Note: This article is excerpted from the SmallGroups.com training resource Making Small Groups Fun!.
Dear Small-Group Pastors,
I just want to take a minute to say that we're all proud of the way you've done your research and found the most biblical curriculum. You've trained your small-group leaders to have airtight, foolproof theology. They can move from a discussion on the Nephilim to ecclesiology, then weave in a bit of distinction between Calvinism, the resurrection, and eschatology.
You've taught your group leaders how to facilitate a discussion, minister to the EGRs, fill the empty chair, raise up apprentice leaders, and plant new groups. You've helped groups become more "missional" by consistently serving their neighborhoods and communities. Group members are working to baptize and make disciples of all nations, starting with their families and neighbors.
But one thing is missing. Small groups aren't fun. Sometimes they're boring, actually. Sometimes people only come because they feel like they are supposed to.
So here's my plea to you, small-group champion: incorporate fun, life, and humor into the small groups at your church.
Why to Focus on Fun
Before I get into the practical steps of "how" to make your group fun, here's why I think it's a big deal when fun and humor are missing from a small group:
- If it's not fun, people won't come back. It's possible to get more information in a more convenient time in a more convenient way through many other means. Podcasts, books, blogs, and forums offer information and discussion environments at any time of the day, every day of the year. What separates small groups from each of these environments is the relationship, face-to-face aspect. Make sure you maximize this!
- If there's no fun, it's not reflective of real life. If your group is intensely serious, it can drain the life right out of people. We're only wired to take so much seriousness. And often, our work environments give us plenty of seriousness.
- If there's no laughter, people are missing out on great medicine. "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones" (Proverbs 17:22). Maybe what hurting people need isn't more medicine, but a healthy small group. They need to laugh together so hard that they snort. They need to laugh at themselves. They need to laugh at a corny joke. Because God has wired us to receive healing through laughter. I'm not sure how it works, but after a difficult day at work—with the kids, with finances, with in-laws—laughing helps to melt away stress and anxiety, bringing healing to your aching bones.
- Have you ever belly-laughed? Seriously, there's not much that's more redemptive than belly-laughing with someone in your small group. If you've laughed that way, from your gut, you know what I mean. If you haven't, then I sincerely weep for you. Join my small group, please—we'll show you how to do it.
- When we have fun together, we show others that we serve a good God. Check this out: "Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them'" (Psalm 126:2). Did you catch that? When our mouths are filled with laughter, others are convinced that God has done great things among us. Could the flip-side be true? If our mouths aren't filled with laughter, could people become convinced that the God we serve isn't good? That he doesn't take delight in loving is people? That the God we give witness to is ultimately boring, and the eternity with him that we say will be wonderful is painted as dull and lifeless?
- 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.