Bringing a Spiritual Formation Focus to Lay-Led Congregations, Part 2

So you’ve made sure your lay-led congregation has plenty of spiritual growth opportunities for members, friends, and even some seekers from the wider community (check out part one of this two parter for what those opportunities might look like).

Great job! In fact, you’ve done such a great job that people are asking for more. Sounds like your congregation is ready for the next level—small group spiritual direction.

Two questions might come to mind here: What is small group spiritual direction? And, how does one get started with it.

According to Rose Mary Dougherty, author of Group Spiritual Direction: Community for Discernment,

Group spiritual direction is a process in which people gather together on a regular basis to assist one another in an ongoing awareness of God in all of life. They are seeking support for their responsiveness to God and they agree to support others in that same responsiveness.

For those of us who may have problems with the word “God” here, try substituting “Spirit,” “the Holy,” or “the Divine.” Whatever you call it, participants form groups of three or four people who (in Dougherty’s words) commit themselves

  • to an honest relationship with God
  • to participate wholeheartedly in the group process through prayerful listening and response
  • to open their spiritual journeys for consideration by others.

Groups usually meet once a month and follow this basic formula: Silence, Sharing, Silence, Response, Silence. Repeat.

chairincircleThat’s about it. Sounds easy, right? It is in some ways. But it’s hard, too. As hard as any endeavor that asks for honesty, wholehearted participation, and openness to others.

When we get this close to the heart of what matters most in life, it’s nice to have someone around who knows the ropes.

The next step, then, is to get some help from someone who knows a thing or two about spiritual direction. Specifically, you’re looking for someone who can help train and supervise small group spiritual direction facilitators for your congregation.

This could be a minister who’s had some experience and training with group spiritual direction (like the Clergy Seminar Series in Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction or the Group Spiritual Direction Conference & Retreat at the Shalem Institute). Or it could be a nearby spiritual director who would be willing to help.

Here’s what the process looks like. First you identify possible small group spiritual direction facilitators. The folks who’ve been leading those spiritual growth opportunities are good possibilities. So are the facilitators of your existing small groups. You’re looking for three or four people who would be willing to participate in the next step.

Get these folks trained as small group spiritual direction facilitators. That’s where the minister or spiritual director comes in. Usually it takes a couple of one-day retreats and some hands on facilitation experience to get people trained. This can be accomplished over the course of a couple of months.

Each facilitator makes a commitment to three things:

  • facilitating a small group three or four participants (monthly)
  • meeting with the other facilitators in their own spiritual direction group (monthly)
  • having a group supervision session with the minister or spiritual director (quarterly).

Finally, you let people in the congregation know that you’re forming small groups for spiritual direction. You’ll be able to handle only a limited number of participants, say 12 to 16, depending on the number of facilitators you have. Ask people to make a commitment to participate for a minimum of  six sessions.

The key here is finding the right people to facilitate and getting them trained and supervised by a qualified religious professional. If you’ve got any questions about how this process might work in your congregation, please feel free to get in touch with me, either in the comments or through my contact page.


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