In 1992, in response to the call for the development of human resources, we designed a program to teach practical skills of love, support and belonging. We were inspired by the following statement by the Guardian on the integration of science and religion.
“It is hoped that all Bahá’í students will.. Be led to investigate and analyze the principles of the Faith and to correlate them with the modern aspects of philosophy and science. Every intelligent and thoughtful young Bahá’í should always approach the Cause in this way, for there in lies the very essence of the principle of independent investigation of the Truth.”
Aug. 6, 1933 Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer.
We were further encouraged by the May 19, 1994-letter from the Universal House of Justice and its encouragement to pursue individual initiatives. We, therefore, continued to develop both a theory and a practice of community growth and development.
Utilizing the principle of the harmony of science and religion, this program employs the empirically validated findings from the behavioral and social sciences and correlates them with the spiritual principles of the Bahá’í Faith. We found supplementing spiritual principles with scientific findings generates practical interventions crucial to uniting the hearts of a humanity gripped by the developmental crisis of adolescence: Intimacy vs. Isolation.
The results of our collaboration are a two-day workshop, a book, a presenter’s manual, a video tape for trainers, which is under construction, and a research study which gives us an inside view of what Bahá’ís need most from their communities.
The Bahá’í Community has been given the call to massively increase its numbers while transforming souls. The primary focus of the 4 YEAR PLAN is “the significant advancement of the process of entry by troops” and the assimilation of thousands of new believers. Yet, as we will show in our research people have a predominant need for support, friendship and “family feeling” which is best achieved in small, close-knit circles of people/families.
How do we balance entry by troops with the strong needs of people to belong and feel loved? How can we bring large numbers of people into vibrant growing communities and not simply become large impersonal meetings? How do we avoid becoming a revolving door for people who are attracted to the warmth, love and fellowship of the community, and yet drop out because they cannot find a way to integrate themselves into the life and service of that continually expanding community? Have we created a situation, which accepts, as the price of intimacy, a willingness to stay small and accept a high rate of dropout and inactivity? How do we intentionally cultivate communities which meet the need to belong and while expanding their numbers?
Your challenge is to demonstrate the efficacy of the message of Bahá’u’lláh in ministering to their needs and in recreating the very foundation of individual and social life. The Universal House of Justice Ridvan, 1996
The Common Threads program is designed to empower Bahá’í Communities to embrace the spiritually starving masses of new believers and to retain them throughout their lives as active servants and promoters of the Cause of God. We offer solutions to the consolidation problems of rapid growth and the maintenance issues of long term communities; insight into mastering the art of transforming a small community into a larger community; tools for meeting the needs of present and future members; retention practices which will help stop attrition and ideas for intervening with believers on the Dropout-Track.
Our purpose is to introduce skills and practical tools which empower believers to effectively produce vibrant, cohesive communities which are animated by a climate of love and support, and infused with the power of spiritual dynamism. Utilizing tools for the systematic needs-assessment, expansion and consolidation are both accomplished by planning and implementing systems which insure that there are opportunities for the most important needs to be met. Our most ardent hope is that communities will expand their capacities to better meet the collective needs of a suffering humanity and begin to recreate “the very foundation of individual and collective life.”
WHAT ARE THE NEEDS OF THE BAHA’I COMMUNITY OF THIS AGE?
Be ye anxiously concerned with the need of the age in which ye live and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements. Bahá’u’lláh
If we are to demonstrate the efficacy of the message of Bahá’u’lláh in meeting the needs of this age, then we need to know what the most pressing individual and social needs are. This very thing has been the subject of countless social and behavioral studies. The question is, what are the needs of our community?
The primary hypothesis was that the need to belong would be the primary need of Bahá’í members. It therefore follows that consolidation, retention, and consecration of adherents hinges upon the community’s ability to meet the need to belong. If we are recognized as a statistically valid sample of the greater community in which we reside then the secondary hypothesis is that the need for belonging is the primary attractor which draws people into a spiritual organization. Therefore, the success of programs aimed at the growth and expansion of the Bahá’í Faith likewise, depended upon the community’s ability to meet the belonging or love needs.
