators, how to incorporate small groups into the life of the congregation, etc. It’s easily adaptable for Catholic parishes. The greatest strength of this book is that it’s about scaleable growth. It focuses on how to grow an entire web of small groups at the level of a parish or congregation. [It’s not a guide for how to lead one small group]. If you’re hoping for one book that gives you a toolkit for growing effective and sustainable small groups–this is probably it!
2. The Evangelical Catholic’s Small Group Website
This resource stands out as a mix between the programmatic-focus of Activate (Resource #1) and the facilitator-focus of FOCUSEquip (Resource #3). Unlike Activate, it’s filled with tidbits of Catholic theology to ground your small group initiative. It addresses big picture planning challenges like how exactly to launch new groups, how to recruit and fill groups, and how to evaluate and assess groups–all extremely important details (that often get overlooked for a debate over “what book” to use–as if that’s the defining factor of small group success). If you’re in planning mode, I highly recommend checking out their recorded webinars and articles on small groups. If you’re getting ready to facilitate, they provide recorded videos for session preparation and affordable materials that can be adapted from a campus setting to a parish setting (e.g. breaking down a 1.5 hr discussion into 3 shorter sessions).
3. FOCUSEquip.Org Small Group Website
To access some of the FOCUSEquip web-resources you first need to create a free username/log-in. Once you do that, you’ve got access to easy to read .pdfs that delve into asking good questions within small groups, how to facilitate a session, how to pray and grow as a facilitator, etc. These resources will help you (or your facilitators) “learn the art of leading a Bible study” — they won’t, however, help plan a parish-wide initiative. The best thing about these are that they are free, hit the important points quickly, and easy to share with potential facilitators.
4. CruPressGreen.Com’s Leading a Small Group Website
CruPressGreen is the free, online collection of resources associated with the US ministry of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ). FOCUS draws many of its resources from Cru, and this Cru website features a wider array of articles than available through FOCUS–though you will find some repeated material. This is another great facilitator resource as it hits on topics like handling problem questions, making sure small groups have a purpose, building community, what to do at the first meeting, ice-breakers, etc. The greatest strength of this resource is that like FOCUSEquip, it’s free facilitator development–it’s a little more in-depth than FOCUSEquip, so maybe send facilitators to FOCUSEquip for starting points and then to CruPressGreen as they develop? (just a thought 🙂 )
5. Seeker Small Groups:Engaging Spiritual Seekers in Life-Changing Discussions (Garry Poole, 2003)
All of the resources I’ve discussed so far presume (for the most part) that small group members are already part of the Christian community and have made at least a nominal move towards Jesus Christ. This book is something totally different. Garry Poole makes the compelling case for completely inquiry-driven small groups for seekers as an evangelization tool. I was wow-ed by this book. It’s all about “us” (aka the church people) saying less, and instead creating spaces for authentic listening, while trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide and make truth known. I think this book captures the true spirit of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adult’s inquiry phase. Read this book if you’re looking for a way to shift to year round inquiry, make inquiry actually about seeker’s questions (and not about presenting the Catholic faith in classes!), and involve the entire parish in evangelization through small groups. It’s easily adaptable to a Catholic setting and will challenge you and your parish to step out in a completely different way.
Okay, what else would you add to the list?