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Group Dynamics & Passionist Family Groups

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Every group needs to have clear and agreed to goals. These goals must be specific, achievable and measurable and they must be consistent with the nature and purpose of the group. Groups normally have Long Range Goals which establish why the group is meeting and express its overall purpose. Its Short Range Goals determine specific things to be achieved and give direction to particular periods (e.g. planning activities).

While the Movement has established aims and goals, sometimes these have not been agreed to by the group members. Those whose roles within the PFGM call them to be involved in the establishment of PFG's or their review, would be well advised to note that despite having established aims and goals, each Family Group needs to express these aims for themselves.

At their initial meeting, members ought to be given an opportunity to express their hopes and expectations. This will clarify the group's aims. If some find the expectations of others too different from their own, or believe their needs will not be met in this group, they can avoid conflict and frustration by opting out at this early stage. All group activities should be built around the group's aims.

The primary aims must be consistent with those of the Movement. They will include developmental growth and concern with quality of lifestyle. The ultimate measure of whether the group is working or note is 'how much the members care for one another'. These same dynamics apply to the parish coordinator group.

The ideal size for a small group is 8-12 people. A Family Group consists (approx 20-24 are adults). Of these units, normally 6 or 7 are 'core' members, 3 or 4 are 'regular attenders ', and the others are 'fringe' members. At most monthly get togethers there would be an average of 12-14 adults. For many people a group of this size 'feels' good, but is not conducive to building close relationships. Is it realistic to expect this to happen at all monthly get togethers ? If 'getting to know one another better' is an aim of the group, the members need to consider what activities (and what venues) help people do this.

Regularity and punctuality are important for some occasions. It helps for people to know the location, style and anticipated length of a meeting or get together. Frustrations can occur if people have confused or unclear expectations. Faithful attendance contributes markedly to the life of the group. Agreed expectations can include non-attenders showing courtesy and advising someone in the group that they will not be attending a particular meeting or get together. This can be an agreed expectation.

Socrates said 'the unexamined life is not worth living'. This may well be applied to a Passionist Family Group. Any group needs to review its life against its established goals. If this is not done there will be an informal evaluation done in the form of criticism. Evaluation should be concerned with how each individual is experiencing the situation; what interaction is occurring and how people's relationships are functioning. Reviewing leadership is integral to the evaluation of the group. The group can address any changes needed to meet their aims, and affirm the good that exists in the group.

There are four areas to consider in evaluation:
Purpose: Are we achieving our purpose ?
Content: Are we learning. growing and enjoying ?
Process: How well are we working/growing together ?
Growth: What has happened to us as individuals ?

Evaluation is best done at a specific meeting. Each member should contribute to it, so it needs to be 'advertised' in advance or planned for. Those unable to attend ought to be briefed afterwards of the outcome. The review ought not be rushed and should take place in surroundings that allow good communication (each person can hear and be seen) and noise and other distractions are minimised.

Face-to-face evaluation is preferable, but some aid (such as a questionnaire) can be helpful to allow personal evaluation to be shared, rather than people feel threatened, dominated or coerced into agreeing with others. A questionnaire could be distributed prior to the meeting. If the review can be done creatively (especially using symbols) it will be less threatening, more honest and more enjoyable. Three examples of creative evaluations would be:

1. Creating a group collage (Use crayons or paints; no rules)
2. Drawing using symbols (e.g. fishing fleet)
3. Body sculpture

Whichever form of evaluation is used, it is important to give clear instructions and a definite time. The way members undertake the activity will reflect their relationship with the group so this is part of the review. Members ought to be invited to reflect on their original expectations; high and low points; special/funny moments; how it feels to be in the group; how they would you like it to be. It could help to ask what story each person would tell to describe what it means to belong to the group.

The evaluation will clarify and agree on major and minor goals and consider what is needed to achieve these better. Members will assess the effectiveness of the group, the communication at all levels and it will assess the leadership. When the situation is known to be complex or difficult, it is wise to have an outside person facilitate the process.

Since review and planning are interlinked, it is advisable for a group to hold a review at the end of each year. The group can then refer to this review in planning the following year's activities which most groups do in January or February. It helps to always link ‘Review’ with ‘planning’. Obviously another suitable time for review is at a time of crisis, or at the changeover of leadership.

These guidelines apply equally to each leader group and to each individual Family Group.Regional Co-ordinators ought to see to it that in each parish, the leader group and each individual Family Group are conducting annual reviews. This is a highly effective way of supporting the local parish in its attempt to build community and of ensuring that the needs of people are being addressed.

A questionnaire needs to address the issues that are vital to the life of the group, such as: Do you understand the aims and goals of our Family Group ? What are they ? Are you happy with the attendance of people at the FG activities ? Do you know why some people do not attend regularly ? Are the activities low cost/no cost ? What is being done to involve the 'fringies' in your PFG ? Are we growing closer to one another ? Do we care for one another ? Are we reaching out to others ? Are we helping the parish to build community? Are our children learning by our good example ?


The group has no say over its own life. The leaders make all the decisions without consulting members.

The next outing will be a picnic. Everyone will meet outside the shed in Hillary Park at 12.00pm.

The group has little say over its own life. The leaders may consult members but still make most of the decisions themselves and offer most suggestions with or without the member's agreement.

We've checked with everybody and there are several different suggestions, so we've decided to have a picnic at Hillary Park. We'd like everyone to meet at 12.00pm

The leaders give the group firm direction. They consult the group when appropriate and do not apologise for having a particular vision.

We thought it would be good to have a picnic at Hilary Park for our next outing. Would you be happy with that idea ?

The group has a great deal of say over its own life. The leaders consult members concerning decisions and act according to the group's desires. Members feel free to make decisions.

We would like to hear more suggestions for the next outing. There have been several good suggestions so it would be good for us to choose together what we think is the best idea.

Laissez Faire:
The group has all the say over its own life. No one takes responsibility for decision making, and organisation of the life of the group is left to the group itself.

It's up to you what you want to do. We're just part of the group. It doesn't matter much to us.

Can you identify the style of leadership that has been operating within your leadership group?

What style of leadership would be desirable in the early stages of a group's life?

How can Parish Co-ordinators exercise leadership among their group Coordinators?

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Aims and Goals
To share our Christian Lives
To support one another in times of need & celebration
To give example to and involve our children in Christian sharing
To build and promote community within the parish
To live and love like the early Christians

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