Flexing My Rusty Small Group Hosting Skills

Opening a home for a Bible study / home group / small group feels very natural to me. I grew up as a pastor’s kid seeing my parents model this kind of organized hospitality. When I was younger, I mostly noticed the house-prep aspects of hosting home group: the bathroom and main areas of the house had to be clean, snacks had to be prepared, chairs had to be set up in a circle.

In high school, I co-led a youth small group and experienced the role of facilitator for the first time. People had to be invited, and welcomed when they arrived. The flow of the evening had to be gently led, people (and the mood) transitioned from games and ice breakers to study and discussion…fun to serious to snacks. The conversation had to be directed, everyone given a chance to speak, all viewpoints balanced and heard.

I’ve helped facilitate small group meetings/Bible studies since then – the newlyweds group my husband and I led for several years, the women’s classes I’ve coordinated.

It’s been a while since I’ve done small group hospitality, though. So when I started an 8-week short-term study for women recently, my long-learned skills felt rusty. I tried to remember everything I needed to do, and over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten back into the groove.

If you’re new to leading or hosting a small group, or if it’s been a while, here are some of the lessons I’ve re-learned.

1. Coordinate the details. Where will you meet? What time? Do people know how to get there? Do they know what the building or house looks like? When will the meeting end? Does anyone need a ride? Is childcare available? Are there enough chairs for everyone? Enough copies of the materials? Know the answers to these questions and clearly communicate. There is no such thing as overcommunicating with your small group. No such thing. You will think you’ve communicated to the point of annoying people, and you’ll still find folks who say, “Oh, I hadn’t heard that…” Try multiple communication methods – email, phone, text, Facebook, Twitter…semaphore…owl courier. Coordinate the details and communicate them clearly and often.

2. Offer the personal touch. Before your first meeting, call every group member personally. Extend a personal invitation for them to attend. Build a personal relationship with each one of them. Talk to them in person at church on Sunday. Keep up with their lives through Facebook during the week. Remember personal details (make notes in your iPhone or BlackBerry or Daytimer if you need to) and ask knowledgeable follow-up questions about things going on in their lives. Try to get together with your group members one-on-one. Relationships strengthened outside your small group can strengthen the whole group.

3. Facilitate gently. As a small group leader, you have to run the meeting. That’s your job. But don’t wield that responsibility like a ring of power. You are not there to control people, but make them comfortable. And people are comfortable when they know what to expect. Clearly communicated what will happen during the meeting, and clearly transition from one portion to the next: “We’re going to be starting our study in 3 minutes…go ahead and grab your drink and find a seat.”  “We have about 5 minutes left for discussion before we pray – does anyone else have something they’d like to add?” Verbally steer people through the meeting, and do it gently.

4. Give the gift of going second. My favorite concept from Stuff Christians Like is the idea of giving the gift of going second. Jon Acuff rocked my view of relationships when he wrote, “When you go first, you give everyone in your church or your community or your small group or your blog, the gift of going second. It’s so much harder to be first. No one knows what’s off limits yet and you’re setting the boundaries with your words. You’re throwing yourself on the honesty grenade and taking whatever fall out that comes with it. Going second is so much easier. And the ease only grows exponentially as people continue to share. But it has to be started somewhere. Someone has to go first and I think it has to be us.”

Throw yourself on that honesty grenade. Share your own junk to let the people in your small group know that it is a safe place to be real. When you ask an icebreaker question, always answer it yourself first. Your answer and level of vulnerability will subliminally direct everyone else’s answers. When you ask a discussion question, be honest with your own answer. When you share prayer requests, be real about your own pain. Give that gift.

5. Don’t forget snacks. The only thing more important than honesty in a small group is the food. That’s right, you heard me. A small group meeting without snacks is like…man, all I am coming up with here is food analogies: fries without ketchup, banana without peanut butter, pizza without cheese. Something is missing. It’s not just about the food, although happy tummies make happy people, and happy people make small groups much more pleasant. Beyond the actual food, there’s something disarming about sharing a meal together. You have something to occupy your hands. You create natural give-and-take in conversation as you both have to pause to chew (at least, I hope you pause to chew – didn’t your mom teach you about talking with your mouth full?). You make time and space in the meeting for informal get-to-know-you conversation. Food is vital.

What are your best hosting tips for small groups?

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  • twentysixcats

    I have never hosted a small group, but I've attended them. I think, especially if it's a group that is going to go deep into heart issues, another thing you can give your guests is the comfort of confidentiality. At my last small group, my leader had us meet in her finished basement if her husband was home – quiet, cozy, and most of all – away from any chance her husband might hear. (Not that I didn't trust him, but you know…) Another friend hosted small group in her apartment, and her hubby went out to a sports bar for the evening because there wasn't really anywhere private to be. I really appreciated that, on both occasions, the sensitivity to my need of privacy.

  • http://www.howtohospitality.com Becky Miller

    Kristy Miller commented the following on Facebook about this post:

    Know you are part of the conversation. Perhaps Facilitator would be an easier role to feel comfortable filling. Leader sometimes is intimidating. Being genuinely interested in each person, especially related to the topic at hand is helpful. In dealing with those who don't realize they ate taking up too much of the group's time the facilitator could suggest talking more about "that" after the group time is finished.

    I must have the time line on my outline for the "class". The hour or two hours get broken down into six or eight or ten minute segments. That is a great way to stay on track. I simply say to the group that we have so much great material to cover and that it is time to move on to the next question or topic.

  • Doug C

    One thing Mom and I always did. The most important thing, actually. God answers prayers p hat align with His will. His will is His presence. We always prayed for that powerful presence of god. that He Himself would show up and touch each person. That He would go before us and prepare them to be changed. that He would touch each person with a healing hand to bring them joy, peace, etc. That is the central foundation of true hospitality. He Himself is the true host. People are thrilled when they encounter Him, even when they don't know He's there. This is the true foundation of someone feeling welcome and energized at a small group meeting.

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