I’ve put together a new program at Covenant called Forums of Five. Forums of Five aims to provide our members with an easier path for fostering close friendships in the church. Here’s why. Each Forum of Five consists of either five men or five women who build friendships with each other as peers for the purpose of mutual Christian care. Forums start with a fun Day Away and then meet monthly for a year to share life’s ups and downs and support each other through prayer.

Finding and developing close friendships is not new. And I’ve drawn from several sources to form the initial plan for the ministry and am looking forward to how things take shape. I’m sure we’ll learn and change as we go. But I’d like to take a moment and recognize some experiences, books, and people I’ve learned from that have helped me get this far.

My first experience with something like this was in a ministry called Forums of Four. Now you know where I got the name. My church in college adopted this program from the Navigators. Forums of Four sought to foster personal spiritual growth within the context of small-group Bible study and accountability.

Currently, I’m blessed to belong to a small group of pastors organized and supported by Romans 12 Ministries. I’ve also received some training from them (esp. Glen Elliott) in how to facilitate these groups. They use Soul Strength: Rhythms for Thriving by Alan Ahlgrim as a source for direction and help. I borrowed a helpful set of discussion questions from this book.

Before reading Soul Strength, I benefited from several other books and articles that address soul-care in the context of close friendships. One important source of inspiration is the Puritan spiritual practice called Private Conference, which I describe in a blog post. It’s a mode of conversation-based soul care. Another book is Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World by Jennie Allen. It’s a great book and the one I’d recommend to most people. Lots of practical tips. A nice supplement to this book is The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. Its focus is on offering Christian friendship to those that don’t yet know Jesus.

If you’ve enjoyed those and want more, next on my list of recommendations, and another source for forming my ideas on Forums of Five, is John Townsend’s book People Fuel: Fill Your Tank for Life, Love, and Leadership. It describes the kinds of relationships we ought to have in our lives and how to foster them, particularly in the context of leadership. It includes building a “life team”—“an intentionally selected set of people who become your primary source for relational nutrients.”

Finally, in a book Similar to Soul Care, called Leaders that Last: How Covenant Friendships Can Help Pastors Survive, Gary Alfred Ells and Gary Kinnaman describe the importance and use of small friend-groups for a sustainable pastoral ministry. One of the members of a group highlighted in the book was my childhood pastor and has himself been a model for me in various ways.