Sometimes when I use a zippy story in a sermon, months later people only remember the story and not the message behind the story. “That was your sermon on almost crashing your airplane,” they might recall about my sermon a few weeks ago on “bright faith.” Hopefully, last week’s sermon won’t be remembered as “Rev. Bret’s Burning Man sermon,” but rather, my sermon on covenant groups, small group ministry, and building intentional community.
Covenant groups are important to me, and my wildest dream for small group ministry at this church is that it might provide that “soulful connection” between members that I’ve heard a hunger for. Since preaching on the subject last Sunday, I’ve heard two questions recur several times: first, does a covenant group have a subject or theme; second, can’t we just turn our existing affinity groups (sewing club, Buddhist study group, etc.) into covenant groups?
To answer the first question, does a covenant group have a subject or theme? Yes: your humanity! There will also be a new theme each month on a variety of spiritual topics(healing, joy, grief, Unitarian Universalist values). I will distribute a monthly sheet with readings, guiding questions, and reflections, and the goal of these “session guides” will be to help you dig deep for those spiritual answers that are both individual and universal. I hope the themes in these guides will carry over into other aspects of our church life, such as sermons and newsletter reflections from members.
To answer the second question, can we just turn our existing affinity groups into covenant groups? Yes and no. Some groups lend themselves well to the covenant group format of check in, a program element on a spiritual topic, and deeper sharing. Some of our spirituality-focused groups have asked if they can join the program, and I’ve counseled each leader to look at the covenant group materials I’ve put in the foyer (or I can e-mail them to you) to see if they think they could accomplish both their existing goals and the goals of the program. To make an outlandish example, if we had a golfing affinity group, I don’t think such a group would make a good covenant group. It would be hard to keep a meaningful conversation going while driving around in those little carts, making tough puts, and digging out of sand traps. It’s not that golfing can’t or isn’t a spiritual activity for many, only that its practice interferes with some of the spiritual practice elements of small group ministry, such as active listening and speaking into the silence.
The best way to answer these questions will be in an information session to be held Oct. 9 between 7:00-9:00 pm for both facilitators and people interested in learning more. We’ll train and talk for about an hour — then we’ll actually sit through an abbreviated covenant group session to experience one first-hand. You can sign up for a group that evening if you enjoyed the experience.
Covenant groups may not appeal to everyone, but if your hunger for spiritual exploration isn’t being met elsewhere in the church or in your life, they just might be the ticket to a new experience of meaningful connection. You might even make a new friend or two from church!