"Pete, what are you goals for spiritual growth?"
Pete and I were having our weekly one-on-one meeting at a local cafe. College students and businessmen hurried in and out. The sound of wooden chair legs screeched against the hardwood floors.
"What do you mean?" he asked. Pete had joined our small group several months prior. He had faithfully attended every group meeting since, and he was present at all our college ministry events.
I tried a classic small-group leader tactic: the rephrase. "I mean, how do you want your Christian faith to shape your life?"
He squinted his eyes and stared absently past me. There was a long pause.
"I don't know if I am a Christian," he said matter-of-factly.
I was floored. I'd known him for months, and I had no idea he was still seeking. I shouldn't have assumed he was a believer simply because he was a faithful attender. How could I, his small-group leader, not know this crucial part of his journey?
The Value of One-on-Ones
That conversation made me realize how essential one-on-one meetings are to spiritual growth and friendship. Without our one-on-one meetings, Pete may have continued on in our group with unanswered questions.
A one-on-one is a consistent time you meet with a member of your small group for the purpose of spiritual growth. It could also be called mentorship or apprenticeship. In one-on-ones, you have the opportunity and privilege to take group members under your wing and encourage them in understanding, growth, and action. It's also a chance to be a listening ear or a source of advice. While you may primarily be investing in your group member, one-on-ones are ideally two-way relationships where both parties are invested in seeing the other person grow.
As a small-group leader, you know the spiritual needs of your group members better than anybody in your church. You've heard their questions, and you've seen them in action. You're in an incredible position to cultivate their untapped potential.
You're already developing group members through thought-provoking group discussions, engaging group prayer, and service opportunities. But you can't tailor the group experience to individual group members. In a one-on-one, you're given the opportunity to focus on the spiritual needs and questions of each individual. You can personalize each meeting so it's most helpful to his or her growth. This leaves group members feeling deeply cared for.
Plus, one-on-ones allow you to go deeper than group meetings alone. Some truths cannot be gleaned simply by listening to a sermon or participating in a group discussion. Some discoveries can only be made in the deep and personal interaction between two individuals. Additionally, some group members are only comfortable sharing the deep and vulnerable aspects of their journey in a more private setting, and one-on-ones can provide that.
So how do you get started with one-on-ones? Work through these six steps:
I first came across one-on-ones in college. In that atmosphere it was easy and ideal to conduct weekly meetings with every person. In a post-college setting, however, this kind of intensity and frequency is impractical. Life is busier now. Many of us have full-time jobs, spouses, kids, and other responsibilities.
Frequency should be determined by what you can handle. Burnout is a serious issue for group leaders, so make sure you're not over-committing yourself. Monthly or bi-monthly meetings might be more realistic. This will still be consistent enough to foster spiritual friendship and growth. Even a few times a year can be a helpful place to start.
Extend an Invitation
The first step to implement one-on-ones into the culture of your small group is to tell your group members. You don't need a presentation or a fireworks display to get them on board. A simple statement such as: "I'd love to get together with each of you on a monthly or bi-monthly basis to get to know you better help each other grow." The concept will likely be met with welcome excitement. After all, they probably aren't coming to your group just for the free baked goods—most people want to grow.
Make a Plan
Every person in your group will benefit differently. Some will enjoy reading through a book of the Bible with you while others will grow from discussing concepts in an extra-biblical book. Some people will want to dive into deep personal struggles and questions while others will want to keep discussions more theoretical. The best way to learn is by doing, so don't be nervous to jump in and get started.
A one-on-one can look like almost anything: having coffee, sharing a meal, hiking a trail, or hanging out at home. The possibilities are endless. The goal is to get a purposeful and personal conversation going.
Don't enter into these meetings blindly. Take some time to reflect on the individual you're meeting with. Try to figure out what kind of structure will be most helpful to him or her. What atmosphere will be most comfortable? What questions might he or she have and how can you help?
It's also important to set a purposeful tone from the beginning. Ask: "What do you hope to gain from these one-on-ones?" and "What are some ways that you'd like to grow spiritually?" Questions like these will clarify the purpose of your time together and guide you down the right path.
End every meeting in prayer. I always ask: "How can I pray for you?" Pray for their requests in these meetings and outside of them. Prayer requests are a natural window into someone's needs. Take note of patterns or possible next steps the two of you can work on. It can help shape the course of future meetings.
Don't forget to share your own prayer requests, too. This is a chance for them to be thinking about your needs as well, which will help set up a reciprocal relationship of friendship, vulnerability, and trust.
It takes a few extra minutes, but taking notes after each meeting can be extremely helpful. Notes will give you something to refer to as you plan your next one-on-ones. Such attention to detail will create opportunities to challenge individual needs and encourage growth.
Keep It Real
Most importantly, foster a real friendship. It doesn't have to be serious and purposeful all the time. It's good to relax and let natural relationships form. If the person enjoys playing video games, then play a video game together. If he or she is passionate about baseball, go see a game together. Does the person love nature? Go take a hike. Sometimes our deepest conversations are born out of relaxation and comfort.
I don't want to think about what might have happened if Pete and I hadn't met one-on-one. Perhaps he would have gone years without really figuring out what he believed. Maybe he would have eventually left the church, unsatisfied and confused. Pete and I ended up meeting for over a year, hashing out all kinds of difficult spiritual questions. Once I learned he was still seeking, I redirected our meetings to focus on the basics of faith. In the end, I was privileged to walk into a lake with Pete and see him proclaim a life transformed and reconciled with God as he was baptized.
—Justin Marr is a small-group leader and blogs at TheSocialHunger.com