Thursday, October 16, 2014

How to Have an Excellent First Five Minutes of a Small Group Meeting

You may have read various studies or reports which find that people often make their first impressions of other people within the first 7 seconds to two minutes.  A whole industry has risen up around that concept coaching people how to do "power poses" and "strategic small talk".  All that is well and good if you want to "win friends and influence people" in the business world.

However, there may also be some wisdom in making the best of "the first few minutes" in the realm of small group ministry.  Most small groups are gatherings of people who do not know each other well yet.  Helping people to feel welcome, comfortable and relaxed is a huge goal of small group ministry.  Therefore, it's good to ask "What can we learn from those who have done some thinking about first impressions and strategic use of the first few minutes of a gathering?"  I've done some reading and reflection on just that topic!

The First Five Minutes of Arriving at a Gathering

1.     People need to feel welcome from the moment that they walk in the door.  Being greeted by a host (whether that person lives at the place where you are gathering or is just playing a host role) can be the first step in helping a person to feel at ease in coming to a group meeting.  If I am hosting a small group, I make sure that I am completely finished with any house prep and I avoid getting into any other conversations so that I am free to welcome people at the door.  The host should not be getting people drinks at this point.  You (or some other designated greeter) should be free to focus on welcoming people to the gathering.
       Being welcomed by an actual person who greets you with your name and says something along the lines of "So glad you could make it!" can make a world of difference to a person who might be feeling some nervousness about coming to an event.  If you are a hugger, then hug.  If you are a hand shaker, then shake the person's hand.  Whatever your style, I find that a smile and moment of eye contact are absolutely essential.

2.    Give new people something to do when they arrive.  It's often better to set out drinks or snacks for people to get themselves rather than to have the hosts disappear to the kitchen to get drinks for them, leaving them with nothing to do.  If you are having name tags, that can be a nice thing for people to give themselves to in those first awkward two minutes.  If chatting with people is the thing to do, then make a few quick introductions and make sure that there are people available to chat,  Some people will be served by being invited to help with something practical, like finishing setting up or arranging chairs.

3.     Try to start relatively on time.  It's the leader's job to be aware of the time so that participants don't have to.  Even if everyone is not there, you should honor people's time by getting started right around when you said that you would.  If you have social time built into your time, people should know that and come expecting that.

The First Five Minutes of the Actual Meeting

1.     If people are chatting before your meeting starts, give people a 1-2 minute warning before you actually start.  It will help people to wrap up their conversations and mentally prepare for gathering together as a group.

2.       If you are leading the meeting, once the group is gathered, take a second to look around the room and appreciate who is there before you start talking.  Remind yourself that the meeting is about the people who God has brought more than it is about the things that you want to talk about.  Having an attitude of gratitude for the people in the room will be reflected in your tone as you lead the group.

3.      Any group that does not know each other really well benefits from a brief round of introductions and an ice breaker.  Do not leave the ice breaker activity or question to the last minute.  Ice breakers actually matter a lot.  Think about the balance between light-heartedness and intimacy that you want as people introduce themselves and answer the ice-breaker question.  There is a difference between "What is your favorite ice cream?" and "Who was your hero growing up?" in terms of self-revelation and actually getting to know people.  It takes some thought to not go too inappropriately deep during introductions but also not be wasting everyone's time with random bits of information that don't help to build community.

4.     I find that a quick prayer helps to settle everyone and to make people more aware of God's presence.  It's okay to have a moment of quiet before the prayer.  Center yourself so that you are not just "speaking out a prayer of transition" but actually taking some time to talk to God and tell Him what you are wanting from Him.

I hope this has been helpful.  Please let me know if you have other ideas about how to have a great start to your small group meeting.

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