Don’t Underestimate the Environment
Many times when small-group leaders prepare for a meeting, they focus on looking at the study, praying, and formulating questions—all keys to preparing for a life-changing discussion. But there's something else that needs our attention, too: the meeting environment. Setting the right tone for the meeting has a lot to do with the physical environment. Joel Comiskey offers several considerations when preparing the meeting space in his article "How to Prepare for Small-Group Meetings" from our resource Leading 101
Arrange the seating so each person can see every other person in the group. A circle is the best choice. As the leader, place your chair on the same level as the rest of those in the group—neither as the focal point nor in the background. If your home is spacious, move the chairs into a close circle, thus occupying only a portion of the room. When people are spread far apart, it's harder to openly share thoughts and feelings.
Some people feel intimidated about opening their homes because they're not as large or luxurious as those of other church members. Don't listen to this argument. Actually, a small apartment or home generates warmth and closeness and reminds the group that they eventually will need to multiply.
Refreshment time isn't something simply tacked onto small-group ministry; it's a vital part. The refreshment time is often the best moment to ask personal questions, get to know one another on a deeper level, or set a fun and relaxed mood.
If the host home is always providing the refreshments, ask the host if it's becoming a burden and whether it would be good to find someone else to provide refreshments. Or, you could assign someone on your planning team to take care of the refreshment schedule. This gets other group members involved, and they begin to feel more ownership for the group.
Turn off telephone ringers and mute the volume on your answering machine. Put pets in another room or outside. Turn off TV sets, radios, and computers during a meeting. Don't let distraction get in the way of community. Make sure each member can concentrate on the other people present.
If someone other than yourself is hosting the group, arrive 10 minutes early to make sure everything is ready to start. If you begin on time regardless of latecomers, you're sending the signal that every part of the meeting is important.
Additionally, make sure you close on time. I like small-group meetings to last about an hour and a half. Members have a lot of responsibilities, and they might think twice about attending the next week if the meeting goes too long.
• Make sure the guest bathroom is clean before the group begins. Is there toilet paper, soap, a towel?
• The temperature in the home increases as more people pack into a room. Members can become agitated and uncomfortable if there is a lack of fresh, cool air. Be sensitive to the needs of those in the room.
• The lighting should be bright enough for everyone to read, but low enough to feel cozy. If it's too dark, people will have a harder time following along in their Bibles or on handouts.
For the rest of Comiskey's article, and for tips on facilitating discussion, see Leading 101
What do you do to prepare the meeting space? Share your suggestions below.