Leading a small group can seem scary if you have never done it! Attending a small group can feel like a beat down when you don’t understand some basic small group etiquette. We all have different gifts, resources and personalities that bring something unique to the table! In light of that, everyone’s small group WILL and SHOULD BE different – because WE are. Cookie-cutter small group leaders should be a thing of the past! And if you are an attendee, you shouldn’t expect to find the “perfect” small group. However, that doesn’t mean that finding the perfect group for you is impossible! You just have to plan to be an active part of the equation that makes it such a great group to join!
These are just a few small group related topics that seem to come up every semester when I’m talking with women. My prayer is that by candidly addressing them, you will be encouraged and equipped to carry out all that God asks of you! You were made to share life with other believers! So let’s get after it, girls!
When it comes to the topic of leading or attending small groups, have you ever been faced with the following questions or statements?
“What makes a great gathering place?”
It’s wherever someone will meet you!! AND— where your group can have minimal distractions once you get settled in. Small groups can be in coffee shops, kitchens, back porches, living rooms, libraries, or restaurants. Some even meet in church classrooms. The key is to secure a place that is easy for everyone to find with space for all to park close by.
Many turn down the opportunity to host a small group because they don’t have room in their homes. However, if you don’t have space to host a group, consider partnering with someone who does or hosting outside your home. The purpose of a small group is sharing life and discussing the content you are learning. As long as you can gather in a circle where everyone can hear and be a part of the conversation, girl – you are golden.
“I don’t think my house is good enough to host people.”
Remember your guest is the “highlight” of your party, not your home. Remembering this keeps you from letting what you have – or don’t have – dominate your decision to invite people in.
“Hospitality from a Biblical perspective is to recognize that God is more interested in caring relationships than the mold behind the shower curtain…It need not matter if we live in a single-room apartment or a split-level ranch, the only real requirement is allowing God to use our lives and our possessions…Our homes and our lives are indeed the most powerful combination of ministry to our world.” Unknown
Making your decision to host a small group about anything other than helping people learn more about Jesus is a sure sign that PRIDE could be ruling your decision. Keep “the main thing” the main thing and the enemy can’t steal your opportunity to bless others—nor will you miss out on the personal blessings of hosting and leading. Our primary thought as a small group leader should be: What can I do that would make others feel welcome? Is it cozy lighting? A tidy area to gather in? A lit candle? A pot of coffee? Soft background music?
A safe place to get to know Jesus is a powerful gift to offer another person. A loving atmosphere sets the stage for many life-changing conversations. Focus on what you have to give, instead of what you don’t, and the rest will fall into place. You never know who may leave your home inspired to lead the next time around.
A fun gesture would be to bless your hostess with is a small gift on the first night. A little ‘thank you for hosting’ gift, you might say. It could be something like a box of relaxing tea or a fun magazine. Nothing fancy! But it always makes a hostess feel good to be appreciated. And for a new leader, it may be just the confidence boost she needs!
”I’m not good at hosting people.”
Do you know how to open the door? Do you know how to give a hug? Do you know how to offer a cool beverage or a cup of coffee? Can you drink one too? Can you pronounce the words, ‘sit anywhere you’d like’? Then you are good at hosting people! Sorry, but it’s true. But here are a few more suggestions that I hope will help you be a fabulous hostess:
Be you. You’re the only ‘you’ that your friends and future friends will ever have.
If you are simple, then do simple – and don’t be insecure about it.
And whatever you do, please stop apologizing about it. Embrace it and others will too.
If you LOVE a party, then bless others with that gift! In fact, bring out your best dishes and knock it out of the park!
And then those of you who come, don’t make a gal who’s enjoyed making things special – just for you – feel bad for doing it! Let her enjoy serving you. Your gift back is to go and enjoy her God-given gift of hospitality. Don’t let the devil convince you to ‘belittle’ her way of blessing you just because you don’t have that same gift or the resources to give in that same way. It not only makes you look petty, it steals her joy. A big hug and a thank you are the only proper responses to a joyful giver.
