Starting a small group can sound intimidating, but it really doesn’t have to be. Think of it more as gathering a few friends to get to know each other better and to have some discussion around spiritual matters. It takes some initiative and ownership; a group does not just come together because you have a sign up. Inviting people can be the best way to build your group.
Remember that we seek to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) through small groups; Jesus was the leader of a small group, so we want to use his method! One key Bible passage for me is Mark 3:13-15.
- Jesus spends time in prayer over who he would have in his small group.
- Jesus chooses the twelve to be with him.
- Jesus then send them out on a mission.
I anticipate that we can have several new small groups gathered around these criteria:
- Groups formed by topics of interest.
- Groups formed by location of residence.
- Groups formed by age and life stage.
- Groups formed by dynamics or personality of the leader.
Here are a few practical tips to help you get started:
- Remember that you’re not alone! God knows everything about you and He knew that you would be asked to help facilitate this group. No matter if you’re a seasoned veteran or if this is your first time, God is waiting on you to call on Him for help. God promises that He’ll never leave us or forsake us, so relax!
- Pray. One of the most important principles of spiritual leadership is to realize you can’t do this on your own. No matter how long we’ve been leading, we need the power of the Holy Spirit. Lean on Him… He will help you.
- Invite some friends. Don’t be afraid to ask people to come to your group. You will be surprised how many people are open to such a study, especially when you let them know that the study is only for a set number of weeks. Whether you have 4 or 14 in your group, it can be a powerful experience. You should probably plan on at least an hour and a half for your group meeting.
- Get your materials. You will need to get the teaching materials from KGBC. A copy of the student guide is not always necessary, since the group leader can ask the questions in the group. A note pad can be helpful for questions, responses and remembering what has been said.
- Prepare for your meeting ahead of time.
- Spend time in prayer asking God to come into your group’s presence.
- Ask God for the ability to help your group move past the content to the more important issues in life. Be sure to pray for your group members by name.
- Ask God to use you and your members to touch the heart of every person collectively.
- Make people feel welcome. Coming to someone’s home for the first time can be a bit awkward and uncomfortable. Have everything ready and in place before people arrive for the first group meeting. Once people start arriving, 100% of your focus should be on the people coming. Create a warm and friendly environment that makes everyone feel comfortable and included.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood. The old adage is true, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” That’s why it’s so important that you respond well to those who take the risk of answering your questions. Remember to affirm a person when they speak even if they give the wrong answer. If you disagree, take the blame for the miscommunication and then restate the question for clarity, then ask, “How about someone else?”
- When you ask a question. Openly communicate with your group ahead of time that silence is okay and model that you are comfortable with silence as you give people time to think about their answer.
- Ask others what they think before you share. Great facilitators implement the 30-70 rule. They speak 30% of the time while their group members speak 70% of the time. The key is asking better questions that get people talking. The only time that you may want to deviate from this rule is when you are asking for a personal application. In those cases, it may be appropriate to take the lead, especially if the application requires becoming open and vulnerable.
- Show interest with your body language. One of the best ways to connect with people is to actively listen to them. Great listeners not only use their ears but their entire body. When thinking about listening non-verbally, remember the acronym (SOLER) which stands for:
- Sight: face people and look at them.
- Open: adopt an open posture.
- Lean: lean slightly forward.
- Eyes: maintain good eye contact.
- Relax: be relaxed and natural.
- Be mindful of quiet zones. It’s incredibly important for facilitators to be sensitive to new people or others in the group who are a little reluctant or are not yet ready to add to the conversation or to pray out loud. If you notice a “quiet zone” try not to put added pressure on people who are not ready to share by going “around the circle” for prayer requests or comments. Instead, encourage individuals gently by asking questions like: “How about someone else?” or “Would someone who hasn’t shared like to add anything?”
- Occasionally sub-group. This can be very powerful, especially after the group gets comfortable with one another. Sub-grouping involves breaking up into smaller groups after the lesson. It’s easier for people to apply what they are learning if they experience a little love and support. Also, those who are unaccustomed to praying out loud will feel more comfortable trying it with just one or two others. Remind these smaller groups that they don’t have to pray out loud if they feel uncomfortable!
- Handling the constant talker. Handling a group member who intentionally or unintentionally dominates your group time can be one of the biggest challenges for facilitators. It’s important at the outset of the group to share that it’s your hope that everyone in the group gets a chance to add to the group discussion. If a group member doesn’t “take the hint” from your suggestion of asking people who haven’t yet shared to share, then it’s probably appropriate to take more drastic steps. One easy way to dissuade the constant talker is to make sure you limit eye contact with this person. When you make eye contact, it communicates to the dominator that it’s appropriate to speak. You may want to strategically sit this person on your immediate left hand side. If the behavior persists, it may be appropriate to ask this person to help you encourage others to share by praying privately for those individuals who are reluctant to join in.
- Love your group. Maybe the most important thing you bring to the group is your personal care for them. If you will pray for them, encourage them, call them, e-mail them, involve them, and love on them, God will be pleased and you will have a lot of fun along the way.