Twelve Steps for Beginning a Support Group Ministry

by Betty Hassler

For many, navigating the path to spiritual growth and Christian discipleship is all the more difficult because of unresolved life needs. By establishing a support group ministry, you can help church and community members deal with the issues that are barriers to growth. Biblically-based support groups allow your church to

  • Touch the undercurrent of hurt that exists within the church family. Most of us have experienced putting on our "church face" and going through the motions of worship when we were hurting inside. Pastors and staff do not have the time to minister adequately to every hurting member.
  • Touch the hurting community outside the church walls. This ministry says to the unchurched, "This church cares about me." Often, persons are brought into the church through the doorway of support groups.

To lead your church in beginning a support group ministry, follow these 12 steps:

1. Pray

Spend time in prayer with others who have a heart for reaching persons who need to experience healing as an integral part of becoming a growing disciple. Ask God to show you where He is already at work in bringing those with identified needs and leadership skills to the attention of your church body.

2. Share

Share your vision with your pastor, other staff members, and key church leaders. Ask them to pray with you for direction.

3. Plan

Good planning begins with developing a purpose statement. What do you hope to accomplish through this ministry? Your purpose must support the purpose of your church.

4. Assess Needs

Interview church staff members, Sunday School leadership, and other key leaders to discover the types of needs they are aware of within your congregation that would be met by a support group ministry. Do not ask for names of individuals.

Consider taking an anonymous survey in Sunday School. You might include on the form the subjects covered by LifeWay's support group resources. Have respondents seal their survey forms in a blank white envelope. Collect these surveys and tabulate results.

Talk with area health care and mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, lawyers, and government agency representatives to discover needs in the larger community.

5. Set Priorities

After evaluating needs, consider offering one or two support groups as a beginning point. Very few ministries can begin with a wide variety of offerings. An introductory study that is broad in scope (Search for Significance or Recovering from the Losses of Life, for example) may attract a wider audience and provide a comfort level for persons not yet ready to identify and deal with other more complex issues.

6. Secure Church Approval

Share your proposal as a needs-based ministry with the staff and then the congregation. Do not proceed further without approval. Gaining approval may require waiting on the Lord to change hearts and minds. Consider any waiting period as valuable preparation time as you continue to explore ways to meet identified needs.

7. Select a Support Group Coordinator

Identify an individual with the skills and availability to serve in this capacity. The coordinator identifies and secures training for facilitators, arranges meeting rooms and times, takes care of administrative functions such as ordering materials, and represents this ministry to the wider church body. He or she works closely with the Discipleship Training director and other church leaders to schedule groups.

8. Train Facilitators

No one should be asked to lead a group who has not been through a training experience. Ideally, facilitators will have participated in a group previously. Facilitators of 12-step groups should have worked through the steps, or a majority of the steps, before facilitating a group.

Facilitators will profit from meeting together to study WiseCounseling: Skills for Lay Counseling. Also, training is often available through local Baptist associations and state conventions. A support group leader handbook may be downloaded from

9. Complete Administrative Tasks

After group leaders have been trained, order leader guides and member workbooks for use in the groups. Determine time, dates, and locations groups will meet. Consider child-care needs and how best to meet them.

10. Publicize Support Groups

Publicize group meetings through church newsletters, bulletins, Sunday School announcements, and hallway posters. Let the community know about the groups through newspapers, radio and television public service announcements, flyers in offices where persons with related needs might visit, and informational letters to area professionals.

11. Launch the Ministry

Hold introductory meetings, where interested persons can find out more about the groups and make a decision to commit to a group. Provide copies of the group covenant. If members are buying their own workbooks, collect money.

12. Evaluate Ministry

As groups begin, continue to assess and evaluate all aspects of the ministry. Provide on-going training for facilitators. Offer additional groups as needs surface and leaders are identified.

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