A resource for community building, easily adjusted to meet group needs. We live in a culture of loneliness, paradoxically plagued by oversharing in digital spaces and trivial conversation in our real relationships. The Craft and Conversation Table exists to provide space for women to safely share about life experiences and beliefs that are rarely shared with others openly and honestly.
This guide has been created as a resource for women seeking to create safe places for women in all their diversity to come together to encourage and grow in understanding of one another. Craft and question-led conversation, combined together, create an entry point for many women to engage with one another in a fun environment and meet the need for community that exists in our culture.
We live in a culture of loneliness, paradoxically plagued by oversharing in digital spaces and trivial conversation in our real relationships. The Craft and Conversation Table exists to provide space for women to safely share about life experiences and beliefs that are rarely shared with others openly and honestly. The question-led element guides women to speak about deeper topics that are often avoided in polite conversation.
The craft element, though not necessary, creates a less intimidating entry point for most women than the conversation element. Having something to do while you are conversing also eliminates some of the awkwardness that often occurs in a question-led conversation. If “craft” really doesn’t work for you, creatively think of another reason to bring together a group of women that will still allow space for intimate discussion.
[One possibility is starting a book club following many of the other principles established in this guide. Take turns choosing the book and crafting the questions. Well-led book discussions will cover many of the conversation topics listed in this guide.]
An obstacle many may face in bringing together a diverse group of women is that, for many of us, the people in our social sphere may be rather homogenous, whether in beliefs, life stage, socio-economic status, race, or all of the above. For women who realize they have little relationship with a larger group of women (for example, a stay-at-home mother of small children who has relocated to a new city), but would like to make their home a safe place for people in the community to gather, they will need to thoughtfully partner with another woman who has the opportunity to know and interact with many others (often a woman who works outside the home but may have little emotional energy to host events in her home). In fact, a group created by two diverse women partnered together, willing to creatively consider and pursue all the women in their social spheres and invite them to the table offers many advantages, including modeling unified diversity.
On who to invite, I use Mark 4:24-25 as my guide: “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” You have to use a big scoop (large measure) to spread the seed if you want a big harvest. So, you have to invite a lot of people if you hope for people to come. I think if people sat down and thought about it, there might be a lot more people that they could invite than they realize. Ultimately, you are responsible for your generosity, not the responses of others. In the worst case scenario, you invite a lot of people, no one shows up, except for the one or two other women who have partnered with you, and you spend a great evening together with good friends.
Decide if you want to focus on a particular social group (for example, co-workers or neighborhood) or if you want to create a space for more diverse interactions that cross normal social spheres. Below is a list of common social spheres.
- Current friends
- Old friends
- Social Media friends
- Co-workers or spouses of co-workers
- Partner’s co-workers or spouses of partner’s co-workers
- Parents of children’s friends
- People you meet through common interest groups (church, hobbies, gym, library, etc.)
- Your friend’s friends
- The acquaintances of the regular attendees of your group (encourage them to invite people from their social spheres)
Create a sustainable timetable that will work for both you and the members of your group. Personally, I have found meeting regularly once a month from January through June (six months) and then squeezing in three more gatherings intermittently during the second (and often busier) half of the year to be a sustainable schedule for me. When I am trying to start a new group, I usually share up front that we will be meeting for six months. By establishing expectations up front, I can determine if someone is interested and should be pursued in the future even if they are legitimately unavailable on occasion.
Figure out childcare—as a society, we often marginalize the women without easy access to childcare. These women are often the ones who need community the most. Spouses and older children of the women in your group may be willing to help. In our group, women who are able leave their children at home, and I pay a teenager from our group to manage the rest.
One of the keys to running a successful long-term group is for the leader(s) not to burnout. I cannot over emphasize the importance of real hospitality and group ownership for sustainability. The cultural myth that one needs to own and maintain an immaculate home before they can host needs to be torn down. Your home does not have to be spotless or large. People in our culture are lonely and longing for fellowship, and people will feel comfortable in an “authentic” home (and perhaps even more willing to take a turn hosting if they realize they don’t have to have a “perfect” home.) The Craft and Conversation Table needs to be a time for all the women in the group to look forward to, and not something for the host to dread preparing for at the end of a hard week. I usually hold our meetings at 7:00 on Saturday evenings. Saturdays are often a busy time for our family, and on occasion, I have pulled into our driveway the same time as other women are pulling into our driveway, and we all walk into my real house together. Sometimes I even ask them to unload the dishwasher. Through establishing a culture of authenticity, the women in our group who have smaller (and sometimes messier) homes and apartments now feel very comfortable hosting our group, and we share the blessing (not burden) of hosting.
Share responsibilities with the group to create a stronger sense of group ownership. It’s less responsibility on you, and if members feel a strong sense of belonging, they will be more committed to coming regularly. Shared responsibilities could include taking turns hosting, providing snacks/beverages, creating the conversation questions, leading the craft, and/or providing the craft supplies.
Lead by example and build trust among the group by honestly answering questions. We should not create a façade of a perfect home, nor should we fabricate a façade of being perfect ourselves. Do not be afraid to share your doubts, struggles, and pain. The veneer of perfection hinders true community. It will take time to build trust among group members, and the more vulnerable the leaders are, the more quickly authenticity will be established. Sometimes, once a group is established, it can be advantageous to “close” the group for a while to help women gain trust with one another—the more trust that is established, the more people will share—and a constant flow of new people can limit some people’s willingness to share. Figure out what will be best for your group’s dynamics.
Title image: Giacomo Ceruti Women Working on Pillow Lace
If you’re interested in starting a bible study or spiritual discussion group, here’s a resource I’ve developed that works well in one-on-one or group settings with little-to-no planning
Spiritual Discussion Guide