What is a Small Faith Sharing Group?
Have you ever been on a spiritual retreat and witnessed that profound change in a person? Maybe you were on the Team giving the retreat. Maybe you were a participant. Maybe that person was you.
That change–that shift–is the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s a transformation in faith. And it’s such a privilege to witness… it’s why I do what I do.
It’s the “AH-HA” moment that teachers live for; when we get to be a part of someone making a connection between what they are learning and what they are doing. They get it… they really get it! In religious education and on retreats, that AH-HA moment is filled with the grace and joy because we have the privilege of participating with the divine.
So we see this transformation in faith happen on a retreat. We see retreatants come to the end of the retreat on fire with the Holy Spirit, receptive, vulnerable, open, and joyful… and asking us how to continue that retreat experience.
That receptive, vulnerable, open, joyful person on fire with the Holy Spirit is why I wrote Continuing the Journey: Cultivating Lived Faith. I wrote it for adults to read, reflect, and journal on their own, and then come together to discuss their answers in small faith sharing groups. It’s not that a person can’t read it on their own–they certainly can! It’s more that those retreatants on fire with the Holy Spirit need something–deserve something–that can help them keep that fire alive as they return to daily life.
That something is lived faith. That fire is evangelization. And a fantastic way to do this is through a small faith sharing group.
What is a “Small Faith Sharing Group”?
Without having a personal experience to reference, the phrase “small faith sharing group” might elicit images of singing Kumbaya around the campfire and professing one’s beliefs. In case you were concerned: no. That’s not what this is.
A small faith sharing group is sometimes referred to as a “small church community” because it is a small group of people who come together to discuss their life in conversation with their faith, and their faith in conversation with their life.
While a book club is a group of people who come together to discuss what they (may or may not) have read, a faith sharing group presumes a level of trust and confidentiality as participants discuss meaningful topics that belong to the depths of the soul.
Many retreats involve hearing personal stories about the honest joys and struggles of life and the role of faith. Following a personal story, retreatants are assigned to a small discussion group with a table leader who facilitates, inviting each person to think about how the topics relate to their own life. This dynamic is what a small faith sharing group is all about, but such experiences need not be exclusive to retreats.
Sometimes small faith sharing groups meet at Church. Other times, there’s simply no room at the inn (it’s difficult to find meeting space at the Church). In this case groups might meet in someone’s home or at another place that allows for privacy (like a hotel lobby or a coffee shop).
Where the group meets doesn’t determine its characteristic, rather it’s what is discussed, how it’s discussed, and why it’s discussed. Actually, the “why” of small faith sharing groups is truly the most important thing.
Why a Small Faith Sharing Group?
Asking “why a small faith sharing group” is really about asking, “what is the goal?”
In a word, the goal is evangelization. Chapter 2 in Continuing the Journey is about evangelization (which was based on my post “You Keep Using that Word“). Evangelization is not proselytizing. Rather, it’s about kindling the passion for God that is burning within your heart. All of us–from faithful Church-goers to those who have strayed from the faith–are in need of tending to our passion for God, lest the fire fades and burns out. When we are filled with this joy and passion, we gladly share it with others, thus spreading the Good News. Evangelization is less about “telling others about Christ” and more about sharing the passion, joy, and peace that is at the heart of the Good News.
Small faith sharing groups are evangelizing when they engage participants in discussions about living out their faith in daily life. A theological classroom encourages intellectual understanding and critical analysis–which is great–but that’s not the goal of a faith sharing group. A faith sharing group wants participants to apply theological concepts to life.
If the topic is “forgiveness,” the discussion should focus less on what you think about forgiveness and more about your own personal successes and struggles with forgiving others and seeking forgiveness. If the topic involves a Scripture study, the discussion should always include how the passage applies to daily life.
With evangelization as the goal, let’s be clear: the discussions should touch upon some aspect of Scripture and Tradition. Yet, unlike a classroom with a curriculum, a small faith sharing group is open to the needs of the group and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The theological content serves to focus and influence discussion about living out some aspect of the faith.
This focus on faith and spirituality is what makes for deep, soul-talk conversations that distinguish small faith sharing groups from the light and fluffy socialization that we encounter in every other aspect of our lives. Contemporary society yearns for the substance of Christian faith and spirituality. Small faith sharing groups take that theological substance and apply it to daily life.
Why are small faith sharing groups so evangelizing? Because they break down walls and build community. Because they get people excited about living out their faith. Because they engage people on both a spiritual and social level.
How to Implement Small Faith Sharing Groups?
So the next question is How? Just because you get a group of people together and give them a topic does not mean you’ll get these fantastic evangelizing conversations. Have you ever been part of a never-ending meeting that goes nowhere? Or one that devolves into either a therapy session or venting and complaining?
While this post discussed the What and Why of small faith sharing groups, my next post will give attention to How to implement small faith sharing groups, both with regards to logistics as well as selecting and training good facilitators.
Spoiler alert: I wrote a Leader’s Guide for Continuing the Journey to help. More on that in my next post!