I’m currently trying to convince my nine-member small group to get matching tattoos as a public display of our affection for one another. They seem reluctant, but we really like each other. I haven’t always been a cheerleader for small groups, though. Most of my small group experience has involved participating the absolute minimum amount. I love talking to people, but something about small groups can be pretty intimidating. Unless you’re already “in” with a group of people, joining a group where you are supposed to bare your soul can feel overwhelming to a new person.
The feeling a newcomer has when they walk into a small group can be overcome if the group has a plan for helping them fit in and feel like they belong.
Here are three things a small group leader can do to help newbies acclimate comfortably to sharing with a group of stranger-Christians.
Make It Easy to Share
When you’re in a small group of believers, especially if you are familiar with one another, it might be tempting to skip over small talk and get right to the serious stuff. How often in your general life do you get to do that? That might be great for a well-established group, but it’s a nightmare for a newbie (and for the more introverted members of your group). Whether or not you know someone new is coming, make sure you are prepared (in every group time) to ask a lighter-natured question or two—something everyone can answer.
Begin with a low-key environment that lets newcomers talk about easy stuff, like their opinions on non-controversial topics or favorite childhood memories.
Make It Easy NOT to Share
Don’t pressure everyone in your group to answer every one of your questions. When you’re preparing, try to word some questions in a way that makes it obvious not everyone has to answer. Sometimes, the most comfortable first step for a newbie is listening. It’s not healthy for a group member to sit in silence forever, but allow newbies to ease into the sharing scene. Nobody wants to be put on the spot, especially someone who is sitting on a stranger’s recliner looking into a cluster of new faces, so be patient and make it okay for newcomers to watch.
Make It Safe to Share
One of the benefits of being in a small group is having other Christians to keep you accountable. At some point, a newbie will need to share her struggles with the group, and the first time that happens is a critical moment.
Because the leader sets the tone for how the group interacts, make sure that you react graciously when people do share and go deeper in their answers. Make your group a place where people feel safe to dip below what my church calls “the line of shame.” Proverbs 28:13 says, “The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy.”
The Bible calls us to live our lives repenting of sin. Sin can’t thrive when it is confessed and brought it into the light. As a leader, you can help your group respond to confession in a healthy way by helping members remember that nothing they can do can make God love them more and nothing they can do can make God love them less. Remind them that they are forgiven and help them plan to live differently.
Set the tone for your newbies. Make it safe to shoot the breeze, sit in silence, and share below the line of shame.
Scarlet Hiltibidal is a writer living in Nashville, TN. Scarlet has a degree in biblical counseling and worked as a Christian schoolteacher before she started writing. She has written for and managed various online publications. Currently, she writes children’s small group curriculum and articles on motherhood for Smart Mom. Scarlet is wife to Brandon, who is part of the Groups Ministry Team at Lifeway, and Mommy to her daughters, Ever Grace and Brooklyn Hope. Visit her blog at scarlethiltibidal.com and follow her on Twitter @ScarletEH.