Meet People's Needs through Support Groups
- Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
- 2001 7 Jan
Here are some ways you can offer support groups to people in your community:
- Research the needs that exist in your community, and identify which ones are not adequately met. Talk to people from your local social service agencies to find out what types of support groups currently exist in your area so you dont duplicate them. Study local demographic information to determine possible needs (for example, a high unemployment rate could signal a need for a job search support group). Then pray about your ideas, asking God to show you which ones you should pursue.
- Once youve decided on a topic for each group, determine how long the meetings and session will last. For example, many groups meet for about one or two hours every week for six to twelve sessions. If there is still demand for a group on a particular topic after one session has ended, a new session can begin to serve new people.
- Decide on a format for each meeting. Some groups primarily give participants time to share their thoughts and feelings as they relate to the topic, and others present teaching or help participants find resources.
- Enlist volunteer support to run each group. A group leader should be a mature Christian who is emotionally stable, caring, nonjudgmental, trustworthy, and well-organized.
- Publicize the groups inside your church (such as through the church newsletter and announcements during worship services) and outside your church (such as by sending public service announcements to local media and asking for referrals from doctors, social workers, school employees, and others who regularly encounter people in need).
- Make sure that all conversation that takes place within support group meetings is strictly confidential.
- Encourage participants to speak for themselves rather than giving advice to others. Help create and maintain an atmosphere in which people feel comfortable speaking honestly without fear of judgment. Encourage mutual respect among participants.
- Let participants know that they are free to choose whether or not to talk at any particular meeting.
- Stay on schedule, and stick to your format, so people will know what to reliably expect. Discipline is important, despite a temptation to talk casually if only a few people attend. Remember that there will be time after the meeting to talk socially if people would like to stay.
- If you observe that a participant has psychological problems or other issues that are beyond the scope of what a support group can treat, speak privately to that person, encouraging him or her to seek professional help.
- Emphasize Gods love, grace, and power to transform people.
- Focus on present struggles and future hope. Dont simply rehash the past. Talk about the past only as it impacts the present and future. Encourage participants to think and pray about potential solutions to their struggles.
- If you dont have the volunteer help within your church necessary to start and operate a group, consider offering church space to other organizations who are currently offering support groups so they can meet at your church.
Adapted from Meeting Needs through Support Groups by Sara Hines Martin, copyright 1992 by New Hope Publishers, Birmingham, Ala., www.newhopepubl.com, 1-800-968-7301.
Sara Hines Martin, a counselor in private practice in Georgia, specializes in working with adult children of alcoholics and people from other shame-bound families. She also teaches seminars internationally.
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