When people visit your small group for the first time, they come with all sorts of questions. "Will we like it?" "Will we connect with the people there?" "Will this be helpful for us?" Just showing up can be intimidating for people entering a new group dynamic because they don't know how they'll be received, if they'll feel like they "fit," and if they'll want to return.
And that's human nature, of course—most people feel less than relaxed entering a new social situation with new people in a new place. But there are things you can do as the small-group leader to help ease any tension that guests may be feeling. There are things you can do to help them feel more at home.
Here are some tips to help your guests feel more comfortable, received, and accepted in your small group.
As Group Members Arrive
Greet your guests as soon as they come in. Introduce yourself and let them know it's great to have them at your group. Next, try to learn a little about them (this will help you with introducing them later). Limit your first round of questions to between three and six so that the guests don't feel interrogated, but try to find out:
- Their names.
- If they live nearby or have attended your church before.
- If they have kids. If so, ask for the names and ages of their children.
- How they heard about your group (member, website, friend, and so on).
Be sure to introduce them to at least two other group members using the information you just learned. And before you return to greeting the other arriving group members, ignite a conversation between the guests and other group members, or offer to get them something to drink.
After Everyone Has Arrived
When everyone has gathered in one room, try to acknowledge the presence of new guests without making them feel awkward—meaning, don't make them feel like too much attention is being placed on them for too long. To avoid this faux pas in welcoming guests, introduce your new guests to the whole group immediately. Don't leave it up to them to introduce themselves; rather, get the process started for them based on details you learned as they entered the host home.
For example, "Hey everyone, I'd like to introduce a couple who is visiting our group for the first time. This is John and Jane and they live in Wilsonville. They learned about our group from our church's website and have two kids, Jack & Jill. [Looking at the guests] It's great to have you here with us tonight. Is there anything else you'd like to add?"
Notice several things that were done in this introduction:
- You got everyone's attention and immediately introduced your guests, which extinguishes feelings of intrusiveness they might have felt if they hadn't been recognized early on.
- You said they were "visiting" versus "joining," which relieves any pressure of commitment they might have.
- You broke the ice for them by providing just enough background, but not too much.
- You used their names and their kids' names, which makes the introduction more personal and warm.
Again, make sure to keep it brief. If you focus too much or too long on your new guests, they might feel like a spotlight is on them and become uncomfortable.
When It's Time to Leave
Thank your guests for being with you at the end of your group's study and discussion time. Again, let them know it was great having them. And if they participated in the conversation, tell them you appreciated their input and insights.
Try to introduce your new guests to two more group members before they leave, unless you sense they are eager to make an exit. Make it a goal to encourage face-to-face conversations with at least half of your group by the end of their first visit. This will make their reflections on their group experience more personable and warm, which will encourage their return.
Finally, as your guests are leaving, give them your contact info (versus asking for theirs) and include specific details about your next meeting. Let them know you'd love to have them come back and to contact you if they have any questions.
—Reid Smith is the Community Life pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and the founder of the 2orMore small-group leadership training and resource ministry.
© Copyright 2010 by the author and Christianity Today.