THE THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
In order to organize the need assessment data gathered, we must have a theoretical framework. If we simply ask the question, “What do you need from your Bahá’í Community?” without using some form of scientifically valid means of sorting those needs into meaningful information, we merely have a flatland of responses to which no physical, social or spiritual priorities can be assigned. Therefore, we created an Enhanced Needs Hierarchy which is grounded in the work of Abraham Maslow plus 40 years of research on human needs conducted since his death. This is augmented by the seminal Work of Ken Wilbur who outlines a spectrum of consciousness which includes within the domain of science transpersonal states of consciousness previously relegated to the domain of spirituality and perennial wisdom traditions. These scientific findings are correlated with spiritual principles. Converging the physical/mental needs hierarchy of Maslow with the mystical needs hierarchy gives us an entirely new way to view the full spectrum of human needs.
The tenants of this expanded needs theory and the complete operational definition of needs are detailed in the Enhanced Needs Hierarchy theory in the Common Threads book. (Deahl-Coy, 1995, & 1998 pp.9- 62)
GENERAL TENANTS OF NEEDS THEORY
For the purposes of this paper the tenants of needs theory are briefly summarized.
- Needs theory proposes that human behavior is motivated by an attempt to satisfy needs
- Needs emerge from the physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of human nature.
- The needs hierarchy includes the following levels: basic, safety, knowledge, belonging, meaning, self esteem, self actualization, surrender and servitude. Needs are met from the bottom of the hierarchy to the top.
- Needs are universal – the means to meet needs is cultural and individual. There is no one formula to meet a universal need; that is the challenge of application.
- Hierarchies operate on the principle of transcend and include. They move from the simplest level to the most complex and inclusive levels.
BAHA’I ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT HUMAN NATURE
- Human beings were created with a noble and good nature, whose fullest potential would be reached through education and the acquisition of virtues.
- A human being possesses three degrees of reality: the body, the rational soul and the spirit.
- While each individual is endowed with the responsibility to make choices, the overall progress of the soul is unidirectional toward greater perfections and increasing complexities.
AN ENHANCED NEEDS HIERARCHY
Basic needs are necessary to maintain life. Although most discussions center on physiological needs, a case can be made that humans have basic needs for each of the aspects of human nature physical, mental/emotion, and spiritual. Physical needs include breath, water, food, rest, protection from extremes of the elements of nature, circadian rhythm, reproduction of the species, and homoeostatic balance. Basic mental/emotional needs include the bonding of the newborn to a primary care giver, usually first the mother then later the family. Social needs include the life long need for human contact and communication. Basic spiritual needs include the need to believe, hope and to have faith. As the individual matures, spiritual needs include daily prayer and reading of scared writings.
The inner core of personal safety and self trust begins at birth and is the first developmental challenge of children according to Erick Erickson, who describes this stage as Trust vs. Mistrust. When children’s basic needs are met by care givers, then trust in others develops and the door to increasing maturity is opened.
“Abdul Bahá says that the very first instinct the children have is the sense of protection. Even a child of one day is always searching for protection.” ( Abdu’l-Qasim Faizi -Core Curriculum)
People have life long safety needs which include physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual safety which are grounded in the virtues of trust and trustworthiness.
Bahá’u’lláh says that the need to know God and to love Him is the generating impulse and purpose for creation. (Gleanings, p. 65) Thus, we must have a need to acquire knowledge. Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget traces the development of cognition through a sequential set of stages, which delineate how patterns of cognition and thinking mature in children. William Perry presents a theory explaining how intellectual development continues to mature throughout adulthood. The need to know involves both the acquisition of facts and the later ability to conceptualize, interpret, apply, and research a new hypothesis. There is also the need to know ones self and to actualize the potentials which lie latent in the soul.
We have a primary need to love and be loved by others and to belong to something bigger than ourselves and to contribute to that end. Love needs are defined by Maslow as both Deficit-love which is the need to receive love; and Being-love which is the need to give and exchange love. Deficit-love is the kind of love children initially need to get started in life. As children mature, they experience less “love hunger” and become healthy adults who need to receive love in small steady, maintenance doses and may transcend even that need if there is a meaningful reason for love’s absence.
