Designing Your Wesley @ Home Group

A unique feature of Wesley @ Home groups is that you, the leader, have a considerable amount of flexibility in how to design your group. As you’ll see in this section, some groups may look very similar to what you have experienced in The Rising or a traditional Sunday morning worship service, while with others you’ll only see those similarities when you dig beneath the surface a bit. In this section, and as part of your training and apprenticeship, you’ll learn the basics of how to design a Wesley @ Home group that is unique and accessible to the group members while also adhering to an understanding of worship that is grounded in scripture and the tradition of the church.

Group Details

As an initial matter, there are a few key things we’ll want to know about your Wesley @ Home group. We’ll discuss these in more detail when you propose your group, but the main goal with these items is to effectively communicate details about your group that we can use to promote it to the larger Wesley community.

Time and Place

We’ll want you to be consistent in when and where you meet, but that’s about the only requirement. And, if this needs to change once your group gets together, it’s not etched in stone and we’ll just ask that you let us know about the change.

Frequency

Wesley @ Home materials will be released all at once each month, so you have some flexibility in how often your group meets. Perhaps you want to only meet once a month and binge watch a full series, maybe you want to meet each week, or maybe you want to do something in between – the choice is yours.

Worship Style

This is what makes your group unique, and is where you have the most flexibility in how your Wesley @ Home group will be set up. This could be anything – a “high church” style that makes extensive use of traditional hymns and liturgies, an outdoors group that goes into nature to worship, an arts and crafts group that uses art to connect to God, or anything in between. 

Activity versus Style Groups
One way to think of the “worship style” for your group is to think about your group as being based around a particular activity or a particular style. An activity based group, for instance, will have a particular activity (or type of activity) that is used as the response – think responding through art or over a meal. These groups may not need much help coming up with a response, but will rely more heavily on resources from Wesley for guiding the flow of the service.

A style based group, meanwhile, will not have a particular activity, but rather a particular style – think a “high church” group that uses lots of hymns and liturgies, or a bluegrass group with lots of banjo. In contrast to activity based groups, these groups may use Wesley resources to develop a response, but will be much more structured in the rest of the service.

Of course, the line between activity and style groups is fuzzy (a painting group with banjo music isn’t out of the question), but this may be a helpful way of thinking about how you want your group to be defined.

Designing the Meeting

We know it can be a bit daunting to try and plan worship from scratch. And, there are a few things we want to make sure your group includes so that it reflects an understanding of worship that is grounded in both scripture and the traditional understanding of the church, even though you’ll have the flexibility to adapt these to your group.

With that in mind, we encourage you to consider using the following basic order of worship as a template for how your group worships. This is based on the Basic Pattern of Worship as found in the United Methodist Hymnal, with some slight modifications. In this section we’ll describe each of the four parts of the pattern and include some thoughts on what that could look like in your group.

For more about the Basic Pattern of Worship from the United Methodist Hymnal, click here.

“Services”
We’ll be using “gathering”, “meeting”, and “service” interchangeably throughout this section. Your group may look very different from what you normally expect with a worship service, and that’s ok – we use the term here simply to distinguish the more structured part of your time together from the less structured activities that may take place before and after it.

Part I: Inreach / Gathering

The Gathering is exactly that: the specific time when God’s people gather together. In the traditional understanding of the church, this time is not merely “pre-service” fellowship time (though it does include the time before the formal service begins), but is an opportunity for the group to prepare their hearts and minds to encounter God.

As formal as that may sound, it doesn’t have to be! At its core, the Gathering is a chance to affirm the importance of the gathered community – after all, there’s a reason we worship in groups rather than at home by ourselves. Both scripture and the tradition of the church affirm that it is good to worship alongside others, and that is what we celebrate and join in during the Entrance.

Before the Service

The Gathering includes both the time before the service technically starts as well as the very beginning of the service itself. While many of these will happen naturally, some things you might want to consider incorporating before the service itself begins include:

  • Informal conversation to allow the group to catch up
  • Icebreaker type games and activities that people can play while waiting for others to arrive
  • Light snacks/drinks
  • Intentionally identifying and introducing yourself to new people, including explaining how the service will flow
  • Addressing any logistical concerns necessary to the service (for instance, if your group will be painting during the service making sure everyone has the necessary supplies)

Pro tip: Have a fixed time that you will start entrance activities as well as when you will transition into the service itself, and make sure that gets communicated to the group.

Beginning of the Service

In addition to the time before the official start of the service, the Gathering includes the opening acts of worship as a way of helping the group make the mental shift into a time of worship. In planning your group, it may be helpful to have a consistent cue to mark the appointed time where the group transitions into the more structured part of the service (think turning the lights off in the Dining Room during The Rising on Wednesday nights).

