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Resources to assist the small group leader ...
By Theron Cosgrave
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. - Hebrews 13:2
Here's a quick thought exercise: In your mind, picture your favorite hangout place - you know, the place where you can relax and have a good conversation with a friend. Got an image?
How would you describe that physical space? What sights, sounds, and smells come to mind?
Now, putting on your small group leader hat, how can you create that same type of atmosphere in the location where your small group meets? What can you do to make your group setting as welcoming, comfortable, and peaceful as possible? Let's consider some key elements of creating a good group atmosphere.
Location, Location, Location.
As much as possible, make sure that your group meets in a place that is convenient for most group members. While it may be great that someone from a neighboring town is attending your group, their home might not be the best meeting location. Think about parking availability too. Remember, people are less likely to come to your group if just getting there is a hassle.
Make sure that you arrive a few minutes early and arrange the seating (with the host's permission, of course) to maximize interaction. This may include pulling out extra chairs beforehand so that you don't have to interrupt the group during the meeting for latecomers. It also is a good idea to create a balanced circular arrangement of seats so that face-to-face conversations are natural and everyone is on the same eye level.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Eliminating potential distractions is also important. If your group meets in a home, make sure TVs and stereos are off, phone ringers are silenced, and pets are given a comfortable spot in a separate room. If other people who are not attending the meeting use the same space, work with the host to minimize interruptions from these folks (or invite them to join in!). A quiet, peaceful setting will help participants focus on each other and care for each other through active listening.
Consider instituting a snack rotation that has different group members bring a treat to share with the group each week. Breaking bread together is a great way to tangibly practice caring for each other, and it greatly adds to the welcoming atmosphere of the group. Check with the host and with group members to make sure it is OK and to find out if people have any dietary restrictions. If you meet in a restaurant or coffee shop already, you're covered (although there are definitely trade-offs with these locations that should be carefully considered by the group).
Set the Tone
Whether or not you are hosting the group in your own home, as leader you can play an essential part of welcoming people and creating a comfortable atmosphere where people feel safe and loved. Make sure you show up early so that you won't be rushing or stressed when guests arrive. Greet your members as they come in, smile, and tell them you're glad they came. And make sure you create a clear transition between the "arriving and hanging out time" and the actual group meeting time ("OK everyone, it's time to get started so I'm going to begin our group time with a prayer.")
Our Challenge to You:
Talk with your co-leader or with a trusted group regular about how you might improve the atmosphere of your group so that guests feel even more comfortable and better able to engage in the group.