First Night Survival Guide: Preparing for and leading your first meeting

So you agree to lead a small group. And right now, you're really questioning why you said yes. You've had some training, found a study, talked with your pastor or director, and even had a few people say they're coming. But now it's just two days before your first meeting, and you're not feeling very prepared. You find yourself panicking, wondering what you'll do if no one talks, or if your entire group is made up of weird people.

Leading a small group isn't rocket science, but it can be a bit intimidating, especially the first time around. Here are a few tips to make your first group meeting go smoothly—a survival guide, if you will.

Preparation

It's true: Failing to plan is planning to fail. So consider these four things while preparing for your first meeting.

Communication

A day or two before the group meeting, get in touch with the folks who have expressed interest in your group. You can use the phone, a text, social media, e-mail, or whatever works best for your context and demographic.

Be sure to remind everyone when and where the group is meeting and give them your phone number in case someone gets lost. On that note, be sure your phone is turned on and the ringer is turned up before the group starts. You don't want anyone to miss the meeting because they couldn't get in touch with you at the last minute.

You may also want to ask people to confirm whether or not they're coming so that you can be prepared. It can be tough both mentally and logistically if you expect 15 and get 5 (or vice versa).

Food

Nothing creates conversation like cuisine. I don't know if you've ever noticed, but strangers sitting around a table full of food are much more relaxed and talkative. Food breaks the ice and opens people up. My agenda for the first group meeting is often just dinner and conversation. I want people to start getting to know one another before we dive into a study.

If you don't think you're up for tackling dinner (and I'll be honest, cooking a whole meal for a group of people can add stress to the evening) be sure to have snacks. I recommend the three Cs: chips, cookies, and caffeine. In other words: something salty, something sweet, and something good to drink.

Environment

Create a welcoming environment. People are less likely to stick around if they're uncomfortable. Make sure you have enough chairs. Turn on the lights. Burn a candle to get rid of that funky odor. Put a fresh hand towel in the bathroom.

As a side note: There are some folks with the gift of hospitality reading this who have no idea why this section's here. For those of us without the gift of hospitality, or for those who are perhaps new to having a place to host (ahem, 23-year-old guys just out of college), these tips aren't always second-nature.

Prayer

Prayer is the easiest thing to overlook during the frantic preparation process, but it's also one of the most vital. This isn't just a social gathering or a team meeting. Your goal as a small-group leader is not only to create community but also to make disciples, to help people become more like Jesus. And if you're going to do that well, you'll need his help to do it.

In the days leading up to the first meeting, pray for your group. Pray that God would send the right people and that those who come would connect well and find community. Pray for wisdom and discernment for yourself as the group leader. Above all, pray that God would be glorified through your group.

—Will Johnston is the Small Group Catalyst for National Community Church in Washington, D.C.; copyright 2012 by Christianity Today.

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Be on Mission

During the breakout session of the Small Group Leader Kickoff, Kelly Isenberger, shared about how Small Groups can be involved in missions. I invite you to watch this short video and share it with your Small Group. Getting our groups to 'be on mission' together is a key in mobilizing our church to participate in mission in a greater way. You can email Kelly by clicking here if you would like more information or have questions.

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What Unites us is Greater than what Divides us

This past week has been a difficult one for our state and for our country as we have seen racial tension come to a head with violence. I read about these tragic events while I was at student camp supposedly 'isolated' from the outside world. But unfortunately due to the age in which we live where we can get access to news instantly, I was able to read out the tragic event that took place in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas. As I sat there reading about what was taking place, I was struck by the fact that it has now become easier in our world to hate someone than love them. When we disagree, it has become easier to use violence instead of discussing things rationally. How did we get here? More importantly how to we move forward?

This summer our Small Groups are studying the books of 1 & 2 Peter. These letters where written at a time when the church was under tremendous persecution and was literally under attack. In I Peter chapter 3, Peter writes this, "Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." I see a couple of key points in this text that can help us move forward to address the current situation that we find ourselves in as a society.

1. Be sympathetic (i.e. there is no winner in this conflict) Both sides of this conflict over race have valid arguments. Both sides have lost lives trying to make their point. In the grand scheme of things it does not matter if we are on the right side of the argument! The only thing that matters is to be sympathetic for the loss of life on both sides and not take a side in the first place.

2. Love one another. At the top of this post is a picture of me and Sam Collier. Sam was our camp speaker and lives in Atlanta, GA my former hometown! I love Sam very much and the crazy thing is that I only met him last week! How can you love someone that much when you only just met him? Simple, what we have in common is more than what divides us. Sam is African American. I am white. Sam lives in the inner city of Atlanta. I live in the suburbs of Houston. It's easy when dealing with issues of race to focus on what is different about our worlds. Now maybe I will never understand everything about Sam and where he comes from but I know this; Sam and I both worship and serve the same Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I love Sam because Jesus loves Sam. Sam loves me because Jesus loves me. This is what it means to love one another.

3. Be compassionate and humble. In the coming weeks, more rhetoric and blame is going to be thrown around for why this happened and what we are going to do to 'fix it'. Let me encourage you to take Peter's advice and focus on being compassionate and humble. Resist the urge to post that inflammatory comment on social media. Instead why not bake some cookies and take them to the police station and tell them 'thank you' for their service and for keeping you safe. Pray for our leaders and for wisdom to address this current racial crisis with humility and love.

