Your purpose here is to create a welcoming environment that sets clear expectations for your time together. Be sure to follow all guidelines for the space you are using.
- Chairs need to be arranged around a table or in a circle.
- Devotional helps are set up. This may be a candle, a cross, an icon, or something else that will remind the group that their time together is blessed by God. They may be placed in the center of the table or in some other visible place.
- A written agenda that gives time allotments, i.e. Gathering Prayer 5 minutes, Check-In 20 minutes.
- Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John prayer journals for each participant. These journals can be downloaded and printed for free, or they may be purchased online. Please note there is a large-print journal available for the seeing impaired.
- Books of Common Prayer for each participant. Hymnals optional.
- A bible for use during worship.
- Newsprint and markers.
- Writing utensils for participants.
- Participants will be able to articulate where they have met Jesus in their daily lives.
- Participants will be prepared to pray through the journal in a way that is most helpful to them.
Invite participants to be seated comfortably either around a table or in a circle of chairs. If there is a candle light it. Invite participants into a period of silence. You may wish to keep silence for 1-4 minutes. If your group is unused to long periods of silence, you may wish to start with one minute this week and progressively lengthen the silence by 30 seconds each week. However long you decide, let the group know how long it will be, and that you are keeping time. At the end of the silence, pray this or another suitable prayer:
Loving God, you gave us your Son Jesus Christ so that all may be drawn to him. We ask you to bless our time together, and to give us grace and courage to meet Jesus wherever he may be found. We ask this by the grace of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Check-in may take longer this session than the allotted 20 minutes, as your group gets to know one another, and that is perfectly fine. Simply shorten the time of your guided conversation to ensure everyone gets out of small group on time.
This is a good time for you as facilitator to get the pulse of your group. Who are the quiet members who might need to be drawn out? Who are the “happy to talk” participants who will need a gentle nudge to let others speak? See the facilitator’s’ guide on Pitfalls and Troubleshooting.
There are several ways to do check-in. Of course, you may start with one person and go around the circle. However, we recommend either the process of mutual invitation as outlined by the Kaleidoscope Institute or simply allow participants to speak when they are ready. (Briefly, mutual invitation is a process where the group leader invites someone to speak, and after that person is done speaking, she invites the next person to speak. The person who is invited may pass if he likes, and invite someone else. This continues until everyone has been given the opportunity to speak.)
For this first check-in session, we recommend asking three questions. Don’t move along to the next question until everyone has either answered or passed. Be sure to re-invite those who passed at the beginning to see if they would like to add anything before you move on to the next question. You might consider writing these questions on a flipchart or whiteboard for those in the group who are not auditory learners.
- What is your name, religious background, and how long have you been a part of this parish community?
- What drew you to participate in this small group, and what are you hoping to experience?
- Have you been a part of a small group before? What did you find to be the most life-giving part of the small group experience?
Small Group Activity:
In the sessions that follow this one, the small group activity time is optional, offered as a way to engage that is not entirely discussion-based. However, as this your first time together, you will be using two small group activities to create a fruitful small group experience.
The first activity is setting expectations/group norms. The second activity is orientation to the prayer journal. If engaged in properly, these activities will get your small group off to a great start.
This exercise is designed to help set norms for the small group. Norms are the expected standard of behavior for a social group, and setting them at the beginning will help the group function smoothly. When everyone engages with the norm-making and feels a part of the discussion, participants are more likely to adhere to the norms and help the group self-regulate.
While complete consensus isn’t necessary, there should be general agreement about the norms. Some groups will find this a very simple exercise, others will have more of a back-and-forth.
Post a large piece of newsprint where everyone can see it.
Here are recommended items for discussion:
- Confidentiality. Can members discuss what happens in group with other members outside of group time? Can members post pictures on social media? (One often-reached decision is that conversations stay in the group unless the person who shared gives explicit permission for someone else to share their story outside of group.)
- Use of technology. Should devices be entirely off, or should they just be silenced? Will the group make exceptions for important work or family calls?
- How will group members signal they would like to add something to the discussion?
- What kind of listening should group members participate in? Will they be silent or respond with thoughts and feelings?
- Attendance. How often are members expected to be there? What constitutes a valid excuse?
- Arriving on time
- Preparing before the session. (This curriculum is designed so that no one must do the journal in order to fully participate in the discussion, however, group and personal prayer life will be enhanced if everyone is participating in the weekday activities.)
- How will members of the group pray for one another?
- Housekeeping. Who will lead worship or bring snacks/meal? Who will help clean up? How will these tasks be divided up? What will be the mechanism for reminders?
- Will there be alcohol? (If your parish’s policy is a ban on alcohol, there may be nothing to discuss. If there is no policy or adult functions outside of church are a gray area, this is an important item to discuss as individuals may be discreetly be in recovery.)
As items are discussed and consensus reached, write the norms on the newsprint. At the end of the session, take the newsprint down and save it for the next week. You may either use the newsprint from week to week, or type it up and print it out. If you print it out, be sure to either make the font big enough it can be seen across the room, or make a copy for each individual.