Being-love is unselfish, undemanding, non-possessive, peaceful, and enjoyable. People who have relationships based in being love are more independent, autonomous and individual, less jealous, needy, threatened and fearful; thus, they are capable of simultaneously acting synergistically, independently and interdependently toward mutual aims. These relationships are characterized by the spiritual virtues of trust, unconditional positive regard, forgiveness, acceptance, perseverance and mutual support. Maslow suggests that this form of love is not only profound, but when experienced, its effects on the partners are testable. This loving relationship enhances self esteem, endows the recipient with a positive self image, self acceptance, and a feeling of love worthiness. So critical is this need, Maslow questions whether the full development of human potential is possible without it. (Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, p. 43)
The need for meaning is the forgotten twin need of Belonging. Victor Frankel discusses the need for meaning as a fundamental motivational force which drives man to find meaning and to actualize as many value potentialities as possible. Developing a sense of purpose and vision endows people with the capacity for self transcendence and self detachment. Thus, when life’s inevitable suffering and tests beset people, they can transcend the moment of suffering for some greater purpose. A sense of meaning allows people to endure the deprivation of all but the most basic physiological needs.
Beyond the affirmation of others which meets our belonging needs, we need to value ourselves, trust our own internal process and assume responsibility for our thoughts and actions. Self esteem involves the twin processes of developing autonomy and accountability. No longer can past experiences or others be blamed for the outcome of present choices. “For the faith of no man can be conditioned by anyone except himself” (Gleanings, p. 143) The individual leaves “the valley of imitation” and rises above peer pressure to develop personal integrity and the inner strength of convictions enacted as dedication to some personally meaningful motivator. (Bahá’u’lláh, Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, p.5)
With its privileged place atop the hierarchy of needs, self actualization has been considered the pinnacle of human development toward which to strive. The hallmark of self actualization is the motivational shift which occurs in healthy, mature people from motivation based on deficit needs to motivation based on “growth needs.” Self actualizing people are healthy, can meet their basic needs, use their talents and capacities positively and are devoted to some task outside themselves to which they selflessly dedicate their energies. (Maslow, Further Reaches, p.219)
Self actualization is a matter of degree, attained bit by bit over a life time of choices. Some characteristics include the ability to listen to and trust their own inner voice, accountability, honesty, unending pursuit of self knowledge, meaningful work, sense of wholeness, adaptability, creativity, autonomy, transcendence and humility. Self actualization needs encompass truth, beauty, music, privacy, justice, joy, harmony, virtues and spiritual values.
Perhaps self actualizing is all we can hope to attain and deserves its place atop the hierarchy. Perhaps that is all we need to survive, but for centuries spiritual teachers have taught there were stages of growth beyond the human ego. Now with the work of Ken Wilber there is the psychological study of surrender; the suspension of the normal ego boundary and transpersonal stages of development (Wilber, Spectrum of Conscientiousness). Surrender is characterized by a shift of the psychic center to the “Higher Self”(Ken Wilber), the”inner self of mankind” (Abdu’l Bahá), the “collective unconscious”(Carl Jung). Surrender needs include a detachment from self, a letting go of control, and an attachment to a cosmic spiritual center. This results in the integration of opposites, the view of the organic wholeness of the universe, and the Taoistic nonstriving approach to life. Unlike other need levels, surrender is likely to be a momentary experience, a leap of faith, rather than a long stage of development.
