Eight Steps to Begin a Mentoring Group After Coronavirus
By Laura Hinchman // Image by Effie Gurmeza
Months of stay-at-home orders and social distancing have left a lot of us feeling isolated and longing for face-to-face contact. Women of all ages and situations have been affected by these changes and many will be eager for community and encouragement as the Covid-19 limitations ease up. If you’ve ever considered forming a mentoring group (and maybe even if you haven’t), now is the perfect time to prepare for some meaningful post-coronavirus connection.
Not long ago, six moms met regularly at my house while a friend and I had the joy of encouraging them to be intentional and purposeful in their primary life roles. We all benefitted from the friendship and the mutual cultivation of our walk with the Lord. There’s not a specific roadmap to follow for such a gathering, but here are some simple, helpful tips for hosting a successful mentoring-focused group.
Bathe the endeavor in prayer. This is self explanatory, but I will say it anyway. Pray. Pray over the material, the ladies, the children and families. Pray individually and together as a group, and invite others to pray for you.
Don’t wait until you’re an expert. Leading is not about arriving at some pinnacle of spiritual or parental maturity. You have witnessed the Lord’s faithfulness, taught a child to read in your homeschool, figured out a way to efficiently meal plan, or trained a son to close the toilet seat cover. You are further along than the younger mom down the street or the college student away from home for the first time. There is always someone in an earlier life stage who would appreciate your input and encouragement.
Tag team it. Before our group began, I shared my desires and plans with my dear friend, Kristy, who promptly volunteered to add her voice to the discussion. Our gathering benefitted immensely from a joint endeavor. The Lord used the blending of our personalities, giftings, and life experiences to form a much stronger leadership role. It was also a lot more fun, less intimidating, and logistically practical to have two leaders when one needed to be out of town or was dealing with a sick child.
Make the initial meeting special. Consider sending out handwritten cards inviting the women to your event. Plan it on a day or evening when the ladies can come without children. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but put some thought and effort into making it memorable. Kristy and I served a special lunch using fine china, candles, and soft music. We wanted it to be a relaxed time in which the ladies would feel loved and pampered.
Cast vision. If possible, choose a purpose, topic, and materials before your first meeting, so that you can present a vision for the group and offer direction for how the sessions will progress. It’s wise, however, to create space for the attendees to offer input on specific concerns or areas of struggle that they especially want to discuss. Even though the ladies in our gathering were all mature believers, we went back to the basics with our initial material—spending a few weeks covering personal time with the Lord, prayer, and scripture memorization. After our first curriculum, we read a book together on living intentionally as wives, mothers, homemakers/workers, and children of God. Studying and memorizing the same passages in our individual devotional time made it easy for all to contribute to the conversation when we met.
Be consistent. Set up a loose structure so everyone knows what to expect. Simple things keep a mentoring group moving smoothly. Begin and end on time. Make assignments for snacks if desired. Decide on whether or not the group will be closed or if ladies are free to drop in. We chose to meet every other week for two hours on Wednesday morning. After a few gatherings we decided to limit our members so we could more fully know and invest in each other. We also committed to be there each time if possible. Alternately, my daughter-in-law, Leah, hosted a mom’s group that was more fluid. It met bi-weekly and was open to anyone who craved adult conversation or liked the topic of discussion that particular evening.
Provide childcare if possible. Our group met in my home, so my teen daughters graciously offered to babysit the children. They played outside or in another area of the house while we sat around the kitchen table. It was a wonderful opportunity for moms to meet in a mentoring situation without having to worry about childcare and an ideal arrangement for my girls to invest in and minister to others. If you don’t have teens who can watch the children, consider hiring a couple of babysitters. Another option would be to meet on your church campus during hours that childcare is provided. Even though the coziness of home is hard to beat, the freedom for moms to be able to talk without interruption is the most important consideration. Leah’s group also met at her house but they chose the evening hours so the dads could watch their kiddos.
- Consider choosing an end date. While it’s not absolutely necessary to decide this at the beginning, an expected end date helps keep the group on task and encourages closure. Groups can meet for a few weeks, several months, or even years depending on the purpose, but knowing the specific parameters for a group allows women to realistically decide if they can participate.
Our circle met for fifteen months. When we first mentioned disbanding, one of the ladies looked around the table, rolled her eyes, and dramatically moaned, “You mean we have to break up?” We all laughed but we also mourned the coming loss. Don’t worry, there’s good news here. Our friendships remained beyond the structure of the group, and moving on forced us all to stretch and grow in new ways. As leaders, Kristy and I attempted to mentor and then cast a vision for the ladies to form their own gatherings. One gal began investing in college students. Another ministered to several moms from a homeschool co-op. Mentoring and disciple making multiplied beyond our initial small band.
Whether you use some of these suggestions or pattern your mentoring group in a completely different way, the important thing is to dive in. Adjust to the needs of your specific situation and the women involved, and trust the Lord to do the rest. Who do you know that would benefit from a community of mutual encouragement?