Say No to Icebreakers

Consider switching your focus from breaking ice to making community.

I have an aversion to the term icebreaker. It sounds so negative. And truth be told, that's often our experience with icebreakers—the exercises can feel awkward or forced. So why not call them community makers and encourage people to build community rather than break the ice?

Community makers begin with leaders and greeters who are warm and friendly, but not overpowering. They continue with words of welcome that put people at ease—perhaps a funny story or an amusing event from the welcomer's week.

A community maker is an open-ended exercise or activity that is used to nurture a sense of connectedness. An effective community maker, and the resulting life-sharing, is important because it helps "level the playing field" within a small group, and it warms people's hearts and minds to one another. It leads to discussions about life and faith at deeper levels during the study portion of the gathering.

For example, if the group's study focuses on the wise and foolish builders from Matthew 7, the leader might begin with a quiz about buildings—the tallest, largest, oldest, and so on—inviting participants to call out their guesses. The community-maker activity could continue with "Building Bingo" squares requiring another member's initials, such as "Live in an apartment," "Lived in 10 or more homes," "Live with 2 or more unrelated roommates," and so on. Or you could just keep it very simple and ask, "Describe the house you grew up in."

Here are some important things to keep in mind as you select or prepare community makers.

  1. A good community maker does not have right or wrong answers. The person answering the question is the expert when it comes to their response.
  2. The question(s) should be safe enough that everyone feels comfortable answering.
  3. Usually the leader(s) should answer first, modeling the type and length of response desired.
  4. When possible, community makers should help set the stage for the study/discussion time. This helps the group connect their life stories and God's truth.
  5. For the first few group meetings, good community makers will help participants get to know the basics about each other (family, work, hobbies, pets, etc.). Exercises should feel informal, light-hearted, and fun.
  6. The longer the group meets, the deeper the community makers will become.
  7. Don't get stuck in a rut—be creative, keep them guessing!

When community makers are designed and executed well, people will look forward to them rather then getting cold feet!

Karen Wilk is team leader of Group Life Ministry Development at the Christian Reformed Church.

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