Small groups are invaluable — life change happens best in community. Still, a step of faith is always required when starting one. But that doesn’t mean the experience has to overwhelm you. Use this new small group checklist to overcome fear or concerns.
Groups give people a chance to be seen and heard while participants develop skills to care for those in their group and their world. Groups don’t eliminate pain, but they provide a place where pain can be prayed for and processed. I love how Henri Nouwen says this in The Wounded Healer:
A Christian community is a healing community not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision.
If you’re getting ready to begin a new group—or want a fresh start with your current group—use the following checklist.
Let’s be honest: most of us don’t take prayer seriously. And it’s not because we don’t believe in it, but because we are too busy getting ready for our group. But discipline yourself—schedule it if necessary—to pray for your leadership, your teammates, and your group members. Pray your group would best reflect the love of Christ and be a haven for people to explore the teachings of the Bible or to faithfully apply what they learn.
Don’t wing it. Give thought to properly preparing your spirit, your meeting location, and your lesson.
Your spirit—see “prayer” above.
Your meeting location—If the group meets in your home, don’t go overboard. Everything does not have to be perfect. Your group members would rather have an “engaged” you than a “frazzled” you. If the group meets in someone else’s home, offer to help in any way possible. Have music playing and food/drinks out before group members arrive.
Your lesson—Teach from the heart, not a script. (Although it’s fine to have one and refer to it. Just don’t become dependent upon it.) Focus on what the Bible says, not what you think. And do more listening than speaking. (Ask someone to give you feedback on how much the group engages in conversation compared to how much you talk.)
Most of us don’t take prayer seriously. And it’s not because we don’t believe in it, but because we are–unwisely–too busy doing things for God.
Every group will not have to account for this, but most will. There are a handful of options:
- Request that families find childcare—but this may limit their participation.
- Provide a room for children to play on their own—parents can rotate “checking-in.”
- Provide a room for children, and parents can chip-in to pay a childcare worker.
Yum. It’s always easier to talk about life and any topic with some munchies. Your food options do not have to be fancy. Chips and salsa are great, but try to make it as attractive as possible. In other words, put the chips in a bowl instead of just opening a bag. Also, you won’t know for the first meeting, but ask group members about allergies.
Once people arrive and you’ve had time to catch-up, play a game or do a mixer to get everyone talking or to introduce the topic. For example, ask several intriguing questions and let everyone select one to answer. Or put everyone into teams for a quick competition. It’s ideal to use this time to segue into the lesson, but sometimes laughter is the best transition. Plus, you’ll have made a fun memory.
Each week, remind people why your group exists. Remind them that it’s a safe place to bring friends, questions, doubts, and fears. Encourage them to listen to others and to clarify what someone said any time they are confused in order to minimize misunderstanding.
Sometimes your group may choose to meet for a movie night or game night, but usually, it’s time set aside to discuss the message from Sunday or some other biblical topic. Don’t lose track of time, thereby limiting how much you can study or discuss. And ALWAYS focus on application. WHAT will they do, and HOW will they respond to what they are learning? Give people a chance to verbalize how they intend to apply what they learned.
You do not have to do this alone. You may be the one leading and hosting, but it does not have to be that way every week. Invite others to lead the discussion or to come up with a game. Have a sign-up list for people to bring drinks or snacks. Find those who enjoy connecting others, and ask them to email/text/group chat updates or reminders. Explore who else would be interested in hosting. Think through everything that has to happen and share the load with the group.
Watch your time
Respect everyone’s time. Start and end on time. Be consistent so people know what to expect. If something urgent comes up in the group and it looks like you might run long (this should be the exception, not the norm), ask people if they can stay for ___ minutes but allow people to leave at the designated time if needed.
Similarly, don’t shortchange “application” or “prayer” by doing them quickly. Map out how long everything should last and follow that schedule. Be flexible, but a schedule is a helpful guide.
Follow-up is critical. If someone shares a meaningful prayer request, remind the group to pray, but check-in with that person to see how things went. If appropriate, follow-up in your designated communication method (app/text/etc.) so everyone can be updated. But be sensitive that some things might not be appropriate for the entire group. (Similarly, some things might be best for same-gender follow-up.)
In the same way, follow up with new people and send reminders to those for whom you delegated tasks. Remember, you don’t have to do this. See “delegate” above.
Some groups are more involved than this, and others are simpler. Every group has a personality and dynamic, but this checklist should get you started on a healthy path, and if (when) it gets chaotic, don’t skip item #1 on this checklist.
QUESTION (leave a comment below)
What is one reason you like small groups, or what is one reason they intimidate you?