April 30, 2019

Cottage Conversations

When a holy nudge of an idea comes along and starts to take root in your faith community, how can it be tended to grow with the support of many? Or when your community feels a bit weary, uncertain of its future, or just plain bored with its status quo, how can you liven things up to engage people in seeking answers together?

One way is as old as the Christian church itself: gatherings in homes to explore faith and pray for guidance, today frequently called “Cottage Meetings.”

The idea is to invite people to sign-up to participate in an informal gathering for conversation in someone’s home. Figure 10 to 15 people per gathering to determine how many home hosts are needed.

It takes a little structure to get the most out of the effort. Here are some basic “how to” steps:

1. Vestry or some leadership group should determine the purpose for this community engagement effort. What is the “big question” that you are hoping that the meetings help answer through prayerful discernment?

2. Develop a common agenda for each gathering, including prayer and scripture, and what questions will be asked (the most strategic step!). Choose no more than 3 or 4 questions that will help answer the “big question.”

3. Find hosts who will open their homes. Choose diverse geographic locations and those able to offer different gathering times that meet the diverse needs of your congregation (i.e.: weekday evening, weekday afternoon, Saturday morning).

4. Recruit facilitators and recorders, to ensure that each gathering uses the common agenda and that great notes record what is said. (Facilitators and recorders can attend multiple sessions).

5. Assign someone to compile the notes from all the conversations, summarizing and highlighting the more frequent responses.

6. Communicate this summary (and perhaps even all the raw data), so folks know they were heard (i.e.: website post, e-newsletter summary, posting on a bulletin board).

7. Schedule a time for a leadership group to review the comments and, with prayer, discern a specific direction for action or further exploration.

8. Communicate to the congregation what’s been discerned and what’s going to happen next.

The benefits of such an effort extend far beyond receiving input for decision-making. Gatherings in homes allow people to get to know each other in a comfortable, relaxed setting. Relationships deepen, or form for the first time. Common experiences and values are discovered. These will strengthen the congregation’s ability to find and support new ideas for future ministry.