There are many different ways to organize groups.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with the format to find what works best.
Separated vs. Divorced
When possible, it is best to offer two categories of groups: one for the separated and one for those who are divorced. The emotions of those who are separated are generally more raw. They tend to be more in need of individual attention. When we have combined separated and divorced participants in groups, the drop-out rate for divorced individuals was higher. These participants reported feeling “held back” in their progress by the separated participants.
One word of caution: Many separated individuals might be concerned that a group for separated people offered by a church will emphasize reconciliation above all else. They may leave the group or not even sign up if reconciliation is brought up too soon or too heavy-handedly. We feel that reconciliation is best addressed in individual conversation between the leader and the group member, not with the entire group. The idea of reconciliation is subtly encouraged throughout the curriculum and the process is discussed as an option for moving forward toward the end of the group.
Co-Ed vs. Men’s or Women’s Groups
After testing both formats, co-ed groups became the preferred format, not only because they help discourage generalized gender bashing, but more importantly because they allow participants to hear a broader variety of perspectives. One might hear the same words his/her spouse has said time and time again, but hearing them from someone who is not the spouse helps the person process them without defensiveness and allows them to sink in and produce growth.
If the co-ed format is used, there should be two leaders in every group—one male and one female. Leaders should never meet with or even communicate with participants of the opposite sex outside the group meetings.
Participant surveys have shown that support and sharing are the most valuable aspects of the group experience. In order to ensure that everyone has a voice in the group, we limit the size to 10–12 participants. Note that it’s not uncommon to have some participants drop from the group over time. This is a season of transition and upheaval. Don’t be discouraged to see even 50 percent dropout rates.
If you do not have enough people to form a group, one-on-one mentoring is an option.
It can be helpful to hold groups outside of the church walls in homes just like a regular small group. This allows participants to feel the freedom to say things they might not feel comfortable saying in church. Their emotions need to come out—the less inhibited the better. On the other hand, holding groups at the church makes the location easier to find and there is less awkwardness when it is time to leave.
If you use a home, be sure you are not putting the host or leader in a position to be alone with a participant of the opposite sex inside the home. It is important to avoid any opportunity to give temptation a foothold. If you use the church, try to find a quiet place that is free from distractions.