SERVITUDE (UNITIVE CONSCIENCE)
The Apex of Consciousness is described by Bahá’u’lláh as the “realm of full self awareness” and of “utter self effacement” (Seven Valley’s, p. 60) The highest level of consciousness is described as the result of actualizing our full potential then surrendering the ego’s control and transferring control to the will of a Supreme Consciousness. Actualizing one’s potential anchors the individual’s identity firmly in his/her own being enabling them to “see through there own eyes and not through the eyes of others. “Surrendering control makes acts of devotion and love toward fellow beings still more unrestricted because it is no longer threatening or dangerous to his/her sense of individuality.” (Jacobi, p. 112) With the detachment from self people can transcend the limited identity associated with time, culture, race, class, nation interests, religion, intelligence, etc. and provide loving service to all. They think globally and see mankind as one community and the cosmos as one interconnected being. (Maslow, Further Reaches, p. 278; Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Abdu’l Bahá, Selected Writings, p. 19)
Surrender and the emergence of unitive consciousness cannot fail to involve a sense of detachment and distance. The experience of unitive consciousness includes the perception of Divine Unity in which the cosmos is experienced as one organic whole composed of a complex web if relationships whose natural function is to work for the common good of all.
Having emptied themselves of preconceived ideas and dogmas, they are open and receptive to the new experiences of life; they focus on unity, sacred vision, virtues, and spiritual teachings. (Maslow,Further Reaches, p. 272). For these people the transcendent, sacred experience is the most important and defining experience in their lives. They can see the sacredness in all things at the same time they see the practical Deficit levels of needs and can address both the physical and spiritual needs. (Maslow, Further Reaches, p 273). As Abdu’l Bahá says, they can walk the spiritual path with practical feet.
Abdu’l Bahá says that the station of servitude to God is the highest station that mankind can hope to attain. In the Bahá’í writings this state of conscience is best described by Bahá’u’lláh in Seven Valleys and Four Valleys.
Needs assessment data was collected from the Common Threads community growth and development workshops. During the needs assessment activity people were asked, “What do you need from your Bahá’í Community?” They gave at least five responses. In the second activity people were asked, “What do you have to offer the community building process?” and third, “What can you do to create the community you said you needed?”
Following the first two activities people heard a lecture about the Enhanced Needs Hierarchy. After this talk the presenter showed the group the responses to the question, “What do you need from your Bahá’í Community?” and asked the group to identify what need was most represented.
This resulted in a Community Needs Hierarchy which reflected the blending of individual needs into a collective pattern. A Community “is transformed from being the mere sum of its parts to assuming a whole new personality as an entity in which its members blend without losing their individual uniqueness.” (UHJ, May 19, 1994) This Community Needs Hierarchy can be used as the basis for systematic planning by Assemblies which can focus at least part of their energies upon the creations of systems and organizations which can address needs in an ongoing process.
Then People were asked what they can do to meet the needs identified by the community needs hierarchy. The answer to this created a set of pregoals for the community. These pre goals were then sorted as short medium and long term according to how much time was required to accomplish the tasks. The attaching of timing to pregoals produced a preplan which the community can use as a bases for consultation as a comprehensive community growth and development plan is designed.
The chart shows the responses of 435 people.
As a result of the Needs Assessment component of the Community Development Workshop, we saw two results. First, a pattern of community needs begins to emerge. Once community members saw the hierarchy that they created, their view of the community was never the same again. The preponderance of the belonging need always drew the same subjective response of surprise. With this awareness alone there appeared to be increased sensitivity to each other and attempts to deepen connections within the workshop itself.
Second, communities which participated in the weekend institute became more unified, intentional, and effective in identifying and planning to meet needs.
The preliminary results of the needs assessment appears to confirm the first hypothesis that consolidation, retention, and community development is at least in part dependent upon the community’s ability to meet people’s need to belong, to experience loving relationships, to have a place where their presence matters.
By a margin of nearly five to one responses fell within the definition of belonging. This amplifies the Guardians statement:
Unless and until the believers really come to realize they are one spiritual family, knit together by a bond more lasting that any more physical ties can ever be, they will not be able to create that warm community atmosphere which can alone attract the hearts of humanity, frozen for lack of real love and feeling. (The Power of Unity, p. 99)
If this is the predominate need of the lovers of Bahá’u’lláh, how much more must this be true of a suffering humanity?
