Nearly two years ago, egged on by two friends, we started a weekly morning men’s book discussion group. The group, which originally started with five, has now grown to as many as 25, including many men whom I’ve never met before. It includes a potpourri of men ranging in age from their twenties to their sixties, including doctors, technicians, editors, a farmer, architects, and small-business owners.
The fact that so many men continue to come week after week at 6 a.m. is a testament to the power of community. Some men have come from as far away as 30-40 miles to participate. Recently, we drew two young seminarians from our diocese. The response to the group suggests that there is a deep need for people of like mind to gather together for prayer, discussion, and mutual support.
While our group is made up primarily of married men, there’s no reason why the same idea couldn’t work with a group of like-minded singles.
The basics of setting up a discussion group are fairly simple. I encourage you to use the following helpful suggestions to consider starting a group of your own. You just never know who you might meet.
Find a Core
Obviously, you can’t start a book discussion group alone. Ask one or two of your friends whether they would have an interest. Encourage them to invite others. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the group grows.
Establish a Leader
More than likely, the leader will be you. It’s important that someone take a leadership role, making decisions regarding book selection, notifying others of the meeting, and keeping things rolling. It is important for the leader to keep the others informed via telephone or email. A telephone tree can also work for keeping members informed.
Set a Consistent Time and Place
For the majority of men in our group with wives and children at home our 6 a.m. meeting time, at a central restaurant, works well because it doesn’t pull the men away from their responsibilities to their career, wife, or family. They’re each able to meet before they begin work for the day.
Our group has tried several venues. The one that seems to work best is a local Perkins restaurant. The restaurant allows those who want to begin their day with a meal to do so. While not a requirement of a book discussion group, “breaking bread” together adds positively to the format.
Other options for meeting spaces might include coffee houses, libraries, or bookstores. Call the manager to see what might be possible.
We’ve also adjusted our meeting date numerous times. Through trial and error we finally settled on Tuesday mornings, to allow for different people’s work and travel schedules. Be open to your members’ needs.
Don’t Limit Attendance
As members of our group began inviting friends, colleagues, and co-workers, we experienced some initial growing pains. After discussing the issue as a group, we came to the consensus that it was best if we did not limit the group’s size. This has allowed a steady stream of new faces, each offering a different set of experiences and perspectives that we have all benefited from. We have men in their twenties, as well as men in their 60s. On average, our weekly attendance ranges from 12-19, but we’ve never had more than the restaurant can comfortably handle.
Agree on a Format
There are several formats a book discussion group might take. They include: prayer group, Scripture group, accountability group, formal lay movement-led group, regular speakers, or a book discussion group.
Depending upon your group, I would highly recommend beginning with prayer. In recent months, we have devoted approximately 15-20 minutes to spontaneous prayer, interceding for the various needs of the members of our group. All of the men have mentioned they find this most valuable.
You need to agree on how long you would like to meet. Members of our group usually start to leave after about ninety minutes. Some, with more flexible schedules, linger longer, extending their conversation for two hours.
Choose A Good Book
Having worked through two dozen books we’ve found that some books work better than others. At various times we have discussed Scripture, papal encyclicals, Vatican II documents, and books designed specifically for small-group discussion.
We started our study with Boys to Men: The Transforming Power of Virtue, an excellent book for men that is broken into short chapters with discussion questions at the end of each chapter, and moved onto Mission of the Messiah, a Scripture study on the Gospel of Luke. We have found that books with discussion questions work well. When there are no discussion questions, it is necessary for the leader to read ahead and come up with some questions that can serve to get the discussion going.
Solicit Ideas for Future Books
As time goes on, it’s helpful to solicit ideas from the members for ideas for future reading. The leader needs to be intentional about bringing future books up for discussion so that they can be ordered and received in time.
Consider Other Activities
Last January, a sizable number of the men in our discussion group attended a weekend retreat together. The time of mutual prayer was wonderful. The sound of 20-some men singing in a small chapel on Saturday evening and Sunday morning was extremely powerful. Members of the group were also instrumental in volunteering their time to help our family tear out plaster and paint our home.
In addition, it’s been enjoyable to meet outside of a restaurant setting, for picnics and other social gatherings.
Remember that where two or more are gathered in Christ’s name, He is in your midst. The Holy Spirit will guide your group in more ways than one. Members of our group have commented that being among other men striving for holiness has provided them some degree of accountability. Some have commented that in certain circumstances they ask themselves, “What would the other men do?”
There is a tremendous need for fellowship in today’s fractured culture. Individuals who often find themselves in hostile work environments need a group that they can call their own.
Religion, Sex, & Politics: For Men Only by Dr. David Pence
Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by John Eldredge
Successful Fathers: The Subtle but Powerful Ways Fathers Mold their Children’s Characters by James Stenson
Boys to Men: The Transforming Power of Virtue by Tim Gray and Curtis Martin
The Privilege of Being a Woman by Alice von Hildebrand
Courageous Love: A Bible Study on Holiness for Women by Stacy Mitch
Courageous Virtue: A Bible Study on Moral Excellence for Women by Stacy Mitch
Courageous Women: A Study on the Heroines of Biblical History by Stacy Mitch
Woman of Grace: A Bible Study for Married Women by Beth Hart
How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis by Peter Kreeft
Sex and the Sacred City by Steven Kellmeyer
Family Matters: A Bible Study on Marriage and Family by Curtis and Michaelann Martin
Tim Drake serves as staff writer with the National Catholic Register and is the author of Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow’s Church (Sophia Institute Press, 2004). He writes from Saint Joseph, Minnesota.
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