Offering healing and hope to people with disabilities is an essential mark of God’s reign and a sign that Jesus, our Messiah, is present and active (Matt 11:4-5). One way to reach out with caring to those touched by disability is through forming a support group. Whether you focus on faith openly in the group or choose to keep it in the background, you will have the opportunity to build relationships of caring that embody Christ’s love.
Decide who you are appealing to
Let your own gut sense of the kind of support you need guide you as you think about how to focus the emerging group. A narrower focus will appeal to people who want specific information about a particular condition. A wider approach works when many different conditions involve similar support needs.
Find partners who share your vision
A good starting place is to find others who share your vision and whose gifts and working style are complementary to your own. If you obtain the blessing of your congregation, you will gain prayer partners to lean on when you feel discouraged. You may also draw others into your ministry.
Develop a working understanding with church leadership Consider:
- To whom in the church will the group leaders be accountable?
- What do you hope the congregation will provide for the group?
- What will the congregation expect of you and of your group?
- How will you keep the wider congregation informed about your group?
Get the word out
If your vision is a group that ministers beyond the congregation, good publicity is crucial, and email makes it easy. Ask for the endorsement of groups willing to tell their constituents about you. Announce your meetings in the local newspapers before each meeting. They often will print such announcements as a public service for no charge. Call and ask for the email address to send meeting notices.
Use the Internet to get the word out. Take advantage of disability organizations that will list your group online for free. Providing your contact information to such groups has the added advantage of learning what they have to offer you.
Once you have a few interested persons, convene an ad hoc advisory group periodically who can give your leadership team ideas and broaden your perspective. Decide how democratically you want to run your group. Fewer decision makers may enhance efficiency and dependability. Wider participation offers the benefit of diverse gifts and perspectives and wider investment in sustaining the group over time. Email communication may be efficient, but face-to-face meetings of leaders build community, which contributes to the group’s purposes and sustainability.
Build a community
The heart of a support group is ending the isolation, so plan deliberately to nurture connection. Asking people to introduce themselves at each meeting is a simple way to build connection and help newcomers feel welcome. If the group becomes large, consider breaking into small groups of 3-5 sometimes so that each person gets a chance to be heard. Build community between meetings through regular communication. Email and social media have a lot to offer for keeping many people informed of group activities at minimal cost.
Ask for feedback
Regularly ask for feedback from those who attend your meetings and pay attention to what they are telling you. Consider handing out file cards at meetings and asking each person to write in brief what was helpful and what was not.
Keep the focus positive
Keep your focus positive and on topics that will actually help people in coping with issues that impact their daily lives. Avoid gripe sessions and flaming controversies about theoretical matters or you will drive people away who desperately need help. Focus on content and avoid fundraising, at least until you have a strong group going.
Start and end meetings on time
Stop early enough to allow time for informal conversation afterward. Draw on the expertise of speakers in your area to attract participants.
Plan for sustainability
Once your group gets off the ground, begin to think about how the group will survive long term. Invite and encourage others to help you with aspects of leadership, and be willing to relinquish control and share the work. Remember that creating space for others to discover and use their gifts can be a blessing to them and a relief to you.
You’ll naturally want to adapt these ideas to your intended purpose, your personal style, and those you hope to serve. May you be blessed richly with the rewards of sharing the journey with others.
Please contact us to let us know about your successes and challenges!