For many small groups, it can be difficult to open up and talk about difficult topics. Participants can feel overwhelmed, embarrassed, or shy to express their thoughts. Some will get too comfortable to share opinions to the point where feelings get unintendedly hurt. And that’s not all. Leaders are put in a position where they feel underqualified to help groups navigate through sticky topics. What a mess, right?
Here at Sparkhouse, we’ve heard from ministry leaders about the need for a resource that helps small groups talk about difficult discussions while gaining necessary communication and leadership skills.
That’s how Dialogues On was born! A topical adult small group study that focuses on turning conflict into community, our first unit on the refugee crisis will be released on July 17 (don’t want to wait? It’s available for pre-order now!).
Interested in learning more about Dialogues On? Sparkhouse’s Carla Barnhill developed the product and offers her insight into what you need to know about the product—everything from the true intention to why we chose to focus on refugees first.
We keep hearing this product is designed to turn conflict into community. What does that really mean?
There’s an old saying that you should never discuss religion or politics in polite company—at work, at a party, or anywhere else you don’t want a fight to break out. We assume that differences of opinion will lead to arguments and broken relationships and dysfunctional communities, especially in a group of people who maybe don’t know each other all that well or who only know each other in one context, like at work or in a church group. And our assumptions aren’t totally groundless. Conflict makes people really uncomfortable. And it can get ugly really quickly. But it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy—we don’t know how to disagree in constructive, respectful ways, so when disagreements come up they really do fall apart and become destructive and disrespectful. As a result, these relationships tend to stay fairly superficial and that’s a barrier to true community.
If we want our churches to be places where people work together to live out the call of the gospel, then we have to be able to talk to each other about difficult topics with kindness and honesty and a desire to learn from others. In some ways, healthy conflict is an essential piece of community.
It’s how we grow, how we discover other perspectives, become more compassionate and empathetic. It’s how we get to know ourselves and others. And it’s how we witness to the world what it means to be the Body of Christ.
We aren’t all the same. We don’t all think the same. But we are bound to one another through the love of Christ and that makes our bond unbreakable. Iron sharpens iron, a chord of three strands, a city on a hill—the Bible is filled with admonitions for us to work together as one body to bring hope and healing to the world. We can’t do that without being willing to talk about hard things.
How does Dialogues On work?
Each session of Dialogues On walks small groups through a weeks-long conversation about a specific subject. Each week, participants read a chapter from a book created specifically for this resource. The group gathers for 45 minutes to an hour to walk through a facilitated time of responding to the week’s topic. Each group facilitator is equipped with a Facilitator Guide that offers step-by-step instructions for taking the group through an intentional process of talking, listening, and interacting with what they read that week.
How will this benefit small group leaders?
We know that leaders want to encourage meaningful conversation about difficult topics among the people they serve, but worry that these conversations will either stall out or fall apart. This resource was created to equip leaders with tools to facilitate these conversations in a productive—even enjoyable way.
We worked with experts in group dynamics and group processes to help us develop a class structure that’s easy to follow while still opening the door to honest and thoughtful dialogue among participants. Best of all, the facilitator doesn’t have to be an expert on the topic—the book and video will take care of that. All you have to do is shepherd your group through a process and let them dive in.
Thinking even bigger, this process has the potential to change the shape of your church and your community. Imagine being a place where people feel safe and supported as they wrestle with challenging topics alongside their faith community. Imagine being a church that’s known for being open and honest as you figure out how to respond to the many challenges in front of us today. What does it mean to be the church in the world we’re living in right now? We think it might mean being a place that is committed to working through truly difficult issues and doing it together.
How will this benefit small group participants?
No one likes an argument. No one wants to sit through an awkward family dinner where someone brings up politics and everyone gets angry. This resource not only takes a group through an in-depth look at a specific topic, it also introduces a set of dialogue tools that participants can take with them to diffuse conflict and turn it into productive conversation in other parts of their lives. These tools are tried-and-true practices used by therapists and mediators to help people truly listen to one another. So participants get these tangible skills along with the invaluable experience of having real, challenging conversations that push them to think differently, to listen more intentionally, to ask honest questions and tell their own stories with clarity and kindness.
The first unit is on the refugee crisis. What does that mean?
This whole brand was actually born out of our internal conversations about the ongoing refugee crisis. The church has a long history of working with and advocating for the displaced people of the world, especially those fleeing persecution and war. This had long been an interdenominational, non-partisan effort on the part of churches around the country and the world.
But after the 2017 travel ban, it seemed that there was increased fear wrapped up in the conversations about how to address the rapidly growing refugee crisis, even among Christians. What had been a fairly straightforward topic of conversation became far more loaded with political significance. There was research showing that few churches were talking about refugees or openly discussing ways to address the crisis. What had been a fairly non-controversial topic had suddenly become a hot-button issue.
We felt like there was a need for churches to at least start talking about the crisis and considering what role they might play in meeting the needs of refugees. At the same time, we know that for many people, there is real fear underlying the conversation about refugees. And because of the political undercurrents of the topic, we knew—because they told us—that many pastors weren’t sure how to talk about it, even though they believed they needed to.
The refugee crisis is perhaps the most massive human rights issue of our time. We believe the church has an obligation to address it.
Can this be used as an outreach resource?
Absolutely. We can see a church offering this as a kind of community-education class, inviting the public to join in. It could be something a group of churches do together. A church could train a few facilitators and send them out across the state to lead groups at other churches. We’d love to hear about how churches are using this resource outside of their walls!
For a limited time only, you can get 25% off your order of Dialogues On: The Refugees Crisis! Sign up here to get your exclusive discount.