First Night Survival Guide

First Night Survival Guide

Preparing for and leading your first meeting.
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Go Time

Once you've prepped as much as possible, you'll actually need to lead the meeting. Whatever you do, be sure to focus on community and vision.


I'd argue that discipleship should be the top priority for your small group. However, it's not your top priority for the first meeting. Instead, your main goal is for people to get to know each other. You don't need to cover material or help people grow spiritually or any of that. Just make sure people actually connect with one another. That's what will bring them back and open the door for discipleship. Here are a few tips to help make that happen:

  • Set aside time for conversation. Consider not having any other agenda for the first meeting. Again, having conversation over dinner is a great option.
  • Greet everyone personally. As the small-group leader, do your best to meet everyone at the door when they first come in, especially if they don't know others in the group.
  • If you notice people standing alone, talk with them and introduce them to other folks. Help group members connect with each other.
  • Use an icebreaker question like "Tell us a story about your best friend from childhood." It may seem silly, but it helps spark conversation, and the right questions can really help a group get to know one another. (Check out other icebreakers on
  • Help people learn each others' names. If it's a big group you may want to bring name tags. You could also play a game to help remember names. For instance, ask people to say their name and an adjective that describes them and begins with the same first letter (e.g., Serene Sarah, Theology Tony, Caring Cathy). Six years later, I still remember my friend Adam as "Average Adam" because he introduced himself that way.

While your first priority is building community, you have a very important second priority for the night: casting vision for the group. The people who are part of your group want to know what you'll be doing together.

Answer their questions by considering:

  • Why are we meeting?
  • What do we hope to accomplish?
  • Are we a group that requires consistent attendance or is it okay if people pop in and out?
  • Do we have a group covenant?
  • Will we have weekly homework?
  • Are members expected to attend service projects?
  • How long will the group last?

If your church has a set idea of what your group will be about, you'll simply communicate these expectations. If you have flexibility over what you'll be doing, studying, and accomplishing, you may want to involve everyone in answering these questions.

Remember that it's much easier to set these expectations at the beginning than it is to change the culture of the group later on. And if a problem does need to be addressed in the future, it's helpful if the expectations were communicated up front.

Next Steps

Whew! You made it through your first meeting. Even if you're exhausted and just want to watch some TV or go to bed, there are a couple of things you need to do that will help you a lot in the future. Then there are a few things you can do later to follow up.

Right Away

First of all, it's a good idea to do something to help you remember people's names. It's easy to forget them by week two. One helpful idea is to picture each person in your head and repeat his or her name (and adjective) a few times. Another idea that has helped me is to sit where you sat during the meeting and write down each person in the group by where they sat. Start with the person to your right and continue until you've made it all the way around the circle. Lastly, you may want to find your new group members on Facebook and send friend requests. All of these tips will help you remember your new group members' names.

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