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Tips and resources for leading a small women’s group

Group of women meeting

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Cecilia Pigg - published on 05/07/24

Meeting with other women in small groups can enrich your life. How can your small group flourish and thrive? Here are some proven tips that really work.

At their best, being part of a small group of women leaves you feeling welcomed, included, encouraged, and edified. Coming home after a small group meeting, I often feel more hopeful about the world around me. Sometimes challenging or heavy topics come up, and I return home with lots to think and pray about. Because there is a level of trust, however, the challenging conversations aren’t off-putting, but occasions for growth.

Not every small group is created equal though. Sometimes small groups have felt lacking or less helpful than I would have hoped. Other groups helped me learn something but didn’t make me feel particularly welcomed. Or I loved the social aspect but found the content unhelpful or uninteresting.

The best groups aspired in some way to build friendships and community among women while helping them along their journey with Christ, often by exploring scripture or literature through a Catholic lens.

Based on my own experiences — and those of friends in other parts of the country — I’d like to share a few tips that have worked well for us.

Gathering your group and setting the tone

What is the goal of your group? Is it to discuss good books? Study scripture? Learn about the Catholic faith? Make friends? This goal may change as your group grows together, depending on your comfort level with each other.

That brings up the question, how well does your group know each other? Is this a group of women who already know each other somewhat and want to grow together?  Is it a group of fairly close friends, or are you trying to bring women together in your parish? The point is to identify your audience.

Once you do, make sure you communicate with them clearly. “Clear is kind,” as one friend reminds me often. Be willing to set boundaries and expectations in order to help everyone be on the same page.

One friend of mine started a small group and at the beginning explained that she wanted everyone to grow and take the content seriously. Socializing was fine, but not the end goal. Her group was made up of married women, and she asked that husband bashing not be a part of their conversations. She explained it was a temptation for her.

It can also be very helpful to explain from the start that you would like to create a place where it is safe to share and be heard.

Finding good content

For groups of strangers or where there is a spectrum of understanding about the faith, the Endow study guide for Saint John Paul II’s Letter to Women is a great place to begin studying together. The chapters can be easily read during a meeting (so no outside reading or work is required), and the discussion questions are helpful, allowing everyone to respond and participate.

Walking With Purpose studies are another great choice. They provide insightful content with prepared discussion topics to help guide a group.

For more established and committed groups, the Blessed Conversation books, like the Rooted study by Blessed is She are helpful. They can also be read together during a meeting, and require no previous prep.

Worthy of Wearing is another good choice — with more practical lifestyle applications. The first few chapters and the last chapters have discussion questions, but the middle chapters don’t, so it’s a better book to pursue in an already-established group.

Helping your group last

If you want a group that flourishes, balance socializing with study and discussion. Respect people’s schedules by starting on time and ending promptly. Be flexible with the materials you use. As one friend put it, “Lasting bible studies come from having a balance of consistency with the ability to change to meet the needs of the group through seasons of life.” Encourage regular discussion on whether the group is helpful, and how you can change things for the better.

Building trust, making a safe space

Finding a good environment is key. Try to find a central location that everyone is familiar with and that won’t tax any particular person with hosting. A parish is ideal. One friend explained that her small group thrived “because it was being supported through the parish… [which] provided fellowship in a non-threatening environment (helpful for us social anxiety folks).”

Other groups find the intimacy of meeting at someone’s house more comfortable, making it easier to open up and share.

One friend said that group leaders must show authenticity and vulnerability to really make the group members comfortable. That makes others feel freer to be authentic and vulnerable, too. On a practical note, she suggests providing food if possible because it gives people something to do and helps them mingle more freely.  

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