Meeting People Where They Are

Basics for forming a support group

Faith communities often make natural gathering places for people in vulnerable seasons of life, whether addiction, anxiety or depression, loss or grief, parenting stages, or certain physical illnesses. Meeting people where they are in difficult times by providing fellowship, community, and emotional support is the hallmark of the support group. While each group might look and function differently, every meeting has the ability to encourage small changes in individuals that over time can add up to transformation and healing. Here are some basics to keep in mind when forming a support group.

  • Place. Where are you going to hold your group? Try to find a neutral location with a consistent meeting schedule.
  • Size. How many will be in the group? Many suggest that the maximum number for a support group should be about 12–15 to allow for comfortable sharing among the group. However, try not to have fewer than six people to keep the group sustainable.
  • Format. Many addiction-related support groups follow a 12-step group format, while other groups use other formats, such as focusing on sharing experiences without judgment, a devotional time followed by sharing, allowing time for prayer, or providing information or resources. The format may depend both on the issue that brings the group together and the interests of group members. Be open to your participants’ thoughts at the first meeting to establish your meeting norms. Ask them what their expectations are and how they want to communicate in the group.
  • Facilitator. As the facilitator you will have the responsibility to keep conversation flowing, and to help the different members of the group to have the same opportunities to contribute. If this would be your first time even attending a support group, before you begin your journey, attend a few meetings of an open support group already established in your community. Learn from those doing effective ministry and walk away with practical tips and tricks for your own group.
  • Flexibility. Go with the flow when changes are needed, when people present challenges to the group, and when things happen that are naturally out of your control. Even though the topics are often anything but funny, sometimes funny things happen, and laughter may be just what’s needed. Adapt, change, and carry on.

Adapted from Health Ministry Health Advice for Everyone by Deborah Patterson, available at store.churchhealth.com.

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