A recent article in The Banner (Small Group Suggestion: Real Simple) sparked my interest and got me thinking about small groups. In this article the author shares a small group structure that, in his own 45+ years of experience, has worked the best. He makes a case for splitting the meeting into thirds as follows: 1) the first third is for reading and reflecting on a Bible passage, 2) the second third is for sharing thoughts from the past week, and 3) the final third is for praying aloud. He also adds a note that "food and drink should be simple and affordable for all."
In thinking about my own experience in various small groups (I've been part of a women's Bible study, a youth group, and am currently in a couple's small group), I wondered what what would make my "best practices" list. Though my fount of knowledge is much closer to 15 years than 45, I was able to come up with a few ideas for what I've seen work well.
In my own experience, a good small group includes:
- Clear Expectations. It’s best to set expectations at the very beginning. What are the scheduling constraints? How often can people realistically meet? Are we going to study a book or reflect on the sermon? Having clear expectations that the group agrees upon makes it more likely that people will keep their commitment.
- A Welcoming Environment. The physical setting where the group gathers can set the tone for discussion. It's important to find an environment where people can “take off their shoes” so to speak. I've been part of groups that have met at Panera Bread, the church, and in people's homes. In my experience, meeting at a house works best. Homes are welcoming, private and cost-effective. Meeting at church can sometimes feel formal and public places can discourage openness and sharing.
- Vulnerability. I've been part of small groups where conversation is forced and remains "surface level." On the flip side, I've been part of groups where authentic struggles are shared and real growth takes place. I think the key factor to good conversation in a small group in vulnerability. When one or two people are willing to "get real" about something going on in their lives, they create a safe space and open the door for others in the group to share on a deeper level.
What tips or suggestions would you add to this list? Whether you have 45 years of experience or have just joined a small group for the first time, I'd love to hear your ideas!