Continuing congregational training : a comparison of group–work initiatives within the Church of England
Grainger, Roger B
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Writers on group-work distinguish several kinds of small group, each having a different structure and purpose, but all involving some kind of learning function associated with, or mediated by the experience of group membership The Bible provides evidence in both Old and new testaments of the awareness involved in group belonging, and Christian churches, among them the Church of England, have employed groups for pastoral and evangelising purposes. Within the UK, the Church of England concentrates its congregational training on one kind of directive group-based format: ‘process evangelism’, which is examined here using examples taken from various dioceses, in order to argue that by concentrating on one kind of group, the Church of England (and perhaps other Church bodies) may be neglecting the possibility that other, more experiential and less directive kinds of groups may more effectively educate church members in Christian belonging. In order to discover how different group-work structures affect learning, three group formats are compared, one directive and two experiential. Questions are asked as to their suitability for Christian learning, how they embody scriptural and ecclesiastical perspectives on learning. The same group of people, drawn from different congregations underwent a course of alternating group structures over a six month period. Each individual member was asked to keep a written record of her or his personal impressions of and feelings about each session, so that a comparison could be made of members’ experiences of the three groups. Using the qualitative research model of Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, an investigation was carried out into the principal themes emerging from members’ self-reports of their experiences of the three different group structures, revealing four value constructs – belonging/alienation, safety/danger, enrichment/impoverishment, and validation/rejection – which played a dominant role in all three kinds of group. No group format scored more highly than the others on all four axes of value. Taken all together each of the three group structures gave a different degree of prominence to each of the four evaluative constructs, so that each of the three was shown to be particularly relevant for, and associated with, a particular area of experiential learning.
- Theology