BELONGING THE CULTURAL CENTER OF GRAVITY
Belonging is such a large category of responses that to make it meaningful, it has been divided into natural subcategories. The number one component of the need to belong is support followed by guidance and counseling needs. Guidance and counseling is a category that includes: elements of helping relationships, such as acceptance, unconditional positive regard, and rapport; requests for guidance and healing; and the desire to be heard with the ears of nonjudgement and compassion. The chart shows the entire breakout.
Belonging is the predominate need of the age in which we live – the cultural center of gravity around which much of our efforts and deepest longings are focused.
Our challenge is to use the resources we have to meet the most compelling needs identified in our communities. When needs are satisfied higher levels of behaviors are attained, and metaneeds emerge in our growth toward the Apex of Consciousness.
IMPLICATIONS FOR EXPANSION
If we assume for the sake of discussion, that the Bahá’í Community is a microcosm of the larger community within which it rests, we might consider the implications of the findings of this needs assessment for teaching and consolidation plans. We must first project an image of love, spiritual family and warmth and not just intellectual principles. Second, we must actually offer a sense of community.
As our numbers grow, it becomes increasingly important to cultivate vibrant communities which demonstrate the transforming effects of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, for “it is in the local Bahá’í Communities that the most widespread presentation of the faith can take place.” (UHJ, Ridvan, 1983)
Yet, our emphasis on proclamation-based growth, while effective in meeting knowing needs, has neglected the consolidating effects of a caring and loving community which accepts diverse people through the intentional practice of the skills of inclusion and communication.
IMPLICATIONS FOR CONSOLIDATION
Where a community’s teaching activities are crowned with success, retention is often poor. The main question facing a growing community quickly becomes how to retain the new believers. Traditionally we have been instructed to involve them in the teaching work. Although this is good short term advise, it is insufficient for the long term retention of new believers who often feel inadequately prepared to teach. More recently the approach is to teach the fundamental verities of the Faith as quickly as possible. As vital as this is, it is not sufficient to fully integrate people into the social network of the community. Could it be that North Americans need a new experience of love and fellowship as much or more than new knowledge?
The compelling dominance of the belonging need led us to investigate the available tools which will aid us to create communities with climates of love, support and unity. We found that the needs of the community in general and its Belonging Needs in particular are most readily met in small support groups which serve as laboratories for the practice of love, spiritual virtues and fellowship.
It is in the small group that a community’s sense of divine love, acceptance and support are best conveyed. It is there that the best proofs of the transforming effects of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh are demonstrated. Therefore, consolidation plans will not only ensure that the new believer rapidly acquires a better understanding of their new faith, but will also foster the development of groups within the community with the skills to meet their needs and confirm them in steadfast, vibrant membership.
FAILING TO EFFECTIVELY ADDRESS THESE NEEDS OPENS THE REVOLVING DOOR OF ATTRITION WHICH LEADS TO ALIENATION, INACTIVITY AND LOSS OF THE SPARK OF FAITH.
THE SMALL GROUP MODEL OF MICRO COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
One of the most under utilized tools available to communities is the well-facilitated small need-centered group. We propose that the community consists of a webbed matrix of small, vibrant, personal/spiritual support groups that , by either accident or design , meet the locally identified needs of its members. These groups include the new Local Spiritual Assemblies, special interest groups, study groups, collective centers and family clusters. We further propose that the dynamic life of a growing community is dependent upon the existence and health of these satellite groups.
If this is so, then what do we know about the life cycle of these groups? What causes them to form? What causes them to grow? What holds them together? Why do they dissolve?
This model attempts to answer these questions by correlating a large body of well-researched literature about group process gleaned from both business and human services with the virtues which comprise the consultative atmosphere.
The optimum size of a group is from five to 15 people. As the number of people in a small group grows past 15 people, that group, like cells undergoing mitosis, must divide for the whole to expand. As this growth occurs, the new groups continue the teaching work, provide support, spiritual education, conduct outreach activities and do whatever is needed. The active cultivation of need-centered small groups, linked by common bonds to the larger community, is potentially the means of mastering the art of growing from small community to large community. Small groups help a small community grow larger by fostering expansion, and a large community feel smaller by fostering intimacy.
