This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.
It’s the first night of your small group. Several people are now gathered at the front of the sanctuary. You begin with prayer and dive into the study.
After a few minutes, you notice Ted looking around, appearing distracted. Beads of perspiration are on his forehead and he’s fidgeting.
“Wow,” you think. “The study must really be hitting home. Ted seems under a fair amount of conviction.”
Just then Ted gets up and makes a beeline for the exit.
Was Ted’s behavior driven by conviction? Nope.
It was too hot, the room too large, and he had to go to the bathroom but wasn’t sure where it was and if he’d make it in time.
Small groups are a big deal in churches and a great vehicle for fostering biblical engagement while building relationships.
Here are six key ingredients for success that too often get overlooked:
1. Is there an echo in here? Years ago, I read Em Griffin’s great book, Getting Together: A guide for good groups (IVP). One piece of advice always stuck with me. He writes, “Meet in a room small enough to put you in touch with each other. Bank lobbies and church fellowship halls may be impressive, but the cavernous space they allow kills intimacy.”
I’ve tested this by holding meetings in very big and much smaller rooms. The differences are significant. Putting a little group in a large room makes people feel small and lost. Minds and eyes wander as every sight and sound is a distraction. A large group in a too small room is just annoying. Fit your group into an appropriate space; big enough that no one feels cramped, but small enough that it feels cozy and safe.
2. Lukewarm is okay. Thermostat battles are real! While it’s impossible to please everyone perfectly, be aware of the room temperature. An empty room that’s a little cool is a good thing -- don’t bump the heat up! The room will warm on its own when bodies arrive. Pay attention to such things as sleeves being rolled up or down, booklets being used as fans, sweaters being pulled on or off, etc. Ask people if they’re comfortable. Make adjustments gradually to avoid wide temperature swings.
3. The lay of the land. Whether you’re meeting in the church or someone’s home, let everyone know where things are, especially the bathrooms. Explain that bringing a cup of coffee to their seats is okay. Allow time for introductions. If you’re located near a quarry (as a group I participated in was) and there will be a loud explosion or two, let people know what’s going to happen so they won’t panic or become preoccupied wondering if they should.
4. Arranged for success. Yes, how you arrange the chairs makes a difference. The circle is most common. If you’re using a video, then a u-shaped arrangement allowing easy viewing is okay. However you arrange the seating, make sure everyone can see and hear each other easily. Better Bible engagement comes through better sharing.
5. Just say no to technology. Technology is amazing, but can also be annoying. While using PowerPoint is helpful in the college classroom or sanctuary, it’s seldom useful for a small group. Dimming lights induces dozing when it’s cozy! If you choose to use a video or any technology, make sure you know how to use it. Set everything up before people arrive. Test, test, test. And if there are any glitches, be prepared to set the technology aside and go analog, just like Jesus did.
6. The reason I’ve called you together. Small groups are great for building Bible engagement and relationships. Except when the group’s purpose becomes diffused and ambiguous. Have a purpose, mission, and a goal and make sure everything the group does drives toward them. Ambiguity and loss of focus -- which happens over time with inattention -- will kill the best of groups.
Griffin states, “The good group has cohesiveness.” People know what to expect and where they fit. This doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentionality and effort. The payoff is the good relationships and better Bible engagement that ensues.
Coming next in part 2: Leading the good group.
Coming next in part 3: Outreach of the good group.
Are you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!