How to run Sycamore 3: Preparation and planning

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These are just rough notes about the various stages of preparation and planning that you might need if you are thinking about running the Sycamore programme.

WHETHER TO RUN SYCAMORE OR NOT: You need to have at least two or three people who are committed to evangelisation in your parish or chaplaincy or school; if you are reading this then you are probably one of them! These people, with the support of their priest or chaplain, will want to look into different approaches to evangelisation, and to discern which approach is most suitable for their context. See the EVANGELISATION section of the website to help you reflect on the meaning and the importance of evangelisation for your community.

It’s important to pray together, asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Evangelisation is the work of God, so put it into his loving hands, and entrust your work and your discernment to the Lord. If you are not sure whether to use Sycamore, why not take a risk and try it anyway. Our fears and hesitations often overwhelm our holy desires, so it is sometimes better to try something and fail instead of never starting anything at all.

The parish priest or chaplain or pastoral leader of the community needs to be supportive, even if they are not directly involved with the planning. Sycamore is a tool for evangelisation, and it cannot work if the wider church community and the pastoral leadership are not behind it.

And if you are moving forward, with the support of the parish priest or chaplain or pastoral leader, then bring this project to the prayer of the whole community. It is not just about benefiting from this prayer; it is also about helping the whole community to be more committed to the work of evangelisation.

GATHER A TEAM: If you have a group of two or three people who are initially interested, you will want to expand this into a slightly larger group who will be the Sycamore core team. It doesn’t have to be large, but it would be great to have between 4 and 10 people to share the mission and divide up the tasks. You need people, above all, who care about their Christian faith, who care about evangelisation, and who have the desire and the time to give to this project. They do not need to be experts or saints or qualified theologians. You might, at this early stage, be wanting to choose people because of the skills they have (organising, leadership, IT, prayer, cooking, welcoming, etc); but you might want to leave this to later, and just focus on choosing people who will be good for the vision of the core team.

How to gather the group? You can either, after prayer, choose people you know who might be interested, and might have the right gifts and skills; this ‘invitation only’ policy gives you more control and allows you to ‘vet’ the team, without excluding the possibility of others joining later. Or you can explain the Sycamore vision to the parish or community and ask for volunteers, trusting that the Holy Spirit will inspire and send those who are meant to come. If you cast the net this wide, it is good to have some way of managing the team, so that people’s gifts are being used wisely, and the wrong person is not put in the wrong position in a way that could become counter-productive. This is your core team, that will carry everything forward and take responsibility for the programme.

DETAILS: You will need to decide:

  • When to start. Natural start times are in Sept/Oct or January or April/May, as the new ‘terms’ begin after summer or Christmas or Easter. What time will work best for your community? How much preparation time do you need for the team? How much time do you need for the publicity?
  • Day and Time? What day of the week? What time of the day?
  • Venue? Don’t just assume it should be in the church hall. You have the option of church hall; meeting rooms; parish rooms; student halls of residence (a meeting room there? The bar?); someone’s home (if they are willing); multiple homes at the same time; a non-religious meeting or conference room; a café or pub (if you can get the permission of the management – the incentive for them is that you guarantee sales; they might have IT equipment or more likely flat-screen TVs you can use; or you can use a lap top with a small group)
  • What kind of hospitality/food? Will you have a quick meal at the start of the session (it’s better if you can)? Or just coffee and cakes? Or what else?
  • Length? 10 week course, or 8 weeks with 2 sessions during a retreat day (see the Retreat Day page here), or a customised course with fewer sessions chosen by the team?

PLANNING AND TRAINING: What kind of preparation will the team need? Probably to meet for a few sessions, at least two or three months before the programme begins, to get to know each other, to pray together, to plan the programme together, and to have some training or preparation for the various elements of Sycamore. Not everyone will be a discussion group leader or a prayer team member or a cook, but it is good if the main preparation is done by the whole core team, to bind them together and give them a common vision of what is happening. The discussion group leaders, especially, will need some kind of training and preparation.

