During the week of April 25, 2016 we launched our SpiritGroups pilot program–where 50% of our entire congregation participated in 10 small groups, meeting in members’ homes for a 10 week period. Group participants’ primary aim was to field-test SpiritGroups’ program video curriculum (Thy Will Be Done), experience the Five Disciplines of SpiritGroups (Communion, Connection, Community, Compassion, and Challenge), meditate and pray with / for one another, complete a service project, and create some kind of fun activity or social event for their group.
Last week, Tara Wear, our SpiritGroups Program Leader, facilitated our Celebration Event and Debriefing Gala where nearly 75% of those involved in our first launch came together to celebrate what was accomplished as well as to provide important feedback regarding everyone’s experience. We were overwhelmed by the numbers of people who came out for this mid-week evening meeting to share how their SpiritGroups experience has impacted their lives. (Integral to the success of this launch was our hiring Tara as a part-time program leader. See her SpiritGroups Program Leader Job Description. She puts in about 18 hours a week.)
And, while all of the groups utilized the Thy Will Be Done video
curriculum, the event was an opportunity for SpiritGroup participants and their hosts to share with others how the “small group experience” impacted their lives.
As I mentioned above, this was our first launch of the program. Our intention was to “field-test” it as a means of introducing it to our community and building the necessary infrastructure and systems for its ongoing sustainability and growth. Since small group ministry was not new to Unity Spiritual Center, we wanted to make sure that our introduction of SpiritGroups was not a “been there done that” deal. We wanted our launch to give people a taste of how powerful small group ministry can be in bringing people into a more profound experience of personal transformation. We were not disappointed!
Our Celebration Event and Debriefing Gala began with a sharing of the various service projects from each group. We were amazed at the creativity and passion people had for their projects which included:
- A group of women went to a women’s recovery center to take a tour, donate food, and participated in a feminism project with shelter residents.
- A group of gardeners shared their harvest with our congregation and provided delicious recipes linked to our website.
- A bi-monthly blood drive was set up
- Feeding people at Ronald McDonald house
- Road trip to a cedar grove and meditating for planetary healing.
- A clean-up of our church kitchen and pantry.
- Brought homemade soup to our annual membership meeting as a fund raiser for our Youth of Unity. We raised over $400!
- Clearing debris from the roof and cleaning windows.
- A group of artists, poets, and photographers plans to create a video relating to the Five Disciplines of SpiritGroups and share it with our congregation to promote the program’s next launch.
- In a group of mostly baby boomers, two millennials in the group provided dance lessons in preparation for their 60 year high school reunion
- Watered trees and volunteered at a teenage homeless shelter.
Next, people were invited to share how their experience of SpiritGroups impacted their lives. Here are some of the comments we heard from participants:
- Transformed and healed feelings and thoughts around the Bible. The video curriculum was a trigger for some. The group was able to see the Bible in a new way as they explored the ideas of the program.
- We appreciated the structure of the program. Half of the people in our group were new to Unity so it was a perfect way for them to get know us. We now have lifelong connections and friends by participating in SpiritGroups.
- It was such a joy to get to know people on a deeper more authentic level. This is just not possible on Sundays.
- Our group was able to be vulnerable, trusting, and close. We laughed, sang, cried, and had fun together. Isn’t that what a spiritual community is all about?
- Biblical scene also a trigger for us, but we got past it! The name “SpiritGroups” is aptly named–such a band of trust in our group. I would wake up at night and think about my group and feel so blessed and enriched.
- We really bonded. We all knew each other, or so we thought. We became so much closer because of our time together. I’d be dragging my butt, feeling crabby after my day’s work. After my group, I was feeling high, great, and relaxed!
- Now when I see people at Sunday services, its more than just hello or a handshake. We actually have things to share with each other and photos to swap. It’s about community.
- As a host, spiritual energy filled my living room. Many of us knew each other socially, but the depth of sharing spiritual truths with each other was the greatest gift.
- I got to share my home with the people I love. Every person was absolutely amazing. Intrigued about the content, but the questions helped open us to each other.
- I didn’t attend any of the SpiritGroups this time around, but after hearing everyone’s comments, I can’t wait to get started!
Check out this video: https://youtu.be/PHyf2UuhUUY
This Celebration Event has a dual purpose insofar as it provides valuable feedback to program leaders about the program itself and it helps sets the stage for the next launch. It is an opportunity to recruit new hosts and participants as well as enroll established participants in more advance forms of leadership development. From this latest event we enrolled 9 new SpiritGroup hosts, 5 past hosts have agreed to lead groups this fall, and 6 previous hosts have agreed to become Mentors to new hosts. Our goals for our fall launch will be 20 groups and 75% of our congregation involved.
In addition to the comments and feedback we received, Tara has created a SurveyMonkey poll to further document some of the benchmarks we wanted to measure as our program unfolds. This follow-up survey of program participants is another component of establishing the metrics needed to track how we are doing. It is also a way to deepen participants’ understanding of the program aims and what we hoped to accomplish.
We are so pleased with our initial rollout, we are spending the summer planning our fall launch. Jane and I think that SpiritGroups is the perfect program for our ministry. It is integral to our efforts to transition toward a mission-centric paradigm of ministry. We are confident that this program is creating a tipping point within our ministry that translates into the embodiment of our mission to: Transform Lives and inspire people to make a positive difference in their world.
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