A Program Useful in Community Building
Community building has several aspects and doesn’t only refer to increasing the number of a congregation’s members and friends. This suggestion for community building is aimed at helping members and friends get to know each other better, to bring them a little closer.
Many possibilities exist for modifying the program as it is outlined below. One important alternative worth considering is to do this type of program in one full day. See asterisk [*] below.
Here’s a rough outline of how a multi-day event could be conducted:
I. The program could be called, “Getting to Know You.” It should not be attempted without a committee of volunteers willing to run it. A minimum of three volunteers is necessary for the planning, decision-making, and execution. Five volunteers would be good.
[The plan outlined here is similar in most respects to a “Congregation Building by One-to-Ones” program I learned about at a UCC conference in Holyoke a few years ago. That program was developed for churches with many new members because of rapid membership growth and/or a high member-turnover rate.]
II. People would be: (a) advised of the possibility of a “Getting to Know You” program, (b) told what its purpose would be, (c) given a bare sketch of how it would work, and (d) asked to indicate whether they would be likely to participate. A sign-up mechanism, or two, would be provided to determine whether there is enough interest.
III. If there were enough interest, people who showed interest (and other members and friends as well) would be invited to a kick-off meeting. (Consideration could be given to inviting members of other groups who use the congregation’s building to participate.)
IV. The program would run for six to eight rounds. The program might be difficult to sustain if rounds were longer than a week. Therefore, if a congregation’s leadership chooses to conduct such a program, I recommend that either the rounds be one week or a one-full-day program be conducted.
V. For each round, all the round’s participants’ names would go into a bucket. For each participant, a name would be drawn, creating a pairing. Drawings which result in repeated pairings, or pairings of family members or people known to be best friends, would be rejected, and those drawings would be done over as necessary.
At the kick-off meeting, since the participants are all together, they would draw a name out of the bucket themselves. For the other rounds, the committee in charge of running the program could in a nearly-random fashion make the pairings for those wishing to continue. Participants could be notified of their two pairings by e-mail, or by phone if they don’t have an e-mail address.
Another possibility is to have all the participants gather weekly in order to conduct the drawing for the next round and provide some feedback on the last round.
VI. Participants for the round then would arrange to have a forty-minute conversation with each of two people. The two people are: (a) the person for whom his/her name was drawn, and (b) the person whose name was drawn for him/her. Each pair of people would talk briefly (by telephone or e-mail) to decide where and when their face-to-face forty-minute conversation would take place.
VII. Since there is no way to guarantee confidentiality, participants should be advised at the outset to try to be open and keep the conversations personal and meaningful without revealing their deepest secrets. They also should be advised to be careful when mentioning third parties during their conversations.
VIII. For each round, a different set of two or three carefully chosen prompts are given to participants for use as conversation starters. The importance of the conversation prompts is one important reason for having three to five brains involved in the planning. EVERY prompt used should be one likely to provide each participant a good opportunity to say something meaningful and interesting. It is a good idea to have the prompts used over the course of the program cause the participants to reflect on and refer to different phases and/or time periods of their lives. Many congregations will already have people with experience in the preparation of conversation prompts because they will have done that for other programs. (For example, people who have planned and run Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry programs would likely be very good at preparing the conversation prompts for this program.)
IX. Each person talks about half the time during the forty-minute conversations.
X. The conversation is to be personal. The idea is to learn who the other person really is, what they care about, and some of what their basic life experience has included.
XI. A mechanism or two is provided for feedback, to let the organizing committee know how things are going and how to do things better, and to indicate whether the person wishes to continue into the next round.
XII. If things go well, participants could be asked whether they would like a pot-luck celebration of “Getting to Know You” at the end.
XIII. A report on the program is placed somewhere in the church's files.
*If a one-day program is conducted, the one-to-one conversations could be limited to twenty or twenty-five minutes in order to fit in a greater number of rounds (in the scheme outlined above, each participant has two conversations per round). Also, to shorten the lunch break in a one-day event, and in keeping with the spirit of the program, it would be best to provide for participants to have lunch together in the building.
A one-day event may be best for the first time a congregation conducts this type of program. A one-day event has a great chance of success and far less chance of failure due to people dropping out on account of either loss of interest or the press of other activities. Following the one-day event, people could be asked in their evaluation-and-suggestions forms whether, if the program were to be repeated, it should be another one-day event or whether it should be conducted over a longer period to allow for longer conversations.
In a one-day event, it would be possible to make time for more rounds of conversation by dispensing with the drawings and pairing people off for their one-to-one conversations by assigning each participant a number and using a pre-arranged grid. While this or some other alternative method of making pairings could save time, not having the drawings would also have some disadvantages.
Another possibility in a one-day event is to have the drawings, but to have each drawing only produce one pairing. Each round would consist of one conversation. This could be done in the following way: for the odd-numbered rounds, have only the odd-numbered participants place their names in the hat and have each even-numbered participant draw a name to create a pairing; for the even numbered rounds, have only the even-numbered participants place their names in the hat and have each odd-numbered participant draw a name.