Submitted by Small Community of Faith leaders at St. Charles. Add your own!


Training Topic: Praying in Small Groups

Learning to pray together is a key component of the small group experience. In addition to the inherent value of prayer, praying as a group forges deeper bonds among group members.

One simple way to incorporate prayer into your group is by inviting group members to share prayer requests. In the video below, Andre shares some tips for introducing this kind of prayer, especially in groups where members may still be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with praying out loud.

Another way of incorporating prayer is to simply give God an opportunity to speak. Jesus told his disciples, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). That means that Jesus is a member of our small groups - and the most consistent attendee at that! Just as the role of the group leader is to create space for every member to speak, we should also make room for Jesus to speak.

How can you create opportunities for listening for God's voice in your small group? Here are some ideas:

  • Prompt your group to listen for God's answer to a specific question. It could be as simple as, "Lord, what is the one thing you want me to take away from this discussion?" 
  • Music can also help enter into God's presence together and reflect more deeply. You can play a song that connects with that week's topic and invite everyone to turn their hearts to the Lord during that time. If you are gifted with the ability to play/sing yourself, you could sing a song all together as well.
  • Journaling can be another way to process that meeting's discussion and clarify the particular ways God is speaking to us.

There are many ways one could go about this, but the key is to encourage everyone to seek the Lord and hear from Him directly. One word from God holds more power to encourage, heal, and transform us than a thousand words from man. Think of the difference between hearing someone else say, "God loves you," and hearing straight from God Himself, "I LOVE YOU!"


Training Topic: Disciples Bear Fruit

As small group leaders, we are called to fulfill our part in the Great Commission, Jesus’ instructions to his followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Our small groups exist to make and build up disciples of Jesus.

The St. Charles Challenge gives us a helpful snapshot of what it means to be a disciple. Disciples pursue Jesus in prayer, they receive divine life through him in celebrating the Sacraments, they seek to learn more about the Lord they love, and they grow in community with other disciples.

But an indispensible part of being a disciple is that we SHARE the love of Jesus with others. This is the disciple fully-formed, one might say. Without it, something is still missing from the complete picture of what it means to be a missionary disciple. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit” (John 15:5) – we are designed to bear fruit!

As a small group leader, it’s important that we develop our group members so that they can emerge as leaders in their own right, embracing their missionary calling and living it out fruitfully.

Paul gave these instructions to his spiritual son, Timothy: “What you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2). We can see four “generations” of Christians in Paul’s words – Paul, Timothy, Timothy’s disciples, and Timothy’s disciples’ disciples!

As you pour into your small group members, be on the lookout for the principle of overflow kicking in – the more we get filled up with the love of God, the more urgently we feel the need to transmit that love to others. The extravagant love of God cannot be contained!

So if you see someone in your group who is getting filled up with God’s love, help them to take that next step of learning how to share that gift with others. Maybe you can coach them through what that looks like yourself, but it could be as simple as encouraging them to volunteer with one of the ministries here at St. Charles, where they’ll receive training and hands-on experience.

Summer is a natural time when many people start to consider their volunteer and service commitments for the upcoming academic year. St. Charles will be holding bi-weekly volunteer info nights starting in late June to help people find their place. Encourage your small group members to check it out, and come learn about the ministries here yourself so that you can help steer others in the right direction!


Training Topic: "Getting One-on-One"

If we look at the ministry of Jesus, we see that he gathered a “small group” to himself in the 12 disciples, but there were also times when he stepped aside and spent time with 3 of his disciples (Matthew 17:1-8), or even just 1 of them (John 21:15-19). Investing more individually in your small group members not only helps boost their spiritual life, but adds to the overall dynamism of the small group itself.

Check out this video from Evangelical Catholic on why meeting with your small group members one-on-one is an important aspect of your role as a small group leader.

I love what Andre says about what it takes to do one-on-ones. He likens it to exercise – most of us don’t need a physical trainer to do better with exercise, just someone who will encourage, challenge, and cheer us on! That’s the starting point of one-on-ones, simply being willing to accompany each other in our spiritual lives.

So what do one-on-ones look like? The goal is simply to have spiritual conversations that spur us on in our faith journey. Oftentimes they’ll start with simply getting to know each other and developing friendship, but then it’s your job to create the opportunity to move into spiritual conversations. It doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple question like, “How’s your prayer life?” or “What’s your faith history?” can get the ball rolling.

Once you sense an openness to these kinds of conversations, you can move into the next phase, where you’re meeting with the express purpose of growing together in your faith. You can check in regularly with questions like, “How is your connection with the Lord these days?” or “What has God been saying to you in prayer this week?” You can also offer accountability to each other: “You said you wanted to read the Bible more – how is that going?”

Sometimes one-on-ones look more like mentoring, and sometimes they look more like friendship. Both are good. In fact, it has been said that each of us needs a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy in our lives – a Paul to mentor us, a Barnabas to encourage us as a friend, and a Timothy who we are able to mentor.

