Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Turn Your Girlfriends into Sisters

By Sallie Hagen

“I thank God every day for this group. I’ve never seen women share so openly and honestly.”
“I’ve prayed to be part of something just like this.”
“My husband jokes that we’re the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, but he knows this group is good for me.”
These comments aren’t from my church’s women’s ministry or small group, they are from the ladies in my online group!

Have you ever wished you could be part of a small group of women that know everything about you, but love you anyway? We’ve all heard that small groups are where lasting relationships are formed, but how can we reap the benefits of a tight-knit small group when our hectic schedules won’t allow it?

Organizing and leading an online small group is easier than you think, and it will fit right into any busy schedule, since most of the group communication is via private e-mail.
One year ago, I tried to organize a small group of friends to work through a women’s devotional. Although I had no trouble finding friends who wanted to do the book together, we ran into trouble trying to pick a day and time to meet that would work for everyone.

Feeling led to move forward anyway, I came up with a plan to organize our group online, using a private e-mail group through Yahoo. Some were skeptical whether it would work, but it didn’t take long for us to figure out that we had struck gold. Originally, there were six of us who knew each other only superficially, but by working through a 90-day devotional together, we were quickly able to establish trust and share our real struggles and hopes with one another.

Now, one year later, we have grown to 10 members and are working through our third devotional. We are sisters. We share everything. We lift up each other’s prayers, and cry and laugh together through life’s trials and joys. We have managed to get together once a quarter or so, but the majority of our communication is through e-mail posts to the group. In effect, we talk, share and pray together many times during any given week, rather than just once like a traditional small group.

Do you have a close sisterhood of friends that you can trust through life’s ups and downs? Has your busy schedule kept you from joining a small group at church? Here are some tips to start your own online Christian women’s small group:

• Keep the group small, with no more than 6 to 10 women. This is not to be exclusive, but the quantity of e-mails might get cumbersome and you don’t want anyone intimidated by sharing with too many people.

• Establish ground rules. For example, my group routinely shares sensitive personal information so we have a privacy policy. Sharing others’ personal concerns with others outside the group is prohibited, with the occasional exception of husbands.

• Choose a scripturally sound book or devotional to study together. Consider common interests that your group may have. Choose a start date and project an end date so everyone knows what the initial commitment will be.

• To allow for flexibility, consider working through daily devotionals on weekdays and allowing weekends for catch-up.

• As leader, be willing to spark the discussion whenever the conversation lags.

• Be real. Share your testimony and encourage others to share theirs. The earlier you do this, the quicker the communication barriers come down.

• Ask everyone to share prayer requests on a periodic basis. Compile them in a private document and distribute them to the group to pray over during your individual quiet time with God.
• As leader, avoid monopolizing the conversation and put others’ needs first.

• When delicate or painful issues arise, tread lightly and come alongside with prayer and gentle wisdom.

• Plan a periodic outing together to solidify and strengthen relationships even more.

• If you’ve been wishing your girlfriend relationships could get past superficial chatter and delve into deep and meaningful topics, I hope you’ll feel led to take the first step yourself and start an online small group that will turn your girlfriends into sisters.

Sallie Hagen is a retired CPA turned full-time homeschool mom. She serves as club director for a Keepers of the Faith group, teaches literature and writing in a homeschool co-op, and leads an online Bible study group for women striving to be Proverbs 31. She and her husband John have 6 children, ages 12 to 24. Learn more at www.mypatchworklife.com


KT said...

I would love more information on online small groups. How it all works how to get started etc.