How to structure small groups for in-depth sharing

Learn how to structure a small group to encourage mutual sharing
from the deep heart or center of each participant,
not primarily from the intellect. 

Among other possibilities, this kind of group might be used for:

  • Sharing the fruits of a meditation exercise
  • Developing consensus around an issue facing a group
  • Reflecting on a Scripture passage
  • Reflecting on a book participants have read
  • Considering a proposal that has been presented to a group
  • Creative brainstorming about a project or shared challenge
  • Sharing personal stories of life experiences
  • Wrestling with a difficult issue
  • Responding to an evocative question before the group
  • Planning liturgies
  • Planning retreat sessions

The ideal size for this kind of group is four people. But these guidelines can work for a considerably larger group or even for as few as two people. The most effective way for a group to honor prescribed procedures is to ask that everyone in the group consider it a responsibility to help the group follow them, practicing collaborative leadership.

The first time a given group meets, if all participants do not already know one another well, each person might take a minute or so to introduce him or her self, giving a little personal background, including any relevant experience in relation to the topic being considered. Thereafter, the group can simply assemble in silence. Negotiate the length of the silence beforehand: at least two minutes, better yet five or ten minutes.

  1. Begin with the agreed upon amount of silence. trying to feel God at the center of your being and at the center of the group. Try to open yourself—body, mind, and spirit—to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Let the divine presence wash over you.
  2. Then each person who would like to offer reflections on the appointed topic or questions take one turn to do so. Do not rush. Pauses to absorb what has been said can be fruitful. So that everyone who wants to speak has an opportunity to do so, try to not take more than your fair share of time. Although it is beneficial for each person to share, no one should feel obligated to do so. Anyone may simply say  “I pass.”
  3. Try to listen from your very center, prayerfully receiving what each person says. Let God’s presence penetrate the group. Try to connect with Christ at the center of each person. Avoid discussion and comment because entering into dialogue takes people from their depths back into their heads. It is best to neither approve nor disapprove the thoughts or feelings that anyone expresses; this helps people to remain unselfconscious. Allow silence between speakers.
  4. When it is time to conclude, one or more persons pull threads together with a suitable quotation from Scripture or elsewhere—or with some words that weave reflections together, perhaps in the form of a prayer.
Copyright. Listening Hearts Ministries, 2012.
Copies of this material may be made for use by spiritual
or educational groups. Please acknowledge the source.

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1 comment… add one
  • I have a vestry retreat scheduled for April 13 at which we will consider whether (and how) to undertake
    major repairs to our aging Casavant Pipe Organ. I am going to use these suggestions, along with the Listening Hearts Guidelines, to structure our discussion. I’ll let you all know how it turns out.

    Lenten blessings,


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