So who should we invite into one-on-ones? Ultimately, it’s whoever you feel like God is steering you towards. Maybe you see that they are hungry for more of God in their life. Or maybe God calls your attention to someone who is hurting in some way. Maybe it’s someone who can be a running mate for you. Or maybe it’s someone you think is ready to step into a leadership role in the parish in some way.

Take a moment to ask God right now! Is there someone who comes to mind? Is your heart stirred for a particular person in your group? If so, reach out to them, invite them for coffee, go work out together, and introduce some spiritual topics into your conversation.

Here is some great reflection material on what Pope Francis calls “the art of accompaniment.” Take some time to pray with it before your first one-on-one. You can do this!


Training Topic: "How to Choose a Good Small Group Resource"

Before addressing what makes for a good resource, it's good to revisit what we're aiming for in a small group meeting. We want our small groups to be places of encounter. That means, on the one hand, that we are authentically encountering each other - everyone is involved, everyone feels honored and loved by each other, and we can talk honestly and openly about our real "joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties" (GS 1). We're also looking for small groups to be a place where we can encounter Jesus, where we can come into contact with his saving, healing, transforming grace (see audio from January 20 below for more on this).

Both forms of encounter can only take place when the Holy Spirit is allowed to direct and steer our meetings, and so at the heart of a small group meeting is what can be called a "Spirit-filled discussion." What does it look like when the Holy Spirit shows up and takes over? Galatians 5:22-23 gives some indicators: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." We can also think of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who, after getting a personal Bible study from Jesus whom they didn't recognize, remarked, "Were not our hearts burning within us as he opened the scriptures to us?" When choosing a resource to use in your small group, whatever facilitates this kind of Spirit-filled discussion best for your group is the one you should go with. Some options include:

The Bible - This is really THE small group resource par excellence. The Bible is, on the one hand, authoritative - it is a sure guide, and what every disciple should be striving to shape their life after. But, as Pope Benedict XVI points out, the Bible is also performative, meaning that it actively works in us and on us as we read it with faith (see Hebrews 4:12). Ways of using the Bible include using the Sunday Mass Readings, working through a book of the Bible together, committing to a Bible-based daily devotional, or using one of the multitude of small group Bible Study resources out there.

Books - Many groups read through books together. Most of the time, you want to look for books that connect with the real lives of your small group members, that address the particular desires and struggles they face. But some groups are also more academically-inclined, and mining the theological riches the Church has to offer might be just what would benefit your group most. Tailor your book selections to your group's needs, and if there is a book that has particularly blessed your group, please share it with other leaders!

Videos - Sometimes it's nice to not have to do any homework! Videos can offer an opportunity for your group to experience something together. The music and imagery of some videos can sometimes help us internalize a message or teaching more easily on a heart level. There are many video resources available to you for free on FORMED (create your free account at Ascension Presents and Word on Fire are some other popular video resources. Again, if a video or video series has been beneficial to your group, please share it with other leaders!


Training Topic: "Adding New Members to Your Small Group"

Adding new members to small groups has turned out to be a surprisingly tricky task. There is a need, on the one hand, to protect the dynamic that an established group already has going. On the other side of the equation, we want to make sure to set up the best possible first-impression experience for newcomers. One thing that has been apparent over the last year is that simply taking a random online signup and dumping them into an established group has more often than not failed on both fronts. 

After some trial and error, I have found that it's best to think of groups in two categories.

  1. Launching Groups - These are groups that are still getting formed, especially when a new leader is launching a new group from scratch. Launches begin with an 8-week, Scripture-based series that is easy for anyone to jump in on. New leaders form an initial "core" for these groups by inviting 3-4 personal friends/acquaintances to join. After this core is formed, additional names will be sent their way from the list I gather via online signups. Basically, everyone is on equal footing as the new group launches.
  2. Established Groups - These are groups that have been meeting for a good number of months already and have developed strong friendships among group members. These groups can continue to add new members via organic growth - that is, if you or a group member is connected with someone that you know would fit in well with your group, you can invite them in any time (at the start of a new series/book is usually best). 

Can established groups ask Jim for new members? 

Yes, but on a couple of conditions. Your group should be ready to undergo a "reboot" and embrace the Launching Group approach. Your current members will serve as the "core" and then I will give you a batch of names (3-6) to invite into your group all at once. This will prevent newcomers from feeling like outsiders when they first arrive. Your group dynamic may need to shift from what you had before, so everyone in your group should be prepared to make adjustments to be welcoming of these new members.

New SCF Leaders needed!

This approach has proven to be the most successful thus far, but it leaves one problem unresolved - the desire/demand to join a small group greatly exceeds our current capacity! As such, we'll be looking to do another round of Small Group Leader Training in the near future (we just launched 10 new small groups for Lent, placing 90 new members and we are still far short of the demand!) If you know of anyone you would recommend to lead a small group - perhaps a member of your group who's ready to step into leadership - please let me know!

Jim Schuster, Director of Evangelization