You’ve prayed, you’ve talked with your church leaders, you’ve prayed again, you’ve planned, you’ve found the thing you’re going to look at as a group, you’ve prayed some more, you’ve gathered enough people to start your group.
Great! You’re well on your way to leading your first small group session! But what practical considerations do you need to think about in order to make people want to come back again and again and again?
First, you’ll need to set a time and place. You might already have this sorted out, but if not – think about when and where you’re going to hold your first meeting as a group. It doesn’t necessarily have to stay the same day, time and place for years on end, but consistency is good, at least for the first few months. You could review whether the time and place are working out for everyone once you’ve finished your first series or two together (or as soon as it’s clear the time and place just aren’t working).
Location, location, location
Is the place you meet big enough? Is it too big? Often people like to meet in a place that isn’t entirely full, but usually prefer somewhere ‘cosy’ to somewhere where there’s a big, empty space and an echo. This might not always be possible, but do the best with what you have available. A good rule of thumb is to try to meet somewhere easy to find and get to, close to the church neighbourhood, and large enough for the group to grow in size but not so large that it feels like you’re in different time zones.
It doesn’t have to be someone’s house – many groups meet in cafes, pubs, church buildings, community buildings and so on – it will depend on what kind of group you are running and what sort of atmosphere you want to create. Each will have their pros and cons, but more often than not, a house is the way to go.
Can everyone make it?
Make sure everyone is clear about when and where the meeting will take place. Depending on the size of the group, if one or two people can’t make it that should be OK so long as you make sure to catch them up before the next meeting and introduce them to everyone when possible. If several people can’t make it, determine whether it’s just a one-off for most people or whether you need to re-consider your meeting day and time. It might be as simple as postponing the first meeting until the following week.
Thar be dragons! (Directions!)
Ensure that everyone knows exactly how to get there. Give them the address and post code (and let them know if SatNavs usually take people the wrong way!) as well as your mobile and home phone number (if the meeting place isn’t your house, a mobile phone is vital!). This is important – there’s nothing worse when you’re lost than not having anyone to contact! If you’re not sure about the location yourself, do a recce beforehand and make sure you get there with plenty of time to set up before everyone else arrives.
Print off a map (or draw one if you’re confident that it will be clear enough!) for those who aren’t entirely sure or have never been to that area before. Remember that just because someone goes to the same church as you, they might not know the local area very well at all. You might like to offer to arrange that someone who has been to the meeting place before gives a lift to those who aren’t sure of the way.
A light to shine the way
So, you’re confident that everyone will get there – and on time, too! If you put out a balloon or something similar (and let people know what to look for), it will help them instantly know which house/building is the right one.
Even if you have told them the house number, it can be embarrassing to have to peer at people’s houses or even have to walk up the neighbours’ driveways to see the numbers. Something instantly recognisable like a balloon will give people confidence and put them as ease for meeting new people and being in a place they’ve never been before.
Groups often meet in the evenings, and it can be dark, especially in the winter. So if you have lights at the front of your house or driveway, put them on! Leave the curtains open in the front room so people can see that there is someone home and hopefully see that a group is gathering and that this is the right place. They might even see you through the window and recognise you! It will also enable you and anyone else who has already arrived to see whether there’s someone looking lost wandering up and down the street outside.
If it’s dark outside, remember to draw the curtains once everyone has arrived, as people will often feel more comfortable without feeling that passers-by are watching them through the window.
They’ve made it! People are queuing up outside your door, glad for the directions and balloons and lights and fireworks and inflatable gorillas you set up to point them to the place you’ll be meeting. (Just joking about the last two!)
Don’t just stand there – go and open the door! Seriously though, it can be easy to forget the importance of personally opening the door for people as they arrive. It might be tempting to just shout ‘Let yourself in!’ when you’re tied up in half a dozen conversations and you’re trying the boil the kettle and make sure the cat doesn’t attack the guests and spinning plates full of biscuits, but a personal welcome goes a long way.
If someone else has to answer the door for you, be sure that it’s someone that all the guests will know. Better still – ask that person to look after all the other things going on so that you can be the one to go to the door yourself. It can be a plummeting feeling for people who are nervous about starting something new to have someone they don’t recognise opening the door for them – ‘Have I got the right house? Who is this? Should I be here?’
Hi, my name is…
At last – people are sat down, beverage in hand, and are… staring blankly at the wall in awkward silence. What’s worse than no-one knowing each other’s names? Everyone knowing each other’s names except you – the ‘outsider’!
Even if just one person doesn’t really know the others, it would be good to have name tags (at least for the first couple of weeks). If people feel silly wearing a sticker with their name on it, embrace the silliness and ask them to draw something that represents themselves next to their name, or write a positive adjective (descriptive word) about themselves in front of their name. Marvellous Mike, meet Majestic Mary. Super Susan, meet Stellar Steve. It’ll help people remember each other’s names and help break the ice.
All you need to do now is finish on time (or early!) to show people that you value their time commitments, thank them for coming, and make sure everyone is OK getting home.
Phew! You’ve done it! Your first ever small group meeting was a complete success! People are smiling and chatting, you’ve remembered to spend time getting to know each other and not getting too deep for the first week, but you introduced the topic you’ll be looking at for this first series, and you’re all excited for what next week will hold.
And if not everything went quite to plan? Don’t worry! It’s just the first time – things will get a lot easier! Thank God that He was with you, even when things didn’t go as smoothly as you would have liked, and that He has it all in His hands. Look at any hiccups as learning experiences. If you have time before the next meeting, you could have a quick chat with another small group or church leader and get some advice and encouragement.
About Mark Baker
Mark is an editor at CWR, is passionate about being a small group leader, and is an Alpha enthusiast. He’s still learning what it means to be a disciple and has a sneaky suspicion that part of being a disciple is that you always will be learning what it means.