When you signed up to be a Small Group leader in your church, it is likely you didn't know exactly what you were signing up for. You knew that you wanted your group to be great - you knew that you wanted to create an atmosphere where people could "do life together." That's what most of us dream about when we sign up to lead a Small Group. We want to create an atmosphere of family. A place where people can come and be vulnerable - share their life experiences with us and find support among a group of friends. But most of the time there is this X-factor that we are looking to achieve in our Small Groups, that never quite gets fulfilled. We want our group to feel like family, but we're not sure how to quite get it there. Here are some tips for how to create a family atmosphere in your Small Group and how to make your Small Group matter to your members.
1. Share a Meal Together
Sharing a meal together is one of the quickest ways to get your group to feel like family. Not only is this idea of breaking bread together Biblical, but there is also a cultural win for your group when you share a meal together. Eating a meal together forces your group to slow down and simply share life together. I've noticed something almost magical happens in my Small Group when the food is brought out. Everyone settles in and that's when the conversation starts rolling. It helps to set everyone at ease right off the bat and it encourages the group members to get to know one another. The meal time is also important because it serves as a "catch me up on your life" block of time that is too crucial to pass up. ProTip: Sharing a meal together shouldn't be the sole responsibility of the Small Group Leader. Doing a pitch-in style meal at each gathering not only provides relief for the hosts and leaders, but it also helps the other members take ownership of the group. When they feel that they've contributed something to the night, they are likely to feel like this is their group.
2. Create a Group Chat
This has been one of the biggest wins in my personal Small Group. When I started the group, I created a Facebook Messenger group chat that all of the members were added to. You could also do this in the form of a group text. The group chat among our members has become the sole way that we stay in touch with each other throughout the week. It has become the place where we share prayer requests, support one another, and stay up-to-date with what's going on in each other's lives. I've noticed over the years, that many times this is where Small Groups fail to create Family - in the day-to-day living outside of group time. In our extremely busy culture, it can be hard to get your Small Group members to keep up with one another outside of your meeting time. It can be challenging to get them to connect when they're not actually sitting in front of you. This is why Group Chats have become so important in my Small Group culture. It is meeting people where they are at - in the busyness of their lives - and not asking them to do anything that they wouldn't normally already be doing... AKA: Looking at Facebook or texting! Group Chats are a great way to do ministry and truly do life together outside of your group. And it doesn't take that much effort! ProTip: Group Chats can become overwhelming very quickly, especially for people who aren't technologically savvy. When you create your Group Chat, let everyone know right off the bat about the MUTE button, either on Facebook or on their phones. This will stop the notifications from buzzing every 3 seconds when someone sends a new GIF, and it will allow them to catch up on the messages in their own time!
3. Be Willing to Go Deep
One of the best ways to create an atmosphere of Family in your Small Group is by getting to the deep stuff going on in your group member's lives. This isn't always easy or comfortable, but it is worth it. After all, isn't this why we signed up to be Small Group Leaders? We wanted to create a place for people to be real and vulnerable, a place where people could share about what's truly going on in their lives.
My Small Group took a several month hiatus at one point during our time together. When we finally reunited, I allowed for a time of fellowship at the beginning of our reunion, but soon after that I went for the jugular. I simply cut through the chit chat that was happening and boldly announced, "So what's everyone struggling with?" The room got quiet for a moment or two but you could almost hear the sigh of relief as everyone realized that we weren't going to stay on the surface the whole night. One by one, group members started sharing what was really going on in their lives. We prayed for each member individually and we even ended up anointing someone with oil for healing. It was one of the most special meeting's we've ever had and it set the tone for every meeting after that. Every now and then someone will pipe up at a current meeting and say, "So what's everyone struggling with?!" We all laugh and then we know it's go-time. Creating space for people to go deep in Small Groups is crucial for the Family atmosphere you want to create in your group. Don't be afraid of the deep stuff - that's where the growth and connectedness occur. ProTip: If you want people in your group to open up and be vulnerable about the deep stuff going on in their lives, you'll have to lead by example. People won't feel safe enough to risk vulnerability until they see it modeled successfully for them. Being the Small Group Leader doesn't mean you need to appear to have it all together, either. It only requires you to be as real and open as you expect everyone else to be.
4. Serve Together
If your desire is for your Small Group to have a Family atmosphere, then it is crucial that your group spends time serving together. Something beautiful begins to happen when you get your group to rally behind a cause. There is a certain synergy and connectedness that takes place when a group of people begin to work together to see their generosity come to fruition. This past Christmas, my Small Group decided to adopt a local third grade classroom in a poverty area of town. Our group got the vision and big picture of what we desired to accomplish, and everyone rallied to make it a great Christmas surprise for the kids. We went shopping together, wrapped the presents together, and went to the classroom to deliver the Christmas gifts to the kids. It was an awesome treat for the students, but it really was an even bigger win for our Small Group. We got to be the hands and feet of Jesus - together. We got to see what we could do if we all came together and combined our time and resources for a greater good. If you want your Small Group to have a Family atmosphere, make it a priority to serve together at least once a quarter. You could serve together in your church ministries or do something in the community that leaves the mark of Jesus in your city. ProTip: If you do a service project that requires monetary donations from your group, make sure that no one feels pressured to contribute. It can become awkward for people who have potentially not shared their financial situation with the group to feel like they are being put in a situation to give that they are simply not able to do at the time. Be sure to be sensitive to this as you think about serving together. In our Christmas service project, we simply invited people to give donations to the Group Leader if they were able. This way, no one felt pressured and put on the spot if they were unable to give.
5. Have Fun Together
This may be last on the list, but it is certainly one of the most important ways that you can foster a Family atmosphere in your Small Group. "Have fun together" may seem like a no-brainer, but you wouldn't believe how often this concept gets overlooked in Small Groups. Having fun together should be a normal thing that your group is experiencing and I am confident it will be, if you are implementing Steps 1-4. However, more than simply having fun at your Small Group meetings, you should be planning other fun events with your group at least once a quarter. Something as simple as going bowling together or going out for ice cream can really get your group to operate more in a family structure. When people are having fun together outside of Small Group, something automatically shifts in their mindset: "These people aren't just people that I see at church or at Small Group - they are people I am hanging out with in a real world setting." It might sound cheesy, but having fun together outside of your group time is one of the best ways that you can get your group to feel more like Family. ProTip: I know what you're probably thinking... "I am already making a large time commitment as a Small Group Leader. I don't have time to incorporate other gatherings with our group outside of our regular meeting times." You're right! You are making a large commitment already and you are so loved and valued for that. One piece of advice that I can give you: Give yourself grace in this process of being a Small Group Leader. You don't have to plan an extra event on top of your regular Small Group Meetings! Simply cancel one of your regular meetings and go out for ice cream instead. You won't regret it. And you won't be missing out on any growth that would've happened in your regular meeting - you will be growing by leaps in bounds in so many other ways when you're out with your group having fun!
Hi! My name is Stephanie, and I'm the girl behind this blog! I'm a pastor and a writer and a lover of all things chocolate. As you browse the content on this page, I hope you find yourself encouraged and smiling. At some moments, perhaps you would even shed a tear or two. Most importantly, I pray you find hope in whatever season you're walking through. We are in this journey together, and my calling is to encourage you along the way!