Ministry during COVID-19: Using discussion circles to help friends process
August 2020

Whether you live in a community that has managed to slow the spread of COVID-19 or one that still is facing outbreaks, the pandemic has brought loss, disruption, and isolation. It’s a season of big feelings, big changes, big worries, and you might find that your friends would welcome the opportunity to talk through the pandemic’s effects on their social, emotional, physical, and spiritual lives. 

SEND International’s COVID response team created a set of questions and passages from scripture to help launch these important conversations. Feel free to use it with your friends, family, neighbors—anyone who needs to process this experience. Click here to download the full COVID experience circle conversation guide, which includes scripture passages. 

The discussion questions are: 

  1. What has been particularly difficult or what losses have you experienced during COVID-19? 
  2. What has provided hope or a step forward for you during this season? 
  3. What name or phrase would you give to your experience during this pandemic? 
  4. How has this crisis impacted your emotional life? Physical life? Spiritual life? Social life?   
  5. How do you picture God in all of this? How have you related to God through the COVID-19 crisis? Has anything changed about your picture of God? 
  6. How will you move forward from here? Do you need to forgive someone, make changes, manage your stress? Whom do you need to help you move forward?  

Cultivating community through these conversations 

A COVID experience circle provides a place for listening and sharing, even when answers are not simple. These groups aren’t just for Christians, either! Through these conversations, we can learn how our unbelieving friends and acquaintances are looking to God in crisis, and we may build deepening relationships of trust. Here are some ideas for how to use the questions and scripture passages to cultivate community: 
  • Don’t expect this conversation to happen all at once. Gather over a number of weeks. If your first meeting goes too long, it may be difficult to gather together again. Keep it simple. 
  • Start with some COVID debrief questions then consider choosing a short passage of scripture to read and share. If you are meeting with those who are familiar with the Bible, this may feel natural. If you are gathering with those who are unfamiliar with scripture, you can say that you would like to share something that has been helpful to you and that might help everyone in navigating this experience.   
  • Follow up by sending out the passage you discussed via text, or text the passage during the meeting so that everyone can follow along.  
  • Encourage everyone to participate in some aspect of reading, restating the passage, asking questions, and sharing insights so that the group is collective and community directed. 
  • Consider using creative methods to discuss your COVID experience. Some ideas: What one word describes your experience? Draw or sketch images that come to mind when you reflect on this crisis. Describe or draw what COVID-19 would look like if it were a person or animal. When you think over the past months, what memories bubble up? 
  • If your group includes people who are not followers of Jesus, ask if you can pray a blessing over them and pray for God to be present in some of the areas they have shared. If someone else wants to pray, welcome their desire to draw near to God through this practice.   
  • If your circle enjoys these gatherings, consider continuing to meet to keep processing your experiences together or to begin to delve into other aspects of life and faith by learning from God’s word in community.   

Recognizing the emotional challenges

This may be one of the first opportunities this circle of people has had to talk vulnerably about their COVID experience, so it may be difficult. Culture can influence how pain and difficulty are processed. Personality can lead people to share everything or almost nothing.  

It’s important that the group focus on actively listening, empathizing, and giving space to share and grieve losses or to take hope in growth and change. The stress and trauma of experiences like COVID-19 may delay complete emotional and spiritual recovery for some time. Stress can linger unnoticed, and surges or waves of instability can trigger renewed trauma. Because of this, group members must remain sensitive to each other. 

God always is at work, when life is ordinary and when it’s extraordinarily hard. These experience circles just might help your friends recognize the Lord’s desire to be with them and to give them his peace amidst the COVID chaos. 

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