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Small Group Ministries

Introduction for Parents

Perhaps the greatest service the church can provide for parents is to help them become articulate about religion. For so many of us, religion is something that we think about, wonder about, and very seldom put into exact words. So, when the child comes home with endless questions, we are at a loss to know how they should be answered. We stumble, we hesitate, we postpone, and the child senses that perhaps religion is something that we don't want to talk about. He begins to feel that it is something different from other areas of thought, where parents are so sure and so positive. We must learn to be positive about our uncertainty.

Few experiences could be more valuable to a group of liberal parents than to sit down together and talk with one another about religious ideas; talk until the expression of those ideas comes clearly and easily; talk until they are fully aware of the wide diversity of faith, the wide variety of explanation, existing among us.

The clarity of our own religious faith, expressed in little remarks, in ordinary conversation, in the simple ideas that are constantly heard, are things that will make us teachers of religion. The actions we perform toward our neighbors, the sympathy with which we accept their differences from us, the compassion that we express when we hear of suffering and wrong, these are the things that will build our children's positive values. And these we can only develop as we become more conscious of just what it is that we do believe, what are the things we truly hold dear, what are the values that are at the heart of living.
(Ourselves and Our Children's Faith, Dorothy Spoerl, c. 1960’s, adapted)

Unitarian Universalist Principles and Parenting is based on the assumptions that:
1. The Unitarian Universalist principles provide a framework for living and a basis for the program, with a focus on understanding the principles in order to teach and model them for children.
2. Being a Unitarian Universalist makes a difference in how we "parent." Children who have participated in a Unitarian Universalist religious education program have remarked that they have been expected to think for themselves, with support, without parents answering for them.
3. Faith development is lifespan. Children learn the importance of spiritual journey and connection with a faith community from seeing the importance of these for adults that are close to them.

"Living our principles" is a nice motto, but in modeling Unitarian Universalist values,
Do interactions with children model reverence and respect for life, and support and enhance their self-esteem?
Do children hear or see us modeling our values?
When our actions are not in harmony with our beliefs and values, are we willing to admit that to ourselves and children?

There is no guarantee that our children will be lifelong Unitarian Universalists, but there is a guarantee that, if we are aware of being living role models for our children, that our religion will be challenging, changing, and visible.

Are you ready?



Suggestion: Give copies of the entire packet – introductory material and session plans -- to all participants as resources.

Come to worship – Enter into celebration of our Unitarian Universalist faith. Hear the words of inspiration, sing the hymns, engage with their struggles and the challenge of living a code of ethics expressed in the Principles. Share this worship with our children.
Come to Small Group Ministry – Connect with other parents and other adults who interact with children, listening and telling our own stories in groups of about 8 people.
Come, take a spiritual journey – Share parenting as spiritual practice with others on similar life journeys.
Come and care, come and share – Our own parenting is enhanced as we minister to each other in one of the greatest opportunities of our lives – interacting with children.


Parents gathering in small groups to discuss parenting is not new. Curricula and information for parents is not new. What we are adding here is the concept of Small Group Ministry. What makes a small group a "ministry group" lies in the name itself.
  • "Small" means a group with a maximum of 8-10 people. Groups of this size provide an opportunity to relate on a more intentional level.
  • "Group" is a gathering of individuals, sometimes selected at random, sometimes selected for a specific interest or characteristic. What separates these groups from others is a focus on "ministry."
  • "Ministry" is the process or act of caring for another. This relates to the spiritual as well as the physical and emotional well-being of the group participants.

Small Group Ministry provides a connection with the faith community. Ministry groups are developed under the sponsorship of the congregation. This connection is essential as we take our spiritual journeys with the support of a faith community.

Service to the congregation or larger community stem from the call to faith in action that comes from living out of our spiritual journey, and is compelled by our own increasing sense of ministry as part of a growing spiritual life. Our children are part of our service, truly an example of our faith in action.

The purpose of the sessions is to minister to each other as well as to provide opportunity for spiritual growth by
  • paying attention/listening to each other's needs and wants, and stories.
  • encouraging each other and sharing on our spiritual journeys.
  • exploring and sharing the meaning of the Unitarian Universalist Principles in our lives.
  • enhancing the role of parents in children's religious development.

