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Action Research Project
on the effectiveness of reflective and facilitative small group leadership building community in an age of technology

Susan M Chase

Graduate Student, Pepperdine University
On-line Master of Arts in Educational Technology
Cadre 5 Bu5Alive
Professor Margaret Riel

"The greatest need in modern civilization is the development of communities-true communities where the heart of God is home, where the humble and the wise learn to shepherd those on the path behind them, where trusting strugglers lock arms with others as together they journey on." ~ Larry Crabb 1997

Literature Review

Introduction

Life is busy, hectic and fragmented. Many people live from event to event, from moment to moment with little time to reflect, build meaningful relationships or develop a deep spiritual life. Anne Morrow Linbergh addresses this frenzied life quite elegantly in her book, Gift From the Sea, (1955) where she reflects on the different stages of our lives. Each stage, formed by its own boundaries and conditions, carries with it its own predisposition to busyness and multiplicity-neither condition fostering community, spiritual growth, or personal reflection. But as rushed, hurried and hectic as we are, we cannot deny the need we all have to connect at a deep and profound level with ourselves and others. It is the at the heart of who we are to belong, to be a part of a community, a family, a circle of others who reach into the deepest part of our being and challenge us to grow. Yet we often surround ourselves with the very things that keep meaning, spiritual depth and relationships at bay. Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers (A Simpler Way, 1996) write, "Whatever the form, the desire to create meaningful lives is an irresistible current in all organizations." However, for many women today, the idea of belonging to a community, of being in a place of connectedness, reflection, and support for personal and spiritual growth is at best, a pipe dream. And yet it is something that all women need. Studies show over and over again that the best environment for adult learning and growth is one where relationship, dialogue, reflection, and meaningful conversation can take place. But how can that happen when women are too busy to even sleep? Between carpools and soccer games, business meetings and volunteer work, husbands and children, women cannot imagine taking time to do one more thing, taking time to be in one more place or having the time to give to one more commitment, even if it is in their best interest.

Research

Women, like all people, need a place of connection, a place to belong that affords them time to reflect, time to build relationship, and time to develop their spirituality - without imposing more demands on their already fragmented and frenetic lives. Vickie Craft (Women Mentoring Women, 1992) reminds readers of Dr. James Dobson's admonition that the loneliness and isolation women feel today is largely due to the breakdown of communication between women and women. Included in that is the increased mobility of families that often separate women from significant relatives and established relationships. To address this, many church and para church organizations offer large scale one day workshops, over night retreats and conferences where women engage in worship with a few others or even thousands of others. They are spoken to by dynamic speakers and through humor, tears, and storytelling, women leave the meetings with high hopes and expectations of great change and transformation. Working as a professional speaker, I have spoken to women following these sessions, who come to me and share their need for connection, to tear down the walls that keep them from meaningful relationships. However, it often takes more than a motivational speech or compelling lecture to create and sustain the changes needed for powerful and meaningful growth and community. Monday morning arrives, and everything goes back to usual. The alarm clock doesn't go off, there is no milk for breakfast, it's raining and the suit for the interview is at the dry cleaners. Suddenly and without warning, all of the peace, calm, and hope for a different life disappears. It is back to the same old western hectic life.The same old frantic pace. So how does one foster change, create connection, and build meaningful spiritual lives with others without adding more stress and noise to an already crowded life?

Some churches have tried to resolve this through small groups. Bill Donahue (1996) writes in Leading Life Changing Small Groups, that groups should gather at least twice monthly. This allows for bonding and vulnerable sharing. Jill Briscoe (1995) offers suggestions for busy women when designing new groups for churches in her book Designing Effective Women's Ministries. She suggests offering evening groups, morning groups, and groups just for young moms. While these scenarios do take into account the differing structures of busy women's lives, it does expect face to face time that some women just don't have. Neal F. McBride (1995) in How to Build A Small Group Ministry advocates that the most successful groups will meet weekly. Modern women live in a busy, hurried culture and while that may not be the ideal, it is a reality. How does one find time that doesn't seem to exist?

