I met with one of our small group leaders yesterday who felt his group had got a little flat of late. I’m sure many of us can identify with his feeling. Attendance had got patchy, people were turning up 20 minutes late, and discussion rambled on unenthusiastically. We talked about how to address his situation. Part of it is a little bit of ‘stick’ to encourage them to be there, and be there on time, but we talked more about ‘carrot’ – how to make their times together enjoyable to the point of being unmissable. Here’s what I suggested in a nutshell:
1. Start on time (and let people know you’ll be starting on time). For those that are a bit particular about time (like me!) you don’t want to turn up on time and sit around waiting for 20 mins. You want to get in and get on with it.
2. Keep your opening icebreaker/devotional brief. It’s a 3-4 minute slot to get everyone focused on what you’ll be doing. If it drags out to 15 mins people will get frustrated that you haven’t really got into what you’re there for yet.
3. Keep the discussion moving. I’m not a great fan of the long list of closed questions Bible study. I think often the answers are so obvious that people are too embarrassed to answer them – it just creates an awkward dynamic. Further they can turn into an opportunity for clever people to look clever and less clever people to feel stupid. Not good! Instead think of your discussion like a train journey. You know where you’re starting, and where you’ll finish, and the stops you want to make along the way. You want a bit of structure with flexibility built in. And keep it going. However long your groups give to discussion stick to it. If you let discussion run on and on some will love it and some really won’t. You’ll also end up squeezing out your prayer time into a rushed five minutes at the end.
4. Leave good space at the end to share and pray together, and be sure to finish on time. Again, the time nerds will greatly appreciate it, as will the people who have to be up early.
I’m aware this may sound a bit mechanical. I’m certainly not saying that your groups ‘hang’ time is incidental or unimportant. I actually think those times are really important and can actually get unhelpfully squeezed out by long rambly ‘formal’ discussion time. But I do think that for many people, who turn up tired (and often unmotivated) you need to keep things moving – good energy, good pace, starting and finishing on time – it just helps put a bit of zip back into your small group meetings.
What do you think?