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Who Will Your Illness Support Group Serve?

by Lisa Copen  
4/16/2010 / Church Life

As you make your plans for the support group you are considering, keep in mind the different people your small group could serve.

For example:

- Will your group serve men or women? Adults or teenagers? Or all of the above?

- Will your group serve those have recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness, or those who have lived with illness for many years?

- Will the group help seniors who live at home independently as well as seniors who live in assisted living facilities?

- Are you able to offer something of encouragement to both people who are single and people who have families?

- Will people who have hired caregivers as well as those who have volunteer caregivers, such as a family member, feel comfortable in your group?

- Will you try your best to meet the needs of people who are bedridden, plus those who work full-time? Abilities vary and change dramatically very quickly.

- Will you try to offer encouragement to parents who have young children at home, as well as those with adult children?

- Will you keep in mind as you lead your group that there are those who are financially blessed, as well as many who are barely surviving on disability assistance?

- Do you feel equipped to serve people who live with a chronic illness, but who also fill a caregiver role for someone such as an elderly parent or a child who lives with disabilities?

- If your small group is of a ministry nature and Christ-based, are people of other faiths invited to come see what it is about?

- Would you prefer your group to have open membership, where people can join at any time, or would you rather have just certain times of the year new people can become members?

From the list above, you may have noticed that when it comes to describing the lifestyle of those who have a chronic illness, there is no definition of "typical."

You may encounter a woman who has had multiple sclerosis for twenty years, but who has just recently began to use a wheelchair. She is grieving the loss of her mobility and the frustration of feeling like people don't treat her the same. She feels as though she has coped well with this disease for many years, but the recent loss of more of her abilities that defined her independence are causing her to go through a great deal of depression.

And sitting in a chair next to her may be a man who was just diagnosed with a seizure disorder last week and he is confused and angry about not only his disease, but what is immediately being taken away, such as his ability to drive, coach his son's T-ball team, and sometimes even perform his job.

Another factor to note: If you do not feel comfortable facilitating some people, you do have the privilege of announcing who the group is actually for at the beginning, since you are the leader. Although you may not wish to exclude anyone, many women, for example, prefer to lead a group for women only. Since there can be a great deal of shared intimacy and vulnerabilities within a support group atmosphere, and the divorce rate among the chronically ill is already high, you may wish to have preventative maintenance and not set up any awkward moments. It is important to remain confident in where your strengths and comfort zones reside.

As you are leading your group you don't worry about specifically addressing every situation that has been mentioned above, however, it is vital to keep in mind the variety of backgrounds and experiences that those who are attending your group bring with them when they enter the room.

The more efficiently you are able to understand the personalities, the background, and the experiences of those attending your group, the easier it will be to facilitate the group. You will not only be able to just encourage the members who attend, but also point out their strengths, and in turn, help them pass that encouragement onto others.

If you lead a support group or are considering it, don't miss Lisa Copen's new book, for your ministry needs. Over 300 pages with step-by-step instructions on how to write a vision statement, promotion and attendance and much more!

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