A common remark I hear from leaders is: "I'm just not sure if group meetings are successful." Quite honestly, that's usually hard to gauge for a few reasons. First of all, while we know our overall goals for groups are life change and deeper relationships with one another and with God, we won't always see great evidence of that at every single meeting. After all, creating lasting life change or deep relationships rarely happens in an hour and a half. Another reason gauging meeting success can be difficult is that we don't set specific goals for each meeting, so it's hard to know if we've met them. (Although, sometimes the Spirit has other plans, and that's okay!)
As you prepare for your next meeting, think about what you hope to accomplish. What can you do and what should you focus on in order to meet the long-term goals of life change and deeper relationships? When it comes to your discussion or study time, Sam O'Neal provides really helpful advice in Field Guide for Small Group Leaders: the Big Idea. He writes that leaders should focus their questions on getting just one or two big ideas across. This will keep the discussion focused and help you determine whether group members have understood the important truth in your study. Consider the topic in the passage that your group especially needs at this time. This may mean you'll have to choose to focus on only one truth in a passage when five are presented. Remember, though, that you can choose to go wide or deep with your discussion. If you go wide, you'll cover all the ideas in a passage, but not go in depth on any of them. Going deep, you'll cover just one or two topics, but you'll dig into them and have a good idea of how to apply them. Set a goal for your focus and ask only a few questions so that you can really engage in deep discussion. Later, you may set goals for more specific application or application that requires more sacrifice.
For some goals, curriculum may not be the most important part of your meeting. For instance, if your main goal is to get to know one another so that deeper relationships can form, you'll want to spend the majority of your time chatting over snacks, answering icebreaker questions, or meeting in smaller groups for sharing and prayer. So set a goal that group members will share a meal together and chat, getting to know basic information about one another. Later, a goal may be that group members get together outside of meetings or that group members share personal prayer requests rather than requests for their aunt's friend's surgery.
Determine the smaller goals you'll need to meet in your next meeting in order to meet your larger, long-term group goals. And then plan your meeting accordingly. Afterward, decide if you met your goals for the meeting. Use what you learn to better prepare for your next meeting. And don't forget to give yourself some grace when things don't go exactly as planned. That's just part of the joy of small-group ministry.