So you’ve got your small group ready to go: you picked a time and place, you selected what you want to study, and you’ve got people showing up for it! What do you do now? The first meeting together can have a lot of fun energy, but there can also be a lot of anxiety in people—especially if it’s a new group and they don’t know many people there, or if they haven’t experienced a small group before. It’s important to make good impression at that first meeting. How do we make our first meeting fun, compelling, and informative?
1. Keep it Relational
The most important goal on the first night is to set up the relational feel that you want the group to have and help everyone feel comfortable with each other. This is what sets small groups apart from classes and other meetings. It’s also the easiest way to ease people’s anxiety—after all, it’s sort of like the first day of school. As the leader, introduce each person who arrives to the other people in the group.
Don’t rush the start of the group on the first week. People may show up late because they are nervous or they might have trouble finding the place you’re meeting. Instead, intentionally engage in casual conversation before sitting down to start the group discussion. When you do gather everyone to start, it might help to call out the relational tension to show them they’re not alone and it’s okay to laugh about it. You could say something like, “Let’s just all feel awkward together—it’ll be fun!” or, “Kinda feels like the first day of school doesn’t it? Don’t worry, we’re way less mean than those kids!” You can also mention that it may take a few weeks to learn each other’s names, and that’s normal. (To help with this, you could use nametags for the first weeks.)
Icebreaker questions are a great tool to use anytime to help put people at ease, to get them comfortable talking, and to help them get to know each other. They’re especially valuable at the first meeting. Sharing even one or two personal things creates lots of opportunity for connecting with each other. People will learn they’re in similar careers, live near each other, have kids the same age, or come from the same hometown. My favorite icebreakers for the first week are:
- Tell us your name, how long you’ve lived in this community, and what you do for a living.
- Share one of your favorite things about your current job.
- Share your favorite local restaurant that you’d recommend.
2. Cast a Clear Vision
The first week is your chance to cast a clear and compelling vision about what group members can expect their group experience to be like. It’s often helpful to hand out a small list of “Group Guidelines” (click here for ideas of what to include). You don’t want to make them feel overwhelmed with “rules,” but setting up simple guidelines can help everyone feel more comfortable. I like to include:
- Everything that is shared in this group stays here—it’s all confidential.
- The goal is for everyone to be heard in this group, and for no one to dominate.
- When people share, we listen without judging, criticizing, or giving advice.
- We commit to pray for each other.
In addition, it’s helpful to be clear about the start and end time for the meetings. I like to commit to ending the group on time every week, and then I ask them to commit to being on time so we can start on time every week. This helps group members plan better, and it immediately starts to build trust. I also like to ask people to tell me if they won’t be able to make it. Life happens, and not everyone will be able to make it every week, but you as the leader definitely want to know if someone can’t make it.