Time and frequency of sessions. Small Group Ministry usually involves meeting once and preferably at least twice a month for 2 hours over a period of time. However, the program could be implemented in several longer sessions, such as a day-long program, covering several sessions.

Size of the group. A major consideration is the size of the group. We connect on a personal level better with small groups. The suggested maximum size is 8-10, including the facilitator. When the number of participants exceeds this size, a new group needs to be started in order to preserve the relational aspect.

Develop a covenant or "Guidelines for Being Together" within each group so that the participants have input and expectations are stated in the language of the group. This practice can be a covenant, or promise on how to act, moving from just avoiding disruption and conflict to a way of caring. Developing a covenant should be one of the first sessions of a group, and reviewed when a new person joins the group and at least annually.

Empty Chair symbolizes those who have not yet joined the group or who are absent for some reason. This presents the concept of outreach and that the group needs to remain open to change.

The format of the sessions provides a simple structure:
Opening words/lighting candle/chalice gathers people, and sets the time for being together as special. The opening relates to the topic. The readings may be read by more than one person or “with multiple voices.”

Check-in allows everyone an opportunity to speak, without interruption. (It may be helpful to set a time for this, such as 3 minutes for each person, with the option of extending the time if needed and if agreed by the group.) Check-in is usually sharing accomplishments or concerns, highlights in our lives since the last session. An exception is the first session, which includes more introductory sharing.

Passing is acceptable. Someone who passes may wish to speak after others have shared. Not all sharing is appropriate in the group. When a person needs more discussion, make plans for that to occur outside of the session time.

Topic/Activity provides thoughts or reflective questions for the group to start the dialogue. In using dialogue:
  • Participants talk about the topic as it relates to them, without being disputed.
  • Participants share from their own experience
  • Participants can learn from the stories and sharing of others
The critical part of developing the session plans is the manner in which the questions are asked.
  • To elicit or impart information is an educational approach.
  • To engage from their spiritual base and feelings is ministry -- the focus of small group ministry.

Closing words mark the end of the time together, but are not summaries of the session. As with the Opening Words, the closing words can be from various sources, and may be spoken by more that one person, or “with multiple voices.”

If a chalice or candle has been lit, it is extinguished now.

Likes/Wishes. Participants have a chance to comment on how the session went for them, and to make suggestions for enhancing the session or the group process. This allows time to review plans for the next session.

Facilitators The sessions can be lead by one or two facilitators, or an overall facilitator and rotating the facilitation per session.

Facilitators need to be able to guide the sessions along the planned focus, while still allowing flexibility to address specific needs of participants. Facilitators do not have to be experts in the topic being presented in a session.

The role of the facilitator is to
  • Build community in the group, making sure that each person is included, heard, and valued
  • Help participants bring their own experiences to the living tradition we share
  • Ensure that the group begins and ends on time and maintains its covenant.
  • Guide the group through the session outline.
  • Makes sure that the tone and feeling of the session is comfortable and inclusive

The facilitator is also a participant in the dialog, but the first consideration of the facilitator is the group process. It is vital that facilitators don't ‘lead’ too much. They are to be present, to help keep things on track. They may have to move discussions along, but it is the members who ‘own’ the group and have the primary responsibility for its success or failure.

Expectations of participants
  • They are willing to participate in the dialog. Dialog means that participants share from their own experience, are willing to listen to others, and expect to learn from others. This is different from discussion, where there is a desire to get a specific position across or have others agree to a position.
  • They agree to confidentiality, so that everything that is said in the group, stays in the group. The exception is when there are issues of safety to self or others, and safety policies would come into play.
  • They commit to attend the sessions, and the sessions start and end at the agreed-to times. There may be other notes for ‘ways to be together’ that need to be discussed by the group as it starts to meet.

More information on Small Group Ministry can be found on various web sites, such as
Unitarian Universalist Association at
Small Group Ministry Network at

You may also request more information by writing to the Helen Zidowecki via e-mail at .

Zidowecki, January 2006

All materials copyright © 2008-2017 by Helen Zidowecki unless otherwise noted. - -

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