I love having small groups gather in my home. In addition to forcing me to tidy up my house, we get to experience, close up, a kingdom value which is high on my list-- living life together. One of the benefits of our church not having a building is that we are forced to go to one another's homes, which weaves us together in a deeper, more organic way than just meeting in a more neutral, less personal venue.
However, hosting small groups in one's home is not without costs and an excellent small group experience at a home necessitates some thoughtfulness and wisdom. I thought it might be helpful to share a few tips and perspectives that I've gathered from people over the years on how to do a good job hosting a gathering in your home.
Before the meeting:
1. On cleaning up your house: It's natural for you to want to welcome your guests into a nice looking setting and, in general, clutter is not restful. However, please keep in mind that you don't have to be Martha Stewart. Vaccuum and put out chips if you want to but you should know that what people really want is simply a place to gather and focus on God and each other. If they can do that, the rest is gravy.
2. Consider the physical temperature. One practical thing that you will want to think about is whether your gathering space will be too hot or too cold. Remember that your house will be filled with people, and the collective body heat will raise the thermometer within 20 minutes of the meeting's starting time.
3. Consider the spiritual temperature. Take a few minutes before people show up to sit down and get a sense of how you are doing as a host. Frazzled? Anxious? Give those things to Jesus. If you are having tension with your co-hosts (housemates, kids, spouse?), take a minute to express love, appreciation and a desire to reconcile or reconnect later. Make sure that you take some time to pray that the Holy Spirit would fill the space of your home.
During the gathering:
4. One of the most important things that you can do is to make sure that each person is welcomed warmly and personally as they walk through your door. This might mean a hug or a handshake or a "so glad that you came!" Studies show that the first 7 seconds that a person is in a new place or meets a new person makes a tremendous impact on their overall sense of comfortability in the long term. Sharing a smile and making eye contact with each person who walks through your door is very important to helping someone to feel like they are wanted and welcome at a gathering.
5. Let people help out. There are usually a lot of dishes and moving of furniture etc. You will be a much better member of your group if you are not the only one taking care of the practical things around your house. It's easy to wave people off at first and let them just chat while you do all of the clean up but this is neither healthy for a group nor is it very sustainable long term. Group participants will take their cues from you regarding whether it's ok for them to help out with things that need to be done. I find that it's helpful to create a culture of everyone pitching in from early on. Don't just depend on people asking to pitch in, invite them to do so. Show people where the paper plates are, how to take the trash out and how you like your dishes done. You will not regret this!
After the gathering:
6. If people are having a good time and staying past your bedtime, feel free to gently but directly tell them that you need to head toward bed and that you look forward to seeing them again soon. People are much more served by direct communication when it comes to these boundaries rather than indirect irritation.
7. If you are hosting the group on a regular basis, ask a trusted group member for any feedback on your hosting style. Do your pets smell? Are your kids distractingly loud? Are you too much like Martha and not enough like Mary? If you give people permission to give you feedback, you are more likely to get an honest answer and you are more likely to be a good, happy host.
8. Take some time to ask yourself how it's going hosting. What do you enjoy and what is burdensome to you? Are there ways that you need to ask others to help out more? Are there systems that need to be recreated so that it works better for you? For example, someone who hosted a small group in her home each week realized that she really enjoyed hosting but it would help if the group met at someone else's place once a month so she could have a break. You don't have to keep doing something just because it was set up this way. Ask yourself and ask God how you can be thoughtful and creative about hospitality so that it continues to be a joy to serve.
Do you have any other thoughts that you would add? Please feel free to comment.