Setting a healthy relationship environment is essential to get a small group off the ground. This involves building trust. That’s why the relationship tone is so important to establish from the start. Here are some tips on how to create and maintain an environment of trust to help you get started well.
Set the tone by welcoming
Be friendly. Share food. Before the group