Facilitating a Small Group

Seven Steps for facilitating a small group focused on the Sunday Readings

Prior to your first meeting you will need to:

  • Have copies of the readings and copies of my commentaries for the season you are studying. An alternative to having copies of the readings is using the Bible. Some groups who meet all year round often purchase a one year missalette. You can order such a missal from World Library Publications a division of J.S. Paluch Company, Inc.
  • Seasonal groups usually meet for six weeks in the Fall and for the six weeks of the Lenten Season.

Meeting Format
The following seven steps will help you to facilitate a small group focusing on the Sunday Readings.

Step 1: Opening prayer. Each of my commentaries opens with a prayer that can be invoked together by the group. Or you may choose a different opening prayer.

Step 2: Sharing life. This segment elicits sharing of recent personal experiences, which is aimed at breaking the ice and helping the group to bond. The question most frequently asked is: “What am I most and least grateful for this past week?” (Most grateful could be positive news about family, friends, health, or Notre Dame won! Least grateful could be anything from aches and pains to a troublesome relationship, or Notre Dame lost! ) 

If someone is dealing with a very painful situation, you will want to be supportive without allowing the issue to consume too much of your time together.

Step 3: Facilitator reads focus statement. Focus Statement gives a brief summary of the readings. (Note: The first reading usually complements the theme of the Gospel reading.)

Step 4: Readings and commentaries. This step may be carried out in a variety of ways, as shown below:

  • Read all three readings and the psalm, then go back and read the commentaries.
  • Read each commentary right after each of the readings. [This is my recommendation.]
  • Read the commentary on the first reading, and then read the Scripture reading.
  • Read the commentaries prior to the meeting. Ideally, all participants should prayerfully reflect on readings and commentaries prior to the meeting. If this should not prove practicable for the group, decide which of the above suggested steps to follow.

Ask for volunteers to read the assigned readings, keeping in mind that some individuals might be hesitant to read in public.

Step 5: Faith-sharing. This segment draws on participants’ responses to a series of questions relating to the readings and how they apply to their own personal lives. This is the most challenging part of the session as you will need to (a) keep the participants focused on the questions, and (b) keep the talkers from dominating the discussion and find a way to elicit responses from the quite ones.

I suggest that you go around the circle of participants, offering each one an opportunity to participate You can introduce this part of the session in the following way:

We will now take some time to respond to the faith-sharing questions. In order to give everyone an opportunity to share, we will go around the room. If you prefer not to share on a particular question, you can say “pass.” There is no need to comment on other participants’ responses. Before we answer the first question, let us take a few moments to see what verse might have spoken to us in any of today’s readings.

PAUSE. To get us started, I will begin with my response to the first question.

When you are done, invite the person on your left or right to share. You may decide not to go around the room for a response to every question. You can open up some questions to the group and see who wants to answer. It is especially good to go around the room when the same people are doing all the talking and the quieter ones are saying very little.

After all of the participants have had an opportunity to share on a particular question, you may want to say:Does anyone want to share anything else on the question? If you get into a general discussion on a particular question, you will need to keep your eye on the clock so that you do not linger too long on the question. Of course, now and again, that may well be the right thing to do.

Step 6: Responding to the Word. You can introduce this part of the meeting with these words:

This is the part of the evening when the rubber hits the road, when we are challenged to name one way we can respond to God’s word. In his Epistle, St. James tells us that “we must be doers of the word and not just hearers.” Our commentary offers us a couple of examples on how we can do something practical to act on what we have read and discussed. Let’s now take a quiet moment to see if we can name one way we can act on the scriptures we have read and discussed.

Step 7: Conclude with prayers of petition and intercession. For this final step, you can say the following:

Let us end our evening with prayers of petition and intercession. 

We can pray for our own intentions, for others, for our Nation, our Church, and for something connected with the readings, e.g., “For my brother who is ill, we pray to the Lord.” All will answer: “Lord, hear our prayer”; “For our nation, we pray to the Lord”; “For protection against the temptations of the devil, we pray to the Lord,” etc.

The participants may remain seated during this part of the meeting. Or they may stand and hold hands. If the participants feel comfortable, they could gather around someone going through a tough time and pray over the person. This can be a very powerful experience for that person.

If you are facilitating a new group, you may wish to add the following closing remarks. 

  1. I/we are very glad you decided to try this way of deepening your appreciation of God’s holy word.

  2. Next week we will begin at______. [If there is a change of meeting place announce it.]

  3. If possible prepare for our time together by praying with the scripture readings and reading the commentary.

  4. If you have refreshments, invite group to remain on for fellowship.

  5. Name tags are a helpful way to help group members to know each other’s name. Decide on whether to collect name tags or let the participants keep them.

If you have any questions about the commentaries and facilitating a small group, do not hesitate to contact me. See my contact information below.

Many small groups throughout the country use this free resource to reflect together on the Sunday Readings. 

If you have any questions on how to access these materials or to receive them for seasonal or ongoing use, you can contact my secretary, Maria Sittig – msittig@ascensioncatholicsch.org

May the Holy Spirit guide and direct your efforts to know and live God’s word.

Fr. Eamon Tobin
Fr. Eamon Tobin, Pastor
Ascension Catholic Church
Melbourne, Florida
Email: tobin2@live.com 
phone: 321-254-1595

More Guidelines for Facilitators of Small Study Groups

Before starting, be sure your participants have all the information regarding the meeting venues, days and times, and anything you might want them to bring to the meeting. You will need copies of the resource material to be used for the meeting. For example, if you are focusing on the Sunday readings, you will need the Sunday Scriptures and commentaries on the readings for the weeks you are planning to cover.

It would be helpful to have participants wear name tags that can be used for several weeks. If you sit around a table, place cards with the participant’s name could work well.

When you are ready to begin the meeting, you can open with the following (or similar) words:

  1. Good evening/morning/afternoon. I am glad you decided to say ‘yes’ to the invitation to participate in this small study group (or whatever it is you are gathered for).

    My role is to make sure that there are no fistfights . While I don’t have a lot of experience facilitating a small group, I will try my best to keep us focused on our topic. As you will see, the format that we will be following is pretty straight forward.
  2. A word about confidentiality. If anyone shares something from their personal lives, it is very important that such sharing remains within these walls.

  3. While we may disagree with other people’s points of view, we should always respect them.

  4. Normally, our sessions will take # minutes/hours (decide on the length of your meeting). With your cooperation, we will endeavor to always start and close our meetings on time.

To help us to get to know each other, I invite you to share your name, the state you grew up in, what caused you to relocate to this area if you did, your favorite pastime, and what motivated you to come to this group.

Facilitator may wish to begin the sharing.

If you plan to meet in different homes, you will need to find host volunteers.

If you plan to have light refreshments, arrange with the group on how to handle it.