As a group struggles to progress from a mass gathering of strangers to a community of true friends, they encounter a predictable, well researched pattern of group process. The stages that a newly formed group is likely to face are false unity, chaos, surrender, identity development (large group consultation), and cohesive unity. Group process is like peeling an onion, it strips away the layer upon layer of learned differences to reveal our radiant commonalities. Through the process of sharing, disagreeing and learning to listen we peel away our differences and at last realize that our unity was prior to our diversity. We achieve cohesive unity.
DYNAMICS OF GROUP PROCESS
When a group of people begin the task of community making, they almost always begin with false unity. False unity appears as “instant community.” Unfortunately, unity is usually an illusion because real relationships take time and contact to build. False unity is an orientation period during which people exhibit their best behavior and trust is at its lowest point. Members avoid conflict and self disclosure while squelching their real inner negative emotions and concerns.
This stage can create a safe entry point for the long process of becoming acquainted with each others character. Bahá’í’s have all kinds of well-meaning reasons to avoid conflict and maintain harmony, but if it is at the cost of suppressing individual differences and requiring conformity, then it is false unity.
The call to a frank and honest exchange of views demands that the community deepen their ties beyond this superficial first step.
Chaos begins when individual differences come bursting out into the open. The good news is that trust and safety needs have been met and real sharing of self has begun. The group now has the courage to explore differences of opinion and clashes can results. There are three primary tasks in this stage ; first, to become acquainted with each others character; second, to define the purpose of the groups existence and third, the search for how the individual belongs in the group.
What makes this stage chaos is that everyone talks and no one listens as the group attempts to eliminate individual differences. We discuss some of the difficult behaviors and roles which hamper progress and teach skills which members can utilize to move the group towards unity.
There are three routes out of chaos: dropout, formalize or surrender. Dropouts lead to the demise of the embryonic community and formalizing the structure leads back to false unity. The ONLY route to community is through surrender.
Just as the route to servitude is through the surrender of the ego, the route to community is also through the valley of surrender, emptiness and detachment. During the tumultuous stage of chaos it becomes evident in all the talk there is very little communication and the situation seems hopeless. When people are ready to quit talking and start listening they move forward.
As the group emerges from surrender a new level of detachment and listening is evident. This enables people to hear each other’s stories and become acquainted with each other’s character. Now the group can coalesce a common vision of their purpose and they feel like a team. In summary, they resolve the three issues of the chaos stage. People are now more committed to working together. The joy of fellowship, happiness of unity and warmth of love animate the climate of the group. This energy spreads to the larger community and into the teaching work. As one person said, “We felt so good that we wanted everyone to experience this love and unity that we had created.”
Each community/group forms an identity and a view of its role within the larger matrix of the Bahá’í community and within the still larger context of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh.
THE FACES OF COHESIVE UNITY
The hallmark of cohesive unity is two fold, first is honest, open self disclosure from the “deep heart’s core” about what has befallen us in the path of our personal and spiritual development; second, is genuine listening with a “sin covering eye” and unconditional positive regard. It is when members feel comfortable and safe enough to say anything; and the community can provide supportive, loving ears to hear anything which is being said – THEN the community has arrived at cohesive unity.
The emergence of cohesive unity depends upon safety, knowing and belonging needs being consistently met.
Cohesive community is not merely a group which meets to conduct effective business meetings, consultations, feasts, and activities. The very structure of these activities set the boundaries of decorum, cordial affection, dignity and limited self disclosure. These are not the proper settings for the sharing of brokenness, struggle, and imperfection which are a natural part of our journey. Yet, experiencing Being love relationships, sharing and receiving support is at the heart of the need to belong. Sharing at this level will meet the needs most often expressed in the Needs Assessment: love, support, acceptance, understanding, and unity. Thus, the Bahá’í community needs to create small groups, for members & nonmember alike, which offer the transformative influence of deeper intimacy and support.