But hey, let’s be honest. Sometimes we sense someone’s motives are more about “puttin’ on the dog” to impress (as we might say in the south), rather than a giving spirit. However, let’s do two things about that. First, let’s assume the best in someone, rather than the worst. Chances are, over time, you’ll find out they are amazing people…and you were just being a little snarky or over-sensitive. In the case that you might be right, just allow the Lord to deal with that – and keep quiet about it with others. Because He has no problem adjusting an attitude that needs it if pride is taking center stage – just like He has no problem adjusting our attitudes when they get out of line too. (Yep.) Just pray for them – not against them. Know what I’m getting at? And in the meantime, just enjoy the pie. It’s not your job to judge.
“I always feel like an outsider in small groups.”
One of your greatest jobs as a small group leader is to “see” that everyone is involved. THE GREATEST JOB AS AN ATTENDEE is to make sure that everyone is involved.
In small group settings, always be aware of others around you and be inclusive – whether you are a leader or not. Cliques are Satan’s favorite weapon to destroy growth and vibrancy in a group of any kind. Go first – every time – and invite another to join your conversation. Chances are a quiet person doesn’t want to “horn in” on your private, yet public, discussion. So be sure to give them permission to do that. In a small group setting, never allow yourself to be so self-absorbed in a conversation that others feel excluded. Private talks are for private settings. A small group is anything but private. Flourishing groups grow because everyone is thriving. You don’t have to be besties with everyone but you do need to be best in class when it comes to good manners. You think this would be a no-brainer, but I’ve watched this kind of careless social misstep happen over and over. Be inclusive – to the point of nausea. Then you know you are almost there.
“I get so frustrated when I go to small groups. They never end on time!”
This subject drives everyone crazy. Some people don’t want time limits – while others live and die by them. It is important to figure out what your group expects.
My best counsel: ask the group the first night how they feel about the “end” time. Are they on a tight schedule? Is ending “on time” important to them? My guess is that you will have a mixed group of answers. However, if there is even ONE PERSON who says they need to be finished on time, then you end on time! PERIOD. After you have concluded your planned time with prayer and others want to stay and discuss things further, that is totally appropriate. But give the people who need to leave the chance to do so without feeling like they are offending someone by getting up and leaving.
The other side of this is to be considerate to your leader/hostess. Do not stay behind once everyone else is leaving unless you are specifically invited to. No one wants to ask you to leave. So always err on the side of caution and leave with everyone else. If you need to speak privately with the leader, ask for a time that is good for her. Then if she wants you to stay that particular evening, she can extend that invitation rather than feel obligated to stay late on a busy evening of hosting others.
Going with the flow rather than being a stickler for time has been a balancing act for small groups since the beginning of small groups! We have probably all been rockstars at times and miserable failures on other occasions. But learning to respect the time of others will always pay big dividends in the end and keep people coming back each week.
“I can’t host a small group. I’m not a good teacher.”
Just so you know, I’m not about to respond to that statement with:
“Well, of course you are!! Anyone can teach! You just need to practice!”
That would not be a true statement. There is nothing that will kill a small group quicker than someone “teaching” who has no business teaching or someone leading who is terribly uncomfortable with the material they are “teaching”. So here are my guidelines for ways anyone can “lead”.
*Use a DVD driven study where the author of the study is the actual teacher. Then your job as a leader is to facilitate the questions that come along with the group discussion.
*Read a book together and discuss what you are learning like you would in a book club. Give everyone a chance to share. Again, your role is more of a facilitator which takes the pressure to “teach or have all of the answers” off the table.
In both of these settings, plan to have a way of recording “unanswered questions” so that you, as the leader, can seek the wisdom of another a few steps ahead of you to clarify any confusion.
Whatever you do in either scenario – DO NOT FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT! If you don’t know an answer, just say so. There is no shame in that! Just say, “I don’t know. But let’s find out! I want to know the answer to that too!” If you try and act like you know, you will be ‘found out’ by your group quicker than you’ll figure out you don’t know what you are talking about! So just plan to always have the 3 H’s in mind as a leader: be Honest, Humble and Helpful. Everyone can respect that!
