- Laughter builds community. Laughing together can help your group bond in a rich way very quickly. Don't neglect times of fun and laughing. Relish those times together. Jokes that carry from week to week, laughing at random things, and having fun together help set the stage for deep discussions, building trust among those in your group.
How to Focus on Fun
The next question is: How do you build enjoyment into your group? Because if you've ever been a part of a small group that's boring, you know that humor, laughter, and fun don't happen naturally. And what one person find amusing, another can find offensive. Fortunately, although the presence of humor and fun can't be guaranteed, group leaders can help ensure there's freedom and space to pursue it.
- Don't plan to start on time. If you start right off the bat with the study questions, you show quickly that you don't prioritize your group members as individuals. You only prioritize getting through the curriculum. Plan on a casual start to your group each week. My group builds in 30 minutes (at least) each week before we start the study.
- Include food! There's something about food that seems to break down walls of resistance. Eating with your group around a table (or, if you prefer, standing up while eating snacks) helps to build a tight-knit community.
- End on time, but don't end on time. When you finish with the study questions and close in prayer, make sure to be done in time for group members to hang around and enjoy each other's company each week.
- Plan for some fun. Maybe your group needs to put down the book one night and just do a good old fashioned pot luck. Or game night. Or go bowling. Or go hang out at the park. Or grill out. Or have a chili cook-off. These events can lead to a much richer study time when you pick the books back up. Also, plan it during the time you normally gather for small group; this way, you can reasonably assume your group members have blocked off that time each week.
- Plan extra-group activities. Pick a random Friday night and have a girls' night out. If you have children, have the dads gather to offer childcare for the night. Then switch for the next week. Or go on a camping trip. Or go to the lake. Or go out to eat on Sunday after church.
If you truly desire to build a community of people who love and care for each other, will go to bat for each other, and consistently encourage each other—find a way to have some fun. You'll find yourself eagerly anticipating your meeting time together each week. You'll be less likely to burn out. And your group will find a renewed energy each week.
They can thank me later.
—Ben Reed is a regular blogger at www.benreed.net and pastor of community groups at Grace Community Church.