Once the group has transitioned into the more structured time of worship, the goal here is to help them focus on opening their hearts and minds to what God may have for them. A few things that you may want to include here to begin the service are:

  • Welcome and any announcements or instructions (Note: this is particularly important if you have new people in the group and if you have some activity that will be part of the service)
  • Music
  • Prayer
  • Liturgy/responsive reading

Again, these are just suggestions, and the goal is to help your group set aside whatever distractions they’re bringing with them and focus on what God wants to do during the service.

Part II: Upreach / Message

The message will, in some ways, be the “meat” of the service, and whether you watch one at a time or a whole series in one gathering will guide your responsive activities. 

Prior to the video message, you may wish to include elements such as:

  • Additional music
  • Prayer, which could include intercessory prayer (i.e. receiving requests from the group), confessional prayer, or some other form
  • Scripture reading

The message itself will last 12-15 minutes, and is designed so that you don’t have to do anything more than press play. To give you as much flexibility as possible, you’ll have access to all the messages for a given series at once. This gives you the option, depending on what works best for your group, to either watch one or two messages at a time, or to have a longer, less frequent gathering where you binge a full series at once. Even if you choose to watch one at a time, you may still find it helpful to watch the week’s message in advance so you can be prepared for the gathering.

Following the message, either as a transition to the response or as a part of it, we’ll provide some discussion questions to help your group engage more deeply with the message. Feel free to adapt these questions as you see fit, both in content (i.e., don’t feel like you have to use the specific questions provided) and format (if you’d rather let the questions guide discussion during a responsive activity, feel free to do so).

Part III: Outreach / Response

Following the message, your group will have an opportunity to respond. In some cases, a specific call to action will be given as part of the message or series; in others, you will have free reign here. Whether in addition to a call to action for the message/series or in the absence of one, however, this will generally be the time where you incorporate elements and activities that are unique to your group (if you have a more artistically-focused group, for instance, this would likely be where you incorporate painting, drawing, or some other creative element).

You may also want to consider the following options instead of or in addition to activities specific to your group or the message/series:

  • Commitment to Christ
  • (Remembrance of) Baptism
  • Reaffirmation of Faith
  • Offerings
  • Communion

A Word about Offerings
We certainly do not expect your group to take up a monetary offering, though you are welcome to do so (and, if you plan to, let us know so we can make sure you have the tools you need to appropriately account for it). More likely, though, this will be a chance for your group to incorporate some kind of physical donation (think cans for Beat Auburn Beat Hunger) or service project. As a reminder, with each series we’ll provide some specific suggestions for how your group can serve, but we also encourage you to think about what ongoing service opportunities your group may want to participate in.

Baptism and Communion
Baptism and Communion are both listed here as acts of response. While we give you as much discretion in designing your service as possible, either of these require the involvement of a pastor. We would love to help you either incorporate these into your service or celebrate them during our regular all-Wesley gatherings, though, so let us know and we’ll be there!

Part IV: Sending Forth

Finally, end the service with some act of sending forth, which can be as simple as a final prayer and, optionally, a closing song.

Putting it All Together: Example Services

This is a lot to digest, and if you’re feeling a bit lost that’s ok! There are entire seminary courses based just around designing worship services and, since you likely haven’t taken any of those, we don’t expect you to be an expert. Your coach, as well as Wesley’s pastors, are always happy to help you brainstorm and think about how your group can worship most effectively.

One thing that may be helpful as you’re brainstorming is to see what this looks like in practice, so three example orders of worship are included below: one for an activity-based hiking group going to the King’s Chair Overlook in the Birmingham area, one for an activity-based group focused on painting, and one for a style-based “high church” service.

Also, Wesley @ Home groups are designed to be flexible enough to be adapted to just about any length. If you’ve got an idea but don’t know how to make it work in the amount of time you think you’ll have, go ahead and bring it to the Wesley @ Home planning workshop and we’ll help you think through ways you might be able to adapt it.

Health and Safety
Note that these services are intended to help you think through the possibilities for a Wesley @ Home group, not necessarily to be specific orders you’ll want to follow. An order being suggested here does not necessarily mean it is compliant with the requirements described in the Health and Safety Appendix which are subject to change, and you are responsible for ensuring that your group meets those requirements including any future updates.