Groups usually don’t need to walk through their norms at the beginning of every session. If the group or one particular member consistently breaks the norms, referencing the group norms before check-in may be a helpful exercise to keep your group dynamics under control. You can also reference the norms the group decided during the session if a behavior is becoming a distraction. “I’m sorry Carol, but the group decided that we would not be texting during the session. Is this an emergency?” or “Jim, remember it’s our policy not to interrupt others while they are talking. Please wait for Emily to finish.”
After the norms are set, remind participants that the norms can be revisited at a later session if they are not working for the group.
This exercise is designed to familiarize the participants with their prayer journal. When participants know how many different ways they can engage with the journal, and how simple it really can be, they will be more likely to use it. This will lead to more fruitful discussions during your time together.
- Pass out the prayer journals to participants
- Turn to page 5 and invite different members of the group to read through the bullet points.
- Explain that there is no wrong way to use this journal. You can:
- Write in the journal
- Draw in the journal
- Respond silently in prayer (although it may be good to jot down some thoughts after your prayer time)
- Use your imagination to imagine yourself in the scriptural story
- Call a prayer partner and talk through it
- Post online using #MeetingJesus
- Create a photo journal
- Respond creatively to the journal in another way.
- Emphasize that the discussions each week will be informed by their personal work in the journal, but if they get off track and don’t end up responding as faithfully as they would have liked, they can still come and participate fully in the conversation each week.
To show participants how simple responding in prayer to the journal can be, you may wish to walk them through praying with the journal. Invite the group to turn to Week One Day One, or choose a page at random. Ask a volunteer read. After a period of silence, ask another reader to read the same reading. Invite participants to pray silently, or write a response in the book. After a period of five minutes, process the experience with the group, asking questions like, “How was that for you?” or “What surprised you about your time reflecting on the scripture?”
Small Group Conversation:
Directed conversation is the heart of a small group. Sharing our personal stories and accounts of faith is only possible in an atmosphere of trust and mutuality. Tips for a fruitful conversation can be found here [link).
Here are some questions to get your conversation started. It may be that you move through all of them, or have a deep conversation with the first question you ask. You may choose to ask your own question that speaks to the needs of your group. What matters is that participants are engaged with each other. These questions are based on the experience of the Living God and responses will be unique to each person. There is no right or wrong answers, there is only further discussion and exploration of our relationship with God and one another.
Questions for Discussion:
You might write these down or print them out so that everyone can see them. Ask the first question. Give everyone the opportunity to respond or to pass. Circle back to those who pass in case they wish to add more. When everyone has answered the question, move on to the next. If a question has more than iteration, participants may chose to answer whichever part they like; they do not need to answer all of them.
How were you “introduced” to Jesus? What were your first impressions of Jesus? Where did those impressions come from? Were these impressions accurate?
Has your relationship with Jesus changed over time? How?
What are the ways you have interacted with Jesus over the years?
How has Jesus influenced your life?
Knowing Jesus the way you do now, how would you describe Jesus to someone who has never been introduced to him?
Wrap up the conversation when people’s responses start to slow down. Try to leave a few minutes at the end of the conversation to sit in silence.
Invite group members to share feedback with each other by using one of these prompts:
- Where did the group have a lot of energy? Where was the energy lacking?
- Where did you feel close to God? Where did you feel far away from God?
- Where did you meet Jesus in your session today?
- Where did you see light from the Holy Spirit?
- What did you notice about our time together?
- [If short on time!] Please describe our time together in one word.
- Remind group members that they will start with Week One Day One in their journal (page 8) tomorrow. The theme of the upcoming week is God is Love.
- Remind participants that videos are available online [link], and that the social media campaign will be starting if they would like to participate online.
- Ask for a volunteer to lead worship next week, if this hasn’t already been decided.
- If there is a meal or refreshments, remind the group of their decisions regarding food and clean-up, or ask for volunteers.
Worship is the time we give thanks to God for all the gifts of our life and for our time together. Because Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John is a gift of the Society for Saint John the Evangelist, a monastic order in the Episcopal church, we recommend using the Daily Office, which is a cornerstone of monastic life.
Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, found on pages 136-140 of the Book of Common Prayer, offers a wonderful and simple framework for your prayer time together. You may choose to use the recommended psalms and readings found in the BCP; supplement with our recommended readings; prayers and songs; or choose your own. Hymns may be sung a capella, or read as poetry. Be sure to make time for prayer intercessions, and encourage the group to pray for one another and loved ones.
For the week of Meeting Jesus, we recommend:
- Scripture: 1 John 4:7-13
- Hymn: O Love of God, how strong and true (Hymnal 1982 #455)
- Collect: A General Thanksgiving (BCP 836)
If your group is meeting in the evening, you may also wish to use the service of Compline, found on page 127. This is a brief, beautiful, and very popular service.
Your worship leader may wish to do something more creative or context-specific, like use another liturgy, lead a meditation, invite participants into silence, lead participants in song, or use prayer beads together. There are many other ways to worship God. Taking into consideration the theme for the week, we invite you to explore what that might look like together.