Depending on what you plan to study in the group, make sure group members are prepared. Let them know where to purchase the book (or that you will get the book for them), or let them know to bring their Bible each week (and whether it’s okay to use a Bible app on their phone or tablet). If you’re using video curriculum, let group members know that and if they will need any accompanying book or questions ahead of time. I’ve found it’s really helpful to share the vision for the study you’ll be doing together. This is an opportunity to get them excited about it, so share how you hope it will impact them, why you’re excited about it, and any interesting details that might pull them in. Your excitement will be contagious, so don’t under-sell it!
Lastly, spend some time talking about your goals for the group in general. Maybe your hope is that friendships will formed or that people will learn new things about the Bible. If you’d led groups before, share why you love leading groups. If it’s your first time leading, share why you’ve decided to start. When I was a new leader, I liked to say something like, “I’m still pretty new to leading, so I appreciate your grace as I figure it out.” This put me at ease and the rest of the group at ease, too.
3. Find the Balance
There’s pressure to start with a bang. We want to get to know each other, share expectations, start the study, give everyone a memorable moment, and more. But don’t give into the pressure to do all these things on the first night. Be sure to end on time (or a little early) the first week to set up the expectation that you’ll start and end on time. You also don’t want to overwhelm your group members with information. It’s really okay to not even touch the study the first night. Instead, you can focus on introductions, icebreakers, and guidelines.
At the same time, you want the first week to feel valuable so people want to come back. After all, the last thing you want is for people to feel like they wasted their evening. You also want to communicate that you have a plan and that it’s not all go-with-the-flow. So there is a balance to find.
Another caution is to not force the relational part to move too quickly. Make sure to personally introduce everyone to each other, but it’s okay if not everyone has a deep conversation with each of the group members. Don’t be surprised if people leave pretty quickly from your group rather than stick around to socialize. That’s totally normal, and it doesn’t mean you had a bad meeting. The fact is that it typically takes a few weeks for that relational comfort to build to a level where people stick around to chat for a while.
Remember that the ultimate goal is that your group members leave the first meeting having met some people, knowing what to expect in the group, and trusting you are a safe leader who will lead them into a time of relationship building and faith building. That leaves them wanting more, and excited to come back! And it’ll leave you feeling the same way.
—Carter Moss is a Campus Pastor and Life Groups Director for Newbreak Church, a large multi-site church in San Diego, and an advisor for SmallGroups.com.