It begins with a verse or two on encouraging one another, such as Hebrews 3:12-13 or Ephesians 4:29, and an explanation that we're going to practice this type of encouragement in a verbal way. Then on to the ground rules:
- The leader will introduce an object into "play". In the past, I've used stuffed animals, balls and candles.
- The leader will pick another person in the room and begin to describe that person's gifts, talents, attributes, and especially personal stories about how that person has been an encouragement to others. The important thing is to use words that are "helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."
- Once the leader has finished describing a person, he or she passes the object to the person just described. It is now that person's turn.
From here, the leader's job is to enjoy the uplifting time together, and to make an effort to involve everyone as the object makes its way around.
A couple of variations I've used include keeping the name of the person being described secret until the object is passed. This can add an element of fun. Also, in certain circumstances I've simplified the matter by drawing names out of a hat and passing them around, as each person describes the person whose name is on the paper. This ensures equal treatment, but you have to be committed to see it all the way through.
I've used this exercise with groups varying from under 10 to over 30 people, including military officers, youth groups, Bible studies ... and once in a secular setting with the "letter girls" from the band where I attended high school (really, they were fighting like cats before the exercise, and the transformation in their attitudes after the exercise was stunning)!