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