Thursday, June 08, 2006

community and interaction

community.jpg A year ago 4 of us started espresso. It was a risk, but we wanted a conversation space, a place where people connected with God through each other. As part of the birthing of espresso, we developed a set of guidelines. We read this pretty much weekly, hoping to create a climate of interaction that is safe and allows people to participate as much or as little as they want.

Anyhow, Espresso had 17 punters on Tuesday nite. (We were kicking off a number of weeks of discussion around the spirituality and themes in relation to the Da Vinci Code.) Now, when you get to about 17 people, group dynamics can start to change. It is easier for people to fall silent or slip to the edges of a group. It can be harder to have your say. I’m not saying this happened on Tuesday, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. I’m just making the observation.

So what do we do?
1 – Just keep going. But will we start losing one of our driving values of conversation and participation?

2 – Start another one. It would be great to have espresso’s all over Christchurch. But it seems to take a lot more energy to get from 4 to 10 than from 10 to 17. So if you are always planting another group when you got to about 15-20, then aren’t you always dealing with fragility? Is that a bad thing?

3 – Do some things together; like an ending or opening ritual and then separate into smaller conversation groups. (The space we meet could easily handle this). But what work needs to happen to ensure that the espresso DNA is expressed in each and every smaller conversation? How would it feel as these groups change change every night? Would you feel like you were in a better/worse conversation than across the way? How do you create safe entry spaces of first timers?

I’m thinking aloud; so any thoughts and observations are welcome.

Posted by steve at 12:06 PM


  1. In the ministry that God has entrusted to me, I have been stumbling onto the realization that what we do with discipleship through connecting people is critical. I now describe what we do as “connecting people with God by connecting them into deepending relationships with other people.” As I consider my personal spiritual growth, some steps towards growth came through preaching or reading a book, but the leaps and bounds came through relationships with people who gave me an example of Christ and Christlikeness that attracted me to Jesus. You don’t know how excited I was to have someone else verbalize “people [connecting] with God through each other.” It’s something critical that we tend to miss as we blindly “do church”… Thanks for the unintentional encouragement today.

    Comment by Will — June 9, 2006 @ 12:21 am

  2. In my rambling I didn’t address your questions… We are continually providing environments where connection happens naturally. Not having been where you are, it still sounds like that’s what you’re doing. We put a ton of prayer into asking God to arrange things in ways we could never plan – from where people sit at a gathering environment to the conversations steering in a direction that allows people to discover how much they have in common. One of the best environments we’ve been pursuing is bringing people around a table for a meal. We pray and plan, attempting to bring people who would most likely connect, but in the end, it’s totally up to the living, active, powerful God who owns what we do.

    Comment by Will — June 9, 2006 @ 12:28 am

  3. Steve,

    I like the sounds of number 3.

    We have done “open space” discussions where people don’t necessarily stay in the same group all night. There is the understanding that they can “flow” from one conversation to another as they see fit. They simply get up and go to another group. Since everyone knows this and has the same option, no one is offended when someone leaves, etc.

    This solves the “I wonder if someone else is in a better group” thing, and tends not to kill the intimacy for those who require/love it as they can stay if they want. It is also easy for new people to enter into the coversations… or get a sampling of them all.


    Comment by Pernell — June 9, 2006 @ 5:16 am

  4. Steve,

    I realize this is somthing a little more than a “cell group” or “life group” or some other name given to a home bible study. But, I would suggest #2. I always operated under the idea that 12 was the key number to multiply your group.

    I love your set of guidelines. What kind of topics are discussed by the group?

    Comment by Nels — June 9, 2006 @ 5:48 am

  5. I think you might be on to something Pernell. Having two open conversations makes it a bit more social and relaxed.

    What do you think Steve?

    Comment by Paul (Espresso) — June 9, 2006 @ 10:18 am

  6. Good stuff Steve, this is all very helpful 🙂

    Comment by Makeesha — June 9, 2006 @ 11:18 am

  7. oh and by the way, number 3 is what we plan to do since our group is starting at over 20

    Comment by Makeesha — June 9, 2006 @ 11:20 am

  8. Pernell, can you tell me a bit more about how your “open conversations” work. do you have any guidelines? it sounds really interesting.

    and Nels, sorry that i did not make this clear, but espresso is church, not a cell group.


    Comment by steve — June 9, 2006 @ 8:59 pm

  9. Ah, Thanks Steve. Thanks for the explaination. Number three seems like the most natural course.

    Comment by Nels Cross — June 10, 2006 @ 6:20 am

  10. Steve,

    Been reflecting on this as it is a real rub issue for us too. I share the Open space option. Our midweek Caim is developing a fellowship meal and more around it now and the art in leadership of the oversight so to so-peak for me is how not to get too technical and take control, but gently set some pace, set some bounds that within which God can work among us and some amazing things develop. I tracked some open space materials down and I think that they can be adapted to any size group to maintain the essence of the Espresso group for you and yet allow for growth and no extra demands or headaches on how do we deal with this growing group – the tendency is always to manage at such a point. Resist! If I can dig out the files I’ll email them to you.

    Comment by fyfe — June 10, 2006 @ 9:44 am

  11. Fyfe,
    would love to see those open space materials. it would be really helpful. also for thinking about “unconferences” and things like that.

    you missed a great pentecost. we’re working on a DVD of the teaching and preparation of the art instatllation though.


    Comment by steve — June 10, 2006 @ 10:22 am

  12. Steve,

    I am always interested in how this group works and love reading about your latest topics etc. I just wanted to comment that in any group it is always great to have a discussion as that group about everybody’s thoughts on how they feel the dynamics are going. Sometimes by making each other aware of how the larger this group becomes the values/guidelines cannot be met to the same degree can be helpful in getting everyone on board with an inevitable change.

    Comment by Hope — June 12, 2006 @ 12:49 pm

  13. Steve, I think lots of us would love that open space material, so if you get the info, please pop on here and tell us about it.

    Comment by Makeesha — June 12, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

  14. Steve,

    Here are some links to read about the concept of “Open Space”. You can adjust for your own contextual needs:

    Hope that helps.


    Comment by Pernell — June 13, 2006 @ 6:55 am

  15. I was new to espresso last Tuesday. The group felt safe, not too large. I felt that I could speak freely and connect with everyone. If the group gets too big it would be good to try #3 with the flow idea integrated. Thanks for inviting me!

    Comment by Regina — June 13, 2006 @ 2:44 pm

  16. Twas lovely to have you along, Regina (and Andrew)

    Comment by lynne — June 14, 2006 @ 1:16 pm

  17. Are you finding having people at different faith stages to be an issue with this kind of group Steve? I run something similar, and we’re too small for numbers to be an issue, but totally different stages of faith is.

    Comment by Digger — June 16, 2006 @ 8:55 pm

  18. Hope, rest assured that any changes are discussed in the community. this blog is helping me process unformed stuff out aloud,

    Regina, really appreciate the feedback – great to know that our hopes of a safe place to talk was your experience. peace to you and Andy.

    Comment by steve — June 17, 2006 @ 2:48 pm

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