In the books How People Learn, (2000) and Gardner (1999) in Instructional-Design Theories by Models Charles M. Reigeluth- Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, place a great emphasis on the importance of depth of knowledge verses the breadth of knowledge. To really dig deep, people need to learn with understanding. They need to be able to see the usefulness of what they are learning, and understand what it is that they don't know, or have yet to learn about a subject. According to Frank Smith (1998), we learn from the company we keep, from the relationships we maintain. However, when church small groups are facilitated by lecture, or discussions around canned questions that require one 'correct' answer, depth, transferring knowledge, and metacognition are not easily acquired. Focusing on how information becomes knowledge, the book, The Social Life of Information reveals that much of what we learn is unintentional and informal. We have a need to interact and in doing so, we learn. Realizing that long term change requires ongoing relationships at deep and meaningful levels, what can someone do to create a place where life changing resolutions will stick? If large scale lectures are minimally effective and if we are too busy for weekly connections, how do we create an environment that affords closeness, vulnerability, accountability and the freedom to learn and grow?

The internet seems to offer such a place. With online blogging (a type of online journaling that provides a mechanism for others to respond) and a plethora of internet communities ranging from apple growing to zoo keeping, and with all of the new communities exploding on the internet, one might think it would be easy to find an online community that would provide companionship. However, building successful communities solely through the internet is not a given. Just because one puts up an internet site, does not mean that it will ever be looked at. Just because a discussion group is begun, there is no guarantee it will be maintained.

Connecting the two mediums together, the internet and small groups, may allow environments that build deep learning, powerful relationships and spiritual growth, with minimal additional time commitment. How are churches building communities through their small groups, where people are learning how to connect and have meaningful conversations? Most adult groups teach through lectures, discussions, workbooks, or videos. They have not yet begun to tap into the wealth of how people truly learn or the technologies available to them. However, online viable communities that are active are hard to come by. Many groups have attempted to start them, some with more success than others. Many communities are like shouting into a dark room, hoping that some one will yell back, but not knowing whether or not anyone hears you.

Providing the face to face interaction helped eliminate the call that no one answered.

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Resources

Apple Growing (http://www.naturalhub.com/grow_fruit_type_apple.htm)

Blogging (http://www.blogger.com/)

Bransford, John D. et al. (2000) How People Learn Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington D.C.:National Academy Press

Briscoe, J., McIntyre Katz, L., & Severson, B. (1995) Designing Effective Women's Ministries. Michigan: Zondervan

Crabb, Larry (1997). Connecting. Nashville:Word Publishing

Christianity Today (http://www.christianitytoday.com)

Donahue, Bill (1996). Leading Life-Changing Small Groups. Michigan: Zondervan

Huang and Lynch, (1995). Mentoring The Tao of Giving and Receiving Wisdom. San Francisco: Harper Collins

Gospelcom.net (http://www.gospelcom.net/guide/resources/learning.php)

Kraft, Vickie (1992). Women Mentoring Women. Chicago:Moody Press

Langer, Ellen J. (1997). The Power of Mindful Learning. Massachusetts: Perseus Books

Lindbergh, Anne Morrow (1955) Gift from the Sea. New York: Pantheon Books

McBride, Neal F. (1995) How to Build Small Groups Ministry. Colorado Springs:Navpress

On LifeWay: Biblical solutions (http://www.lifeway.com/)

Reigeluth, Charles M. editor (1999) Instructional-Design Theories and Models Volume II. New Jersey:Lawrence Erbaum Associates, Publishers

Smith, Frank (1998) The Book of Learning and Forgetting. New York: Teachers College Press

Wheatley, Margaret J., & Kellner-Rogers, Myron (1996) A Simpler Way. San Francisco: Berrett-Koejler Publishers

Zoo Keeping (http://members.tripod.com/~Sciurus/)

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