RESPONSIBILITIES AND TASKS: The key areas of responsibility are: Leadership/Coordination; Discussion Group Leaders; Food; Prayer; Welcome; IT; Publicity. If the programme is small-scale (eg just a handful of guests), then the core team might end up getting everything together on the evening, and do the leadership, welcome, discussion groups and IT themselves. But almost certainly you will need leaders and separate teams for Food and Prayer.

The Discussion Group team involves those who will lead the discussion groups, and will introduce and wind up the sessions – see the page here. The Food group need to coordinate all the food planning (shopping, cooking, setting up, serving, tidying up and cleaning). The Prayer Group team is praying for the whole project and all the participants through the week, and hopefully they are able to meet and pray at an appropriate venue while the meeting is taking place – e.g. in the local church – see the page here.

For each sub-team, the core group will probably want to nominate a leader from the core group, and then recruit other volunteers who will join the sub-groups without being fully involved in the core group meetings. E.g. for the Sycamore sessions at Newman House we had 1 leader and 3 others on the Prayer Team; 2 leaders and 6 others on the Food Team; and 6 members of the core team acted as the discussion group leaders.

PUBLICITY: This needs careful planning. Who do you hope will come to Sycamore? Who are you aiming at? How will you invite them? What kind of publicity do you need? You may want to cast the net very wide, hoping that people will come from all over your town or school or prison or university, and design some publicity that will reach them (digital media; websites; posters; flyers; banners; whatever). Or you may have a very narrow group of invitees in mind, e.g. teachers at the local school, or members of the parents and toddlers group, or office workers in the business district who might come to a Sycamore breakfast group – in which case your publicity will be very focussed on how to reach them.

One alternative model is not to do a great deal of external publicity, but to ask members of your congregation or community to invite and bring friends or colleagues, and to have publicity materials that can be passed on like this; in this way, by encouraging people to invite their own friends, people are being called to pray for their friends and colleagues, and to become evangelists themselves, rather than just leaving the evangelisation to the Sycamore team.

NUMBERS: One of the biggest ‘problems’ is not knowing how many people will come to each session (or whether anyone will come at all!). You might have asked people to join a Facebook group if they are coming, or to email a Sycamore contact, but this will be very unrealiable. You just have to guess and pray and hope, and make a judgment on various ‘soundings’ – like whether any parishioners have told you they are bringing friends etc. It’s always better to over-cook on the first night, and bring lots of containers so the team can take food home if it is not eaten… It’s also an idea to set up tables for fewer people (so it doesn’t seem empty), but to have all you need to set up extra tables if people rush in at the last minute.

FUNDING: Who pays for Sycamore? Probably the parish/chaplaincy/school! It is not advisable to charge for the sessions if you are inviting people as guests. Some groups may wish to have a donations box or basket in a prominent place, e.g. by the serving hatch if people are collecting food, or to announce that you are collecting donations and to leave the box by the door as people exit. To cook for say 20 people is not expensive, but it does require financial planning. Sycamore is the kind of project where you can appeal to donors from the community to give very specifically to this as a work of evangelisation they are supporting.

DON’T BE DAUNTED: This is all beginning to sound very complicated, but it’s not. It’s about a small team who care about evangelisation, who invite people to a meal and a discussion about faith, using the Sycamore resources. That’s all. The whole point of having the resources is to make this as easy as possible. You will have moments of success and of apparent failure, but what matters is that you are trying to do the Lord’s work, and trying to love those you meet who come as guests. And keep prayer at the centre!

For more information about how to run Sycamore, see the links below:

How to run Sycamore 1: Background

How to run Sycamore 2: Overview

How to run Sycamore 3: Preparation and planning

How to run Sycamore 4: The structure of each session

How to run Sycamore 5: Group discussions

How to run Sycamore 6: Optional Retreat Day

How to run Sycamore 7: Follow up

How to run Sycamore 8: The prayer team

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