Sample Worship Order A: Hiking Group

GATHERINGMeet at Wesley, carpool to Oak Mountain State Park
At the park before starting out, discuss route, safety guidelines, etc.
During hike to King’s Chair Overlook, listen individually to Spotify worship playlist
MESSAGEAt/around King’s Chair, stop to watch the message on phone/tablet
OUTREACHIf not already at King’s Chair, continue to overlook and have a discussion using the provided questions as a guide. Invite members to reflect on how the message connects to their experience hiking to the overlook. Consider opportunities to serve such as picking up trash encountered along the trail.
Continue exploring Oak Mountain
SENDING FORTHAt cars or after returning to Wesley, invite members to offer any final reflections and dismiss with a prayer

Sample Worship Order B: Painting Group

GATHERINGMeet at leader’s apartment with snacks/drinks ready
Spend a few minutes letting everyone catch up. During this time, the leader makes sure everyone has the supplies they’ll need and explains the service to any newcomers.
At start of service, leader welcomes everyone and explains the plan for the evening
Opening Prayer from Leader
1-2 songs





MESSAGEMessage from Wesley watched on TV
OUTREACHLeader provides instructions for painting prompts. Consider turning on a Spotify playlist if part of the activity isn’t to paint in silence meditatively.
After everyone is finished painting, leader leads a discussion that includes everyone having the opportunity to explain how their painting reflects how they experienced God during the service
SENDING FORTHLeader dismisses group with a prayer

Sample Order C: High Church Group

GATHERINGMeet at Wesley in Chapel. Prior to start of service, leader starts Spotify playlist in Chapel to provide opportunity for private prayer while others gather in entry hallway
Welcome and Announcements from leader
Responsive Call to Worship led by leader or liturgist
Hymn
Apostle’s Creed led by leader or liturgist
Hymn
Prayer led by leader or liturgist ending with Lord’s Prayer
Doxology
Anthem
MESSAGEPrayer for Illumination led by leader
Video Message
OUTREACHHoly Communion led by leader and pastor
After receiving Communion, group members write a “next step” and leave it at the altar
Hymn
Following hymn, leader leads a time of discussion based on the provided questions
SENDING FORTHLeader dismisses with a prayer

Other Group Elements

While your group’s worship gathering will be the main event the group revolves around, groups are also the main avenue through which students engage in fellowship and outreach.

Fellowship

The biggest change with the move to Wesley @ Home groups from our historic Wednesday night worship gatherings is the loss of a single weekly gathering where all (or at least most) of Wesley is in one place at the same time. This will only be compounded if the University does not resume in-person classes in the fall, or if there are significant limitations on the ability of groups to gather together. 

While Wesley’s Fellowship Team will continue to plan Wesley-wide fellowship events, and our hope is to offer a monthly Wesley-wide worship gathering, we also want each Wesley @ Home group to take initiative for creating fellowship opportunities for the group, much in the same way that Spark Groups have been encouraged to meet outside of Wednesday nights in the past. Following the model of the church in Acts, we believe that not only are Christians designed to worship together, but that our worship is most effective when we truly are in relationship and community with one another.

To this end, in addition to Wesley-wide fellowship events, part of the resources you will receive every month will be some fellowship “templates”. As with most of these resources these are optional, but our hope is that they will offer some basic suggestions for how you can help your group grow both spiritually and relationally. You are welcome to adapt these templates to suit your group or to not use them at all, but whatever it may look like we encourage you to make it a priority to create healthy dynamics within your group.

A final note: in many cases, fellowship opportunities will arise naturally as your group meets on a regular basis, both in connection with the gatherings themselves and in ideas and plans that arise out of those meetings. However, groups do have the option of meeting less frequently than weekly. As a general rule, the less frequently the group meets the more important the leader’s role becomes in fostering community. Even if it’s just meeting up for lunch or coffee once a week, be sure to find opportunities for your group to connect more frequently if you only gather for worship once a month.

Outreach

In addition to fellowship, we hope that Wesley @ Home groups will be one of the primary ways that students serve. In general, there are three main ways that someone can serve through Wesley:

Project-Based Service Opportunities

Project-based service opportunities are one-time or short-term events at Wesley, on campus, or in the community. These may include events organized by the University such as Ripple Effect, or one-off projects or service days that support Wesley itself. In many cases, these will be the best opportunities for Wesley @ Home groups to serve together, and are designed to accommodate groups that may only be able to schedule one time to serve as a group during a given month.

Wesley Serve Teams

Wesley’s serve teams are ongoing opportunities for service at Wesley in roles such as the Cooking Team, Media Team, or Setup Team. In most cases, students’ service on one of these teams will not be connected to their Wesley @ Home group. However, the nature of your group may lead you to serve on a team together – for instance, if your Wesley @ Home group is based around cooking, you may want to join the Cooking Team together and lead a meal each month.

Campus and Community Service

We hope to be able to connect Wesley @ Home groups with both short- and long-term service opportunities on campus and in the Tuscaloosa community. These will generally be coordinated through the Center for Service and Leadership, and additional details will be provided as available.

Generally, you will have the option for your group to either have an ongoing service opportunity (such as the Cooking Team example above), or to participate in a short-term service project that will be included in the resources you receive for each series.