Nathan Tate was a cell leader in a quandary. He had great quiet time—sometimes during his cell meeting! Other weeks, the talkative folks in the room would dominate the discussion. Some people would appear distracted and unable to focus during the sharing time. Nate was frustrated, and the group’s gatherings would end on a hollow note. How could Nate facilitate the group so all the small group members participate and get their needs met?
10 Ways to Help Small Group Members Participate More
1. Plan to Help Small Group Members Participate.
Nate realized he needed to take a step back and make long-range plans and goals for the group. His facilitation strategy, like that of many small-group leaders, was “ready, shoot, aim.” But people need to know the target before they can effectively work toward it. They need a reason for being together and a sense their group is striving for something, not just existing. People come to a group with different expectations. Without stated goals from the beginning, conflicts invariably arise. Those conflicts can eventually lead to the group’s disintegration. A group with no plan is like Jesus’ story about a blind man leading another blind man—into a pit (Matt. 15:14)!
To avoid the pits, pray for God’s guidance in determining your goals. Observe the people in your group. Ask them questions about their expectations, interests and needs. Formulate some specific goals, and then suggest them during a meeting. Encourage the group to discuss the goals and share any others they feel are important. Give them the opportunity to take “ownership” of the group’s goals.
2. Keep an eye (and ear, nose, mouth and skin) on the details.
Nate started paying attention to the physical environment of the meeting after reading this quote by poet Stephen Spender: “There is always a tendency of the body to sabotage the attention of the mind by providing some distraction.” Some of Nate’s cell group members could not focus on spiritual matters because of an uncomfortable atmosphere.
Keep these in mind when setting up your meeting space:
Circle up, so everyone can see the face of every other person in the group. A circle helps small group members participate equally.
Check the thermostat. Just a few people in a room increase the temperature. One expert advises that 67 degrees is an ideal temperature for groups.
Sniff around. We get accustomed to the smells in our homes, but visitors sense them immediately. Pets, things children spill in odd places, heavy perfumes, the evening dinner, even room deodorizers can irritate noses. Try lighting a few candles or simmering potpourri in the house. Research shows, for instance, that peppermint helps keep people alert.
Make your meeting tasteful. Straight-from-the-oven brownies, fresh popcorn or a beautifully arranged tray of fruit encourage group interaction. They also signal people that you planned ahead and want them there. Be creative and remember to provide for weight-watchers, diabetics and others with medical or personal needs.
Find the right room size. A cell meeting may feel intimidating in a huge room, but a group of 12 adults may feel claustrophobic in a tiny room.
Let your light shine, but not too brightly. Low lamplights are better than bright florescent or overhead lighting. The room should be bright enough for everyone to read, but low enough to feel cozy.
Don’t allow couples to share materials or Bibles. One of them will be less involved in the discussion.
Guard against distractions. Turn off cell phone ringers and mute the volume on answering machines. Put pets in another room or outside. Turn off TV sets, radios and computers during a meeting.
3. Don’t leave out the Holy Spirit!
The Spirit is the real teacher and leader. Nate began to notice how Jesus stayed open to His Father’s moving. In John 5:17, Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” Later He said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (v. 19). If Jesus admitted He could do nothing Himself, why should we think we can?
4. Build relationships outside the meeting.
Small group members participate more when they feel like “one of the gang.” A cell isn’t just a once-a-week meeting; it’s real fellowship. It’s a lifestyle! The early church met together “every day” (Acts 2:46), encouraging each other, caring for each other, instructing one another, etc. Nate looked for creative ways for members to “meet together”: using the phone and the Internet, doing everyday things (like shopping) together, playing or watching sports, whatever worked.