Practice #4: Grow in Basic Small Group Skills

Whether serving as a host of a short-term campaign group, a leader of a connecting group or as a part of a leadership team of a missional group, there are some basic small group facilitation skills that apply to them all. In this practice, I’m talking specifically about the meeting. It is my contention—and has been for over 12 years—that missional groups depend upon the meeting much less than those that are simply connecting groups. I estimate that the group meeting contributes about 40% to the group life that is moving in mission, whereas a connecting group might depend upon the meeting for 80%-90% of its life.

At any rate, 40% is still significant. If group meetings don’t work well and the gatherings don’t contribute that 40%, it will steal the momentum from the mission.

Here I want to quickly address some of the key basic skills that every leader needs to develop and even refine as a group moves into missional life:

  1. Meet weekly: The statistics are conclusive. My friend Jim Egli has performed extensive research on this and writes about it in his book Small Groups Big Impact. Groups that gather weekly have greater spiritual vitality and they are much more likely to impact others outside the group. If a group only meets twice per month, it will remain a connecting group. While there might be some exceptions, this is a basic rule.
  2. Welcome people as they arrive: This might sound rudimentary. You might think that since everyone knows everyone and all are comfortable with one another that greeting people as they arrive is not that important, but when we assume this, we miss the opportunity to greet one another with affection. We are not especially good at this in the Western world, but if you go to places like Russia, those who know each other the best greet each other with the most passion.
  3. Eat something together. It does not have to be a meal, but I do suggest that you share a full meal together at least once per month. At least have coffee and a light snack on a weekly basis. Food bonds people, even those who are already bonded. And if new people are involved, food tears down walls.
  4. Manage the space. Sit in a circle. Make sure that the temperature is set right. Put away the dog. Set the atmosphere with a candle. Take care of distracting smells. Make sure that the electronics–if you are using them—is working right. It’s remarkable how the small things done right can take a group meeting to the next level. For instance, if you have a typical three cushion couch, it can only sit 2 people. If three sit on it, the center person’s head will be on a swivel for the entire time. Or consider how shy people often pull their chairs back about two inches so that they can hide a bit. And the most talkative person will find a chair where he can make eye contact with the facilitator because eye contact means “permission to speak.” 
  5. Explain what you are doing at the various points of the meeting for anyone who is new. Don’t leave them in the dark. And don’t use insider language.
  6. Remember that the meeting time is not about the leader doing all of the talking. It’s about facilitating by asking good questions. But I’ll speak to this in Practice #5.
  7. End the meeting at the agreed upon time. Even if people want to remain and talk or even have extended times of prayer, give permission for people to leave if then need to. This is especially important for those who are newer participants in the group. Having an official ending time creates a safer environment.
  8. Have fun!

Good meetings can feed mission. Mission will feed the meetings. They work together. In fact, the more a group enters mission together, the easier the meetings will become.

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Scott Boren
M. Scott Boren is a Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul, MN and consultant who partners with The Missional Network (www.themissionalnetwork.com). He has written and co-written eight books, including Introducing the Missional Church, Missional Small Groups and MissioRelate. He share life with his bride, Shawna, and their four children, all under the age of eight. He can be reached at his website: www.mscottboren.com.