The Value of Small Groups For Newcomers

Why A Small Group Starts

Recently districts have started to develop small groups. A small group may have six to eight people while the larger district meeting could have twenty-five to thirty.

A small group can develop out of proximity, so the members can chant together more easily. A group might develop to work with new people. One district started a small group because three members who lived in the same direction outside of town used wheelchairs. The leaders felt that it would be better if the district went to them, rather than have them find a driver for each meeting. One of the members opened her home which had wheelchair access.

Members Can Get To Know Newcomers Well

Small groups are wonderful when you have new people. They allow the experienced members to get to know the newcomers well. Newcomers have issues they are dealing with using the practice for the first time and older members can share how they have used the practice in handling a difficulty.

A Small Group Can Give On-Going Support

Small groups are particularly valuable when a newcomer runs into heavy karmic seas early in their practice. The new person has plenty of air time in a small group to discuss what is happening and the experienced practitioners can give them plenty of support and attention. It is a wonderful opportunity to train the new person how to use the practice as they challenge ongoing patterns in their own lives or in relationships with other people. It is also a fertile ground for the newcomer to hear how Buddhism addresses life differently from what they hear in the rest of society. The new one will be exposed to the Buddhist philosophy and way of life from the beginning.

One new member was having an extraordinarily difficult time with his ex-wife. She was trying to take his daughter away from him and prejudice her against him. He came to the group week after week with the latest story. The group worked with him, encouraging him, sharing experiences and teaching him how to use the practice. It took five long months before he had a marvelous breakthrough in his circumstances. The whole situation turned around and his ex-wife became cooperative. If he had been on his own or in a large group where he couldn’t air his concerns he might have given up the practice.

Newcomers Borrow the Faith of Experienced Members

It’s important to remember that a new person doesn’t have a history of benefits to under gird their faith. They have to borrow the faith of more advanced members until they have had experiences of their own.

Newcomers love to hear the experiences of the older practitioners and how they have used the practice to overcome difficulties in their lives. Hearing experiences gives them hope and courage that they, too, will be able to overcome their difficulties.

Small Groups Can Teach the Basics

If the group can encourage newcomers to come to one meeting a week, they will receive the support and training needed in the early stages. Small groups have been used to teach the basics, train people in gongyo, and handle doubts. Topics for discussion can be selected with the needs of a specific person in mind. Articles can be sent home with them.

Small groups are a wonderful place to introduce new people to the practice. In one district, everyone knows that any meeting in the district is a place where they can bring someone new. Members explain the basics and answer questions.

Experienced practitioners have been known to explain Buddhism to the family of a newcomer, who had questions about the practice. That way they could understand better what their loved one was doing.

Small Groups Provide Safety and Security

Small groups can impart a feeling of safety, security and a refuge against the negativity a person may be experiencing in the rest of their lives. The SGI is really a lighthouse and when you work with new people you will come to understand how dark the rest of the world can feel.

Some beautiful things have happened in groups. One young woman was in tears about issues concerning her finances and her relationship. An older group member walked over to her and looking her in the eyes with all sincerity said, “No matter what is happening in the rest of your life, you have done a wonderful job with your children. Look how well behaved your little boy is here today and how much he loves you. That is more important than anything else.” The young woman stopped crying and started to smile looking at her child. She left greatly heartened and encouraged.

Small Groups Allow the Building of Deep Friendships and Trust

Small groups allow for the building of deep friendships and trust between the members.

In one incident a disabled woman was telling the members about the chaos that was engulfing her life due to her adult children. One experienced member explored her situation in detail and then advised her how to handle it using the practice. At the end of the discussion she reached out and hugged the woman saying, “We’ve got you. It’s going to be OK.” You could see the great relief and sense of security come over the face of the person who had been so distressed. She reached out and hugged the member, who had supported her.

Small groups create a different environment from a large district meeting. Shy members will talk in small group as they become comfortable with the members, although they might not speak up
in the district meeting. People will be willing to open up the more private areas of their lives in a small group but may not feel comfortable doing that in a larger one.

Value of Small Groups for Newcomers

  • To introduce brand new people to the practice
  • To give support and training in the early stages, such as teaching gongyo, the basics, and how to use the practice
  • To provide a place where members can come to know newcomers well
  • To give weekly support to a newcomer handling a difficult challenge over time
  • To provide protected airtime to discuss sensitive problems
  • To provide an environment to share experiences and give encouragement
  • To provide opportunities to build deep friendships
  • To provide opportunities for the development of trust.
  • To impart a sense of safety.

As you can see the smaller group can be an invaluable tool in encouraging, training and supporting members. Make good use of it. A small group is a valuable ally

“The Value of Small Groups for Newcomers”, (C) Margaret Blaine,
The Practical Buddhist

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