In the three reading groups in which I have participated—two as founder and as a participant in the third—I found that reading groups are fun environments for learning and sharing, because they provide structured outlets for discussion without stress. My research on a wide variety of reading groups confirms that reading groups are not conducted as schools. The only homework is to read the book to which group members have committed their attention. There is no syllabus and no schedule of deadlines for finishing a book.
Reading groups get started because someone wants them, but this doesn’t mean that the founder(s) will remain involved in running things.
Feedback from a wide variety of groups reveals that the most successful groups keep the process simple. Very few groups have officers; those that do usually have members take turns as secretary. That person keeps track of what books have been read and sends postcard reminders to group members. However, this is not the norm. As equal participants with equal responsibility, most groups expect each person to keep their own records and calendar.
How to Get Started
Invite three people to your home to read, and ask each person to bring one other person. Choose widely: another superintendent or an adult teacher, a parent of a lower-division student, a young adult, a neighbor. Ask each person to invite one other person. This provides an exciting mix of friends and strangers. Diversity perks the conversation.
Most group participants recommend starting small so that the purpose and process are more easily decided, and then adding members if growth is desired. Many established groups remain at six members; others maintain 20 members. Having a few more members than you actually need enables the group to still have lively meetings when vacationers are absent or sickness intrudes. The larger groups must work harder to keep everyone involved, and members should not have to raise their hands to participate. The most favored size is from eight to 12 readers.
The First Meeting
Build in continuity by scheduling the meeting day, time, and location for the entire year, e.g., the second Sunday of each month at 10:00 a.m. Decisions: Will you meet year-round, or suspend meetings from June through August or December through January? Will you meet in a specific home or rotate home sites, or will you meet in the library, or at a specific restaurant or community center?
Will there be food or beverage? If you’ll eat a meal, established groups recommend that you eat first and set a regular time that eating will end. Some groups provide only beverages, and members partake at will.
Pick your first book. What will you read? Our denomination’s great books, such as The Desire of Ages and The Great Controversy? Only books by Adventist authors, such as George Knight, Carrol Johnson Shewmake, Charles Bradford, and Goldie Down? A specific genre—possibly Christian living, men’s interests, biographies, ministry resources, inspiration, health? Many clubs spend some time in various categories of books; others read just those on the bestseller lists or books recommended by club members and their friends.
Book Discussion Tips
Who will lead out? The host? The person who suggested the book? Some groups prefer to have two leaders. One person asks questions that initiate, sustain, and try to conclude the investigation into the issues in the book. The second person tries to keep everyone involved in the interplay of ideas. Leaders—one or a pair—should do the least talking. No typed sheets of questions or discussion booklets are used at the meeting.
Success is measured by group participation. Every member assumes responsibility for energizing each discussion, looking for obvious ideas and subtleties, applications, etc. However, readers should not try to persuade or convince group participants by quoting other experts.
Some groups allow readers to introduce biographical material not included in the book; others stipulate that discussion focus solely on the book discussed.
Allow some silence. This gives people a chance to think about the ideas voiced by others, and that fosters some of the more thoughtful observations.
Reading aloud in book groups is a little touchy. Rather than being long and sonorous, oral readings should be snippets that catch the flavor of the book, or that catch the rhythm and tone of the book, or that leave group members feeling—saying—that they understand better, deeper, wider, etc., than when they arrived.
Faith Johnson Crumbly
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists