One of the most important ingredients in group life is a small group agreement or covenant. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be a pre-printed handout (or download) or you can simply offer a set of guidelines and ask each group to write their own. I’ve found an agreement to be very helpful for a number of reasons:
- Guides a group through a discussion about details as they begin (what time do we start, what about childcare, who’s bringing the chips and salsa).
- Introduces values in the first few meetings that might not develop on their own (rotating facilitators, open chair, confidentiality).
- Provides a reminder before a challenging topic or question (let’s be sure that we’re practicing grace, listening without judgment…no off the cuff responses, okay?).
- Can provide a reference point during a discussion (remember, what is shared here…stays here).
Teach the concept in a skill training breakout:
- Whether you’re going to prepare an official version for your groups to use or encourage them to write their own using a set of guidelines, it’s a good idea to have a handout for everyone to look over. Here’s an example of one I’ve used recently.
- Take a few minutes to talk with your leaders about why an agreement is helpful (see above).
- Walk your leaders through how it might be introduced (in an early meeting of a new group, when beginning a new study, when starting a new year in the fall or first of the year).
- Model how it might be discussed for the first time in a group (i.e., read a statement, possibly offer a word of explanation, ask for questions or comments…”what do you guys think about this one?”)
- Ask volunteers to take a shot at explaining some of the values (i.e., “What would you say to make this value more practical for your group?”)
- Open the discussion up for feedback and questions.
- Let them know you’ll want a recap from each of them about how the discussion went (this is important…people do what you inspect, not what you expect).
Whether a group is brand new or has been around for awhile, they will benefit from the introduction of a group agreement. Training your leaders how to introduce the agreement and periodically pull it back out for discussion will make a difference in the way an agreement is implemented.