These are extraordinary times in which we see ourselves living. But the church can rise up and be the voice of love and compassion that is needed at this time in history. As Small Group Leaders we have tremendous influence and opportunity on what this looks like. I pray for our country and for each of you this week. Remember "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8) and what unites us is greater than what divides us.

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Myth: Our Small Groups Should Take a Summer Break

by Steve Gladen. Taken from churchleaders.com

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:41-43

I am often asked if Saddleback’s small groups continue meeting during the summer. Let me answer that question by asking a more fundamental question—“What are you trying to get from your small groups?”  Small groups are the center of our discipleship, the structure of our ministry, the launch pad of our evangelism, the enrichment of our worship, and the network of our fellowship. 

Whenever you tell small groups when to meet (the day of the week or time) and when to take a break (seasonal times), you are lowering your expectations for all groups. Your groups will never rise above your expectations. If you tell groups to stop meeting during the summer, they will stop—whether that is good for them or not. Instead, we manage groups for health (macro) and let groups figure out frequency (micro). 

The only ones off for summer are kids, unless they are in a year-round schedule. Adults generally only have two or three week vacations. So, why would you want to tell all of your groups to take a break during the summer? Most couples groups with kids get better traction in summer than the school year. Why? Because the kids have no homework and sport schedules slow down. My small group loves meeting during the summer because the kids’ schedules are easy. If we stopped during summer, that would kill our sweetest time of group life. 

Do you take the summer off from your kids? How about your spouse? What about your close friends? I don’t. My friends are part of my small group. I wouldn’t want to miss hanging with them. If your small group isn’t full of people you want to do life with, you need to change that and get together with your friends. 

Summer is also a great time to make new memories whether your group is new or has been together awhile. Use activities (some ideas are listed at the close of this article) to help bond your group. This will take fellowship to a new level and encourage transparency so discipleship and accountability can deepen. Summer is also a great time to develop ministry and missions. 

So, why miss the perfect time to develop your small groups to a new level? 

With that in mind–summer is here! Schedules are changing, vacations are planned, and summer activities may have to be arranged. While summer can be a time for some “vacation” from school and other activities, friendship and community can grow deeper. Here are some suggestions to help encourage consistency, provide new memories, and help breathe some new life into your small groups. Pass them along to all of your small groups.

Stay consistent: continue to meet when you regularly meet.

If one family, couple, or member cannot make it because of vacation plans or other things, don’t take it personally and get together with whoever is available. If it turns out that only a few can meet, still meet. This gives you an opportunity to fellowship in a more intimate group, and it’s amazing how you may grow closer just meeting with the few who can attend. 

Uplift someone or a group in your area.

“Missions Trips” don’t have to be far away. You don’t just have to think globally, you can look locally! Look for ways that your small group can uplift someone in your community. What about a Senior Home to visit? Maybe there is a widow on your block that needs comfort? Do you know an elderly person that may just need a few things done to his/her yard? Your group can also volunteer at a local orphanage, school, church summer camp, or prison. 

Modify group meetings.

Have a Barbeque, Date Night, or Girls Night/Boys’ Night out. Maybe someone has a pool, trampoline, or basketball hoop in their backyard for some fun and games. Have small group at the beach, the park, or by the lake! Our small group has had swim parties, and barbeques with our children, as well as couples only nights for the adults to get to know one another better. 

Explore Rotating leadership and homes.

Commit to have a meeting even if it’s just two or three people. Hosts/leaders, if you’re going to be out of town, ask someone to have the group meeting at their house. This is a great way to start sharing leadership, if you aren’t already.

Involve everyone in an overnight retreat together.

Find a campground, plan an overnight or two-day outing, meet up around a campfire at night, and eat, sing, and have a devotional. Oh yeah! One overnight retreat is worth 26 weeks of small group meetings.

Minister together, do a serve project!

What a great time to help out at church, fix up a group member’s home, do some yard work for someone who is not doing well, or serve one Sunday morning in a way to help your church. See your church for a list of ways to serve as a group.

Experience a night of worship.

Ask each person to bring two of their favorite worship songs. Play them all and share why the songs they brought have meaning to them. If your church polity allows, have communion at the end.

Check out this verse. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more, as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25

So, keep going and have a fun S-U-M-M-E-R-T-I-M-E. Together

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Finding Community as a Leader

As a leader, sometimes leading is a ministry. You pour into others even though they may not be capable of pouring into you. You may not always find community—strong, reciprocal relationships—in your group. If you don’t already have it, how do you find the community you need so you can keep growing and leading? While there’s no magical solution, there are two key ingredients from a post at the ​North Point Church's Group Leader Blog.

1) Depth of Relationship

You have a deep relationship with a person . . .

  • Who brings out the best in you
  • Who is in your corner
  • Who is there for you

1) Frequency of Interaction

  • Your paths cross regularly and naturally.
  • You interactions are face-to-face.
  • You would like to know the person well.

The first step to finding real community is to identify those people with whom you have either depth of relationship or frequency of interaction. The next step is to figure out how and with whom you can begin to experience both. 

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