I do want to say this. Much of the time, many find they have the gift of teaching stirring in their hearts because of leading and attending small groups. The practical experiences of serving others and facilitating studies actually end up becoming the very catalysts that shape and mold future teachers. Jumping in and “drowning” is the only way you’ll sink. Ease into the water and get your toes wet. You may just find out you’re a ‘fish’ after all!
“Ugh! That one girl always dominates all the small group discussions.”
Ok, ouch! I have probably been there and been that! They don’t call me “Gabby” because I’m so quiet! But leaders and attendees all ‘feel the pain’ of one person “over-sharing” every week. So here are my thoughts:
Address this the first night—before anyone accidentally over-shares. This way everyone can laugh about it ahead of time. In fact, a lot of the time the guilty parties will probably confess who they are! It just helps people become more aware and helps set parameters up front. Then, as your group progresses, when you present questions, begin with prompts like: “who can give me a quick example of….” or “does anyone have a story under 3 minutes of when God showed up for them in….”. Do you get the gist? Help manage the group time by reminding them to be brief so they don’t end up annoying others or embarrassing themselves. If you have someone who just won’t comply, you may have to talk with them privately over coffee to help them understand what is happening. But never embarrass them by intentionally calling them out in front of others—even if you think you are being funny. No one ever “means to over-share”. They are usually very emotional about the subject at hand. Always avoid making it awkward for them in front of the group as best you can. However, you will need to privately take care of it if you don’t want to start losing group members.
Do everything you can to respect that others want to be a part of the discussion. Never make the assumption that what you have to say is so amazing that everyone wants to listen to a long drawn out story…every single week. The truth is, everyone wants to hear from EVERYONE…including the one who tends to talk too much. So don’t beat yourself up if you are resembling the girl we are referring to. (And I’ll try not to beat myself up either.) Just ask the Lord to help you be more considerate to your group and your leader by keeping your input concise.
“I would love to lead a small group, but I don’t have time to do everything it takes to lead one.”
Hey, I hear you. Life is busy and none of us are short on commitments. But what if you didn’t have to do it alone? What if everyone “owned” part of the small group. Maybe everyone should have a little skin in the game? Some of my ideas are:
*Rotate who brings snacks
*Have someone else in charge of sending out prayer requests
*For Book studies, have someone different own a chapter each week and lead the questions at that group session
*Host in different homes each week/month
*Have someone in charge of helping with a quick cleanup each week
Depending on your group dynamics, you will know all of the ways that will enable others to take part and make the load easier. The key is to problem solve until you don’t have a problem anymore, right?
I understand that there are some seasons when hosting is not possible. Those times are unavoidable. But my encouragement is to make sure that the mountains blocking your path to lead are not actually mole hills that everyone wants to help you tackle. It’s very rare that others aren’t willing to jump in and take a role when everyone is excited about the content you will be studying. Just be careful not to take on a martyr mentality…especially to your own detriment! Ask for help if you need it! Some of the biggest blessings I have ever received in life have come at the ‘cost’ of opening my home week after week. I can’t imagine what I would have missed if I’d not hosted all those amazing women over the years.
So lead if that is God’s ask. Attend if that is your season. But please get involved in the messy dynamics of a small group. You will learn, grow, stretch your faith, gain empathy, find hope and meet friends that will be yours for a lifetime. Iron truly does sharpen iron as it teaches us in Proverbs. And as for me – well, I don’t want you to miss a thing.
Stay Shiny, gals!
Oh girl this could not have been any more meaningful to me if you wrote especially for me. Love you my sweet friend.
SO much good advice! I’m sitting here this morning not wanting to address an oversharing issue. I know it has to be done for the good of the others in the group. But, having to confront this unfortunate situation is the worst part of facilitating. I’m not so sure it’s oversharing, as much as wanting to teach a lesson. This is one of the things that makes me hesitate when leaders are needed. Thoughts?