"We started with just three families for several months. I always call this time 'the growing pains of starting something new.' Don’t get discouraged!"
Faith, Family, & Feasting
One Sunday a month, I gather with a group of families to discuss topics ranging from faith practices at home to how enneagrams inform parenting styles. This group of families started because I personally needed a group of parents to discuss parenting concerns and faith practices, and I knew I was not the only one.
Within a year, our group has grown from three families to 12. What started out as monthly dinners & studies has grown into family retreats, weekend camping trips, and strong fellowship. Our children are eager to see each other at church and regularly play together. This group has become so much more than just a small study. There are at least five considerations that made it possible for this group to flourish.
In the early stages of organizing this group, I discovered we had a parishioner interested in leading a family group on faith practices and parenting. Charles was knowledgeable and quickly became in charge of content, providing suggestions for the topic of each study. Together, we considered the group’s interest, created a realistic timeline for readings, and remained flexible.
Alternatively, you might ask experienced parents to join the group for insights; or invite volunteer guest speakers to join each gathering. Your group may have ideas about what they want to discuss, and those ideas will prompt book and speaker choices. The options are endless! Just look around to see who shares a similar interest to help you find the right content for your group.
If no one in your congregation is available to help with content, consider reading a book together. Go with a classic like To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebrations by Gertrud Mueller Nelson, or try one of Sharon Ely Pearson’s Faithful Celebrations.
2. Location & Time
This is critical. For families and children, we had to consider what’s easy for everyone involved. For us, our church was the perfect location. The space offers a large area for potluck dinners with plenty of seating and a place for children to play. Meeting at the church removed the pressure of finding a host each time we met.
Next, we decided to meet once a month on a Sunday evening. This time and location has worked beautifully for our group. Today’s families are busy, and finding a good time and place will determine the ability for families to commit to a small group. Before starting, consider your families’ needs and what realistic commitment they can make.
Trying to have an in-depth conversation is near impossible with children running around(!) Young families need childcare if parents are to be able to focus and grow together. Thankfully, our pastor encouraged paid childcare. Each Sunday, we have two or three nursery workers care for our children while the adults spend time in discussion. Without childcare, our group would have long given up on study and learning. For your group, consider the childcare options, ensuring that parents will have time to concentrate and learn at each gathering.
Having a time to socialize is important for growth and fellowship, but it’s easy for small groups to turn into just a social hour. To ensure our group has time for a study, we schedule each gathering to include chatting and catching up over dinner. Equally important was planning other social events that are outside of the small group. When starting your group, consider organizing a Dad’s Night Out, Advent Wreath Making, or a Family Game Night. Families will appreciate a time to just socialize, in addition to the parenting study.
When starting any group, consistency is key, even if you don’t have large numbers. We started with just three families for several months. I always call this time "the growing pains of starting something new." Don’t get discouraged! Don’t cancel because only two families show up. After three meetings, if it’s not going well, then consider your targeted audience. Ask for feedback, but remain consistent and focus on who is there. Your group will grow and flourish, just give it time.
Gizelle N. Moran currently works at Christ & St. Luke’s Church as the Director of Family & Children’s Ministry. She loves helping children and families engage in community and faith. Gizelle lives in Norfolk, Virginia with her husband and two spirited daughters.