Steps for Starting a New Group
By Marian B. Hostetler
Consider the characteristics of your congregation. Are you:
Small: no women’s group
Large: a mix of full-time homemakers and women working outside the home
Integrated: men and women work jointly on committees, leadership
Traditional: an established women’s group meets some needs very well
Urban: many professional people, possibly a number of university students
New and growing: people of many backgrounds
Answer the crucial question:
Are women’s needs for growth and service being met in our congregation?
Ponder the possibility of women doing something about it!
Take first steps:
Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Talk to others, including a wide diversity of individuals.
Uncover needs and ways to meet them. Consider the different types of groups that might serve women in your midst.
Plan an event; along with a program or socializing, schedule time to talk and dream about growth and involvement.
Discuss goals and objectives, guidelines, structure, and program.
Pray about your discoveries.
Select several people to refine and organize these ideas.
Follow through in a committee:
Prioritize needs and set goals, choosing ones which can be met simultaneously and within time constraints of women. Trying to do everything is a sure formula for burnout. But focusing on one area will allow you to do that one thing with energy and creativity.
Outline objectives-list methods to use in meeting your goals.
Establish guidelines-decide on details of frequency, place, publicity, format, components, etc.
Determine the structure needed-look at tasks required to carry out the above and assign persons accordingly. Keep structure in line with needs.
Plan and implement your program:
Be open-minded; try new things.
Keep your goals in mind.
Help women to “own” the program; involve local women.
Assign and delegate tasks for a smooth operation.
Publicize with clarity.
Relax. Enjoy the preparation and the event. Let your efforts be good enough.
After a period of time or a particular event, sit down with other planners to discuss your program. Were goals met? Should the same activities be repeated? Why? Why not? How often?
Ideas for Building Your Group
To investigate the needs and interests of women in your congregation, you might conduct a survey; sample questions are available from the MW office. Hint: to maximize the number of returned surveys, have them filled out at a specific activity or have a drawing for a prize.
Want to attract newcomers to your group? Plan a get-together that most women can attend. Trying scheduling a lunch after Sunday worship, when women are already at church. Encourage them to carpool home, while spouses or friends take the kids out to eat-an easy childcare solution. Alternatively, hold the meeting at the same time as a congregational meal or youth lunch fundraiser, with a separate eating area for women. Focus on building a foundation of fellowship and shared vision, developing a strong core group from which your ministry can grow.
Invite women from your congregation to join your group in a particular one-time service project, possibly something that can be done at home in available time-such as sewing and filling health or school kits for Mennonite Central Committee. Those who cannot regularly attend group meetings may welcome a chance to work with you for a worthy cause, expressing their faith in a concrete way. Follow up with a celebration, thanking all participants. This can be a time to share more about your women’s group: its dreams, goals, and mission.
Sponsor a one-time seminar or practical workshop on a topic of interest to women outside your group, such as a family life issue. Choose a time convenient for these women.
Gradually get to know more women in your community by sponsoring a monthly, fellowship-oriented get-together, such as a Friday night gathering at a local coffee shop. Encourage group members to bring neighbors or co-workers, and foster a friendly, casual atmosphere in which women can come and go as their schedules permit. Building relationships in this way can lead to deeper involvement in your group.
Plan a giveaway at a setting appropriate for your group. For example, a group of mothers with school age children might meet at a kids’ athletic event, setting up a table with free cold drinks, friendly smiles, and printed information about group activities, inviting newcomers to an upcoming get-acquainted event. Learn about giveaway preparation and philosophy at: www.servantevangelism.com.
The more people you involve in preparing for an event, the better; this will spread a sense of ownership. Your planning committee doesn’t need to be huge, but ask many individuals to take charge of small specific tasks.
Types of Women’s Groups
Bible study: Meet for a half hour of fellowship and a half hour of study once a week, using Mennonite Women’s annual Bible study guides or other materials. This could involve private study between sessions.
Spiritual friendships: Gather in twos, threes, or fours for prayer, meditation, and spiritual direction in a space outside the busyness and demands of everyday life. A place of encouragement and accountability.
Mentoring: Pair older, mature believers with younger women or newer believers.
Support groups: These could include ministries for mothers of preschoolers, women in business, single women, and other age- or role-specific groups within and beyond your church. Consider also needs of women who struggle with things like weight control, substance abuse, trauma recovery, loss of a child or spouse, care giving for the infirm, parenting children with special needs, etc.
Community service/advocacy: Work together on an issue you share a passion for, researching the issue, sharing information, praying, writing letters (including letters to the editor), and raising money. Possibilities range from supporting a women’s shelter to participating in a race to benefit breast cancer research to working to protect children from guns.
Topical discussions or workshops: Invite guest speakers or study issues of special interest, such as eating disorders, the media and advertising, anger management, financial planning, or self defense.
Book clubs/studies, film clubs, writers groups: Discuss videos, books, or writing. Both beginning and more advanced writers may enjoy getting together to exercise and develop their writing skills. Types of writing may range from journaling to poetry, fiction to historical essays, guest editorials to children’s books.
Congregational service: Choose a specific focus such as meal or card ministries, hospitality for out-of-town guests, providing meals at funerals, etc. A welcome committee might visit newcomers with a fresh loaf of bread (along with a brochure about your group or congregation) or host lunches after church for newcomers and congregational leaders, providing a time of getting acquainted.
Prayer chain: Many different network styles can spread a prayer need through a church body. Whether you use a list, flow chart, or circles, it may be helpful to put on each list the purpose of the ministry and exact directions for how to take down and pass on the request.
Women’s retreat: Get away for an evening, day, or weekend, perhaps with women from beyond your group or your congregation. Refresh your spirit and build friendships with other women. It might a silent retreat of time alone with God or a relaxed social time.
From Women Together: Ideas for Women’s Groups, volume 1. By Marian B. Hostetler
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”