The hallmark of consultative unity is the community’s ability to craft decisions based on consultation and consensus and to leave things unresolved until a consensus can be found at a later time. While consultative unity lacks the deep self revealing intimacy and sense of community found in supportive small groups, the restraint, limited self disclosure and decorum practiced in consultation is not to be confused with false unity. Unlike false unity, individual differences are out in the open. With higher trust and a sense of detachment from ideas, authentic feelings and needs can be presented to the group without chaos, premature foreclosure, criticism or rejection. In an atmosphere of trust, respect, love, cooperation, freedom within parameters, nurturing relationships and spiritual devotion, the community is “transformed from being merely the sum of its parts to assuming a whole new personality as an entity in which its members blend without losing their individual uniqueness. The possibility for manifesting such a transformation exists almost immediately at the local level.” (UHJ, May, 19, 1994)
THE CYCLICAL NATURE OF MAINTAINING COMMUNITY INTEGRITY
As well as cohesive unity meets needs and produces results, it is rarely maintained for long. The warmth tends encouraging sharing the experience with others which attracts new members who bring with them a life time of experiences, new views and needs must be heard and respected. The challenge and chaos of individual differences is back with it’s full potential to destroy the group. That is the cycle of crisis and victory.
The means of maintaining the community are:
- the recognition of what phase of group process they are in and then using appropriate skills to move the process forward toward consultation and true unity;
- periodically assessing the needs of the members and adjusting the activities of the group to match the needs and resources;
- propagate new groups when enrollment grows and
- prayer, patience and persistence.
The whole life model also recognizes that small groups, which are not a part of the Bahá’í administrative structure, have a life span which may include death. When a group has served the purpose for which is was convened, rather than let slow dropouts drag out a painful demise, the group members may wish to celebrate the closure of the group and thus signal the greater community the members are ready to move on to another endeavors. Maintenance is the struggle to constantly reassess and adjust to changing needs
WHAT MAKES GROUPS SUCCESSFUL?
Generally, people who form needs centered groups have little formal understanding of group process, except for what they have learned in life. They have few group maintenance skills and, under stress, may let their virtues lapse. What conditions give groups a greater chance of success?
There are three key variables which contribute to the success of the small need centered groups.
The FIRST is that the more thoroughly all the participants have incorporated Spiritual Virtues into their behaviors, the more competently the group can navigate through the process. This is of vital importance, but we must never lose sight of the fact that communities that stumble accidentally into a unified state, can’t repeat the process on demand because their understanding of what they did is unclear.
The SECOND variable is the training of as many members as possible in the dynamics of group process and the skills needed to facilitate it. Empowering members with practical skills and intervention techniques will equip our growing community with the tools needed to deepen the bonds of unity.
If you can’t train everyone in the community, then the THIRD variable is to develop a cadre of trained group facilitators who can facilitate the training of new small groups of seekers and new Bahá’ís to use the process of consultation and to improve communication by practicing spiritual virtues.
In the face of Entry By Troops we cannot afford to rely on serendipity to meet the need for love, support and belonging. Therefore, we should educate as many members of the community as possible. Remember, the role of Local Spiritual Assemblies is to provide for the training of the members of the community. Once trained, it is the responsibility of the individual believer to make the needs centered groups in the community succeed.
WEAVING THE FABRIC OF COMMUNITY
We offer you this theory and practice of community development as a pioneering effort to develop the science of consolidation which acts as the balancing wing to the massive energy invested in the science of teaching. As Shoghi Effendi has said, “These two processes must be regarded as inseparable.”
We have the community-making technology to develop vibrant cohesive communities, we have no excuse for high rates of attrition following teaching campaigns or high rates of dropout/inactivity in larger communities. We know how to diagnosis the needs of the community and we have the technology both spiritually and materially to “demonstrate the efficacy of the message of Bahá’u’lláh in meeting those needs.” We have the Spiritual guidance and governance of the Administrative order and we have access to the skills which have been tested in business, human services, education and social science and found effective in deepening human relationships and fostering unity. We have no excuse for not using these tested skills to achieve the repeatable results of producing vibrant cohesive communities.
Our challenge is develop skilled and deepened Consolidators to secure the victories of our well-trained Teachers.
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