We need to avoid both of these pitfalls. Our top priority should never be simply to complete the curriculum. The study is merely a vehicle to help start discussions where people can process the truths of God. So if there is a week where the discussion is getting so engaging and deep on the first or second question, feel free to spend the whole night there and not rush it along. Those moments don't come often, so take advantage of it. Just be careful not to slip into doing this every single week, or people will start to feel like you'll let any tangent take them off track, and they'll wonder if you'll ever complete the study.
One more caveat: sometimes God just has a different agenda for your group meeting. I've had nights where I was all prepared for a discussion on our study, and group members show up with something major on their hearts, and they need the whole night to process the situation with close friends. Other times, I could look around the room and know that everyone was fried and had no mental capacity to have a deep discussion, so we kept things lighter so they could vent or laugh or just get their minds off of their tough situations for a little while. We have to stay open to what the Spirit of God is doing in our group. It's always best when we let him lead!
3. Getting Together Only for Meetings
As small-group leaders, we typically focus the majority of our time and energy on making the group meetings as effective as possible. And that's a good thing. But the danger can be that we let that be all the group is about. If the meeting becomes the only interaction the group ever has, we're dangerously close to our small group becoming just a class or a program.
While the group meetings are incredibly important, so much of the relationship building and "doing life together" happens outside of those group meetings. People are busy, though, and relational intentionality can slip through the cracks. As leaders, we need to help make this happen. You don't need to own all of the social interactions for your group, but it's good to "go first" by modeling it and consistently talking about it.
The key is to find what's natural for your group, so it doesn't feel like more forced, programmed interactions. I love movies, so for me it's always been easy to get people together to see a new movie in the theater or gather at someone's house for a movie night. I've seen families with young kids getting together at a park or McDonald's Playland so the kids can play while the parents talk. It's always fun to host a BBQ or have one or two other couples over for dinner.
I like to initiate a few group activities outside the meeting time, but I love seeing group members start getting together on their own. It's a huge win when group members initiate hanging out with a few others from the group—even when I'm not invited! And the bonus is that all these non-meeting hangouts will end up making the group meetings even more relational and impactful.
4. Killing the Group Discussion
As leaders, we desire to see healthy, engaging discussions, yet often this is a challenge. While some of this depends on the personalities of your group members, there are definitely some simple things we can do to help ensure great discussions. Here are a few tips: