Note: This article has been excerpted from the SmallGroups.com training resource called The Small-Group Host Orientation Guide.
I made a crazy decision this semester: "let's have dinner at group every week." What possessed me to do that? I'm not sure. Maybe it was the fear of never eating until 10pm on Thursdays. Maybe it was an impulse because I was feeling hungry at the first meeting. I'm sure it was a combination of things, but I hope that the primary reason was that I wanted to jump head first into radical hospitality for my small group. From everything I had read and studied and prayed about in preparation for the group, I knew that sitting around a table and chowing down would build community faster than our most ardent theological discussions.
Has it been chaotic? Absolutely. Has it added a new layer of complexity to the group? No question. Am I glad we did it? I can't believe we don't require it for every group at my church. Here are some ideas and guidelines for incorporating meals into your small group:
- Delegate. Put someone in charge of meals. A person with a gift of helps or administration can set up a schedule and get people to volunteer.
- Make it easy. This is not an Iron Chef competition! Try to make the main point about the fellowship, not the food itself. Create an environment where everyone– whether they can cook or not—gets to participate. We are quite lucky in our group to have a number of very skilled and talented chefs (who all happen to be men), and the past three meetings have been amazing. But I'm planning to scale it back down several notches tonight. Here are some ideas for keeping it simple:
- Ordering pizza is fine.
- Think about having a breakfast night—serve pancakes or have a cereal buffet.
- Have a deli bar or salad bar.
- Our group even joked about bringing McDonald's double cheeseburgers one night. Well, it started as a joke—then turned quite serious!
- Get everyone involved. Have everyone sign up to bring the meal for a night. Or go the potluck route. Also, consider having one night where everyone is assigned a different ingredient, and then cook the meal together as a group.
- Be sensitive to time. The hardest part about doing meals at group is balancing the time. We decided to start our group 30 minutes earlier to allow people to eat. Then, we officially start the discussion, but latecomers can grab their meal and eat during the discussion time.
- Be sensitive to dietary preferences and allergic restrictions.
- Have fun and be creative. Consider having some theme nights. Open up your group to serve a meal to the homeless one night. Do a progressive dinner from home to home of various group members. Pick a restaurant and move your group there for a week.
Remember—the most important thing about sharing a meal is the community that develops, not the food itself. I strongly recommend that you find a way to incorporate a shared meal into your small group, whether it's once a week, once a month, or once a semester.
Heather Zempel; adapted from the Wineskins for Discipleship blog, copyright © 2008 by the author and National Community Church
- What positive experiences have I had when sharing a meal in someone else's home? What made them positive?
- What negative experiences have I had when sharing a meal in someone else's home? What made them negative?
- What are two things I can do in our next small-group meeting to pull off a successful meal?