Guidebook i: growing authentic community
How you, as Group Guide, can support authentic, connecting conversation.
As she waited for everyone to settle in their seats, Sue tried to see what was beyond the self the Group Members presented to the room. There were one or two shy types who focused on their Bibles, a few chatty friends garnering an audience and several looking intently at her for the evening to begin.
“Can everyone take out a blank piece of paper and a pen. I’m going to set my timer for five minutes, and I’d like you to spend that time writing. I want you to put your stream of consciousness on paper: your anxieties, distractions, expectations of the evening, plans for tomorrow and anything else that comes to mind. Once all that clutter is on the page, we can leave it there and turn our attention to one another.”
Some groups find their groove from the word ‘go.’ Others move towards each other at a slower pace. As a Guide, there are some practical things you can do to ease the process of relationship building.
1. Pay Attention
An awareness of those in your group will allow you to support people to engage in discussion. Your role is to help individuals navigate the things that stand between them and a clear understanding of the material you are studying. This involves listening to the subtext of their conversations, picking up cues from their body language, and asking intentional questions.
2. Create Space
Some time at the beginning of your session for personal reflection will allow people to identify anything that might distract them. This may be the only space in their day where they connect with how they are feeling. The result: participants who are present and able to make a meaningful contribution.
3. Keep it Small
There is safety in (smaller) numbers. You will find that people are more willing to share with one or two people than a larger group. Therefore, it can be helpful to allow small group feedback before opening the floor for discussion. This technique may only be necessary during the early days when your group is getting to know one another.
4. Lead by Example
When creating an authentic community, you need to go first. You will set the tone for honest and vulnerable interactions that are appropriate for your group. Your courage in this area will inspire others to have the same.
Your goal is to create a safe space in which authentic community grows, people expound Biblical truth, and sincere connections develop over time. That may sound like a tall order, but a stimulating conversation is a great place to start. Below are some ideas to grease the cogs of discussion. They range from light-hearted chat to more intense sharing:
How do you like to celebrate your birthday?
If you had to cook for guests, what would you make?
If you could learn a skill, what would it be?
What does your name mean?
If you could give your ten-year-old self advice, what would it be?
If you had an extra hour every day, how would you spend it?
If you did not have television for a month, what would you do with your time?
If you could try a different job for a day, what profession would you choose?
How would you like to feel at the end of this year?
What do you hope to learn during this study?
What advice would you give someone else who was trying to get to know you?
If you could condense your strengths into one word, what would it be?
How were you present to the beauty of God’s creation this week?
Advice for You
As a Guide, you will be making room for others to explore thoughts, articulate opinions and confront contradictory beliefs. This is sacred space. For you to facilitate those interactions, it is essential that you set aside time to acknowledge God’s presence. When your connection with Him is authentic and life-giving, true community will flow. Here are some things to consider as you step into the role of Group Guide:
Establish daily and weekly rhythms for preparation that are realistic and energizing. If you start out at a sprint, you will lose momentum. Consider this week how you might integrate preparation into your schedule in a way that works for you and your family.
What Do You Need?
You cannot meet the needs of others if your own needs are not being met. Time to pray, practice gratitude and share your journey with friends will equip you with tools to better serve those in your group. Ask yourself, “What do I need for the week ahead?”
The lines between Guide and helper can become blurred. It is a privilege to invite people to study God’s word and share their faith perspective. You will gain friends and be inspired by new ideas. However, healthy boundaries are important as you strive for integrity within your community. This may be as simple as encouraging everyone to honor the start and finishing time of a session. Are there any boundaries you need to clarify this week?
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