The basic format of the Star course is that people gather for a shared meal followed by a talk, and then they break into small groups for discussion. Each small group has a Leader and one or more Helpers. After four or five of these talks, the group goes away for a 'Weekend' (actually from Friday evening to Saturday evening) on the Holy Trinity, and comes back for the final two or three evenings. Leaders and Helpers meet for prayer at least once a week.
A typical evening timetable would be as follows:
6:30 Leaders & Helpers meet for prayer and discussion
7:00 Shared Meal. These can drag on if you are not careful. If there is a tendency to this, then only have the first course and postpone the pudding till afterwards. Start on time - if people are late then they should accept that others will have started. Try very hard to avoid any religious discussion over this meal - it should be relaxed and sociable.
7:30 Talk. Start with a very short prayer. Then begin with an appropriate joke if possible. Skip bits that seem inappropriate. Use you own examples. Try to keep the talk to 40 minutes or less. As the course builds up, especially after the Weekend, introduce some worship as appropriate.
There are 1 sheet 2 page Handouts for each talk. These should be given out at the beginning of the talk. They are there to avoid people having to take notes on the basic texts, or to shuffle books around.
8:15 Small Group Discussion. It is really a good idea to break into small groups if you have 10 or more people. In a single group discussion, one or two people tend to dominate. Without forcing reluctant participants, it is better if people have a smaller forum in which to express themselves.
9:15 FINISH It is very important to finish on time, almost regardless of how interesting the discussion is. People need to know that their time is respected and that there is plenty to come back to.
A typical 'Weekend' format is shown below. Clearly course leaders are free to adapt this as appropriate.
20:00 Talk 6 - Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
09:00 Optional Eucharist, followed by shared breakfast
10:00 Talk 7 - How can we relate to God?
11:30 Bible Study: 1 Corinthians 12
13:15 Free time - private discussions
16:45 Talk 8 - How can I be filled with the Spirit? It is a good thing if this talk is given in the Church. At the end of the talk there is an extended period of silent...
17:15 Meditation & Prayer. It is a good thing to have a Prayer Facilitation Team of 3 or more experienced prayerful Christians who are available to pray with people who wish for this. Each team member can be sitting somewhere relatively discreet in the Church so that people who wish can come to them for prayer. Other people on the course may wish to stay in silent mediation, or move to another part of the Church.
17:45 A simple service of Benediction can be a very appropriate way of bringing the 'weekend' to an appropriate close.
There are a number of key points about this process.
1. It is God's Work. We must all be prayerfully relaxed about the process. People come to a deeper knowledge of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. The talks and the groups provide a setting which is conducive to his work. They can help clear away the intellectual weeds, the lies, distortions and misconceptions which are so prevalent about the Christian Faith. Much more importantly, the Small Groups can be an opportunity for God's love to be seen in others, and for people to share their experiences.
2. It takes time. Over the 8 or 9 weeks of a Course people get to know each other, and have time to reflect and ask themselves: can this really be true? Although God urgently wants each of us to draw closer to Him, He alone knows when the right time is for each person to take the step. We are not 'selling' God and it important to be clear that we do not in any way seek to rush people. It is quite helpful to offer people the text of the talks (after they have been given) so that they can go over it and reflect on what is said if they want to.
3. God uses Star to build on (at least) 4 levels.
i. Bringing people who would not call themselves Christians to a knowledge and love of Christ. Of those who would not call themselves Christians but who attend the course, some will drop out, and some may complete most of the course but still not (yet) feel that they have been able to commit themselves to the Christian life. But some will 'come through' and their lives will be transformed. It is of course essential that the Church should follow-up and encourage such people - Star on its own is certainly not enough. But the fact that people are 'converted' is a major and wonderful reason for doing Star.
ii. Deepening the faith and knowledge of people who are already churchgoers. The riches of God are inexhaustible, and although all the material in the course is designed to be accessible to people who would not call themselves Christians I suspect there will be no-one who is familiar with all of it. Most Christians have never had the Christian faith presented to them as adults in a way that develops it from 'first principles'. People can go from being very 'dry' to decidedly 'wet' and enthused to share and develop their faith.
iii. Group Leaders & Helpers The experience of helping and leading a Small Group is an extremely important developmental experience for people in the Christian life. For once people are taking on a real leadership role with some pastoral responsibility, but in a controlled and largely risk-free environment. People find this an amazingly affirming experience, and can gain considerably from it. It is quite common for people to be 'converted' on one course and then come back as a 'Helper' on the next. Indeed such people can make the most effective evangelists.
iv. Leaders , especially the Course Leader, are in a very responsible
position. It is very fulfilling but fraught with its own spiritual dangers.
There is something to be said for having a Deputy Leader and for allowing
him or her to give one or two of the talks. The leader should be an experienced,
mature and articulate Christian, but although in practice the leader will
normally be the Vicar or Curate there is a good deal to be said for a 'lay'
Leader, so that people who would not call themselves Christians don't feel
"well he would say that wouldn't he, he's paid to, he's a Vicar" We aim to
develop further training and support materials for Star Course leaders and
helpers, and would encourage any Star Course leader to contact the Star
Co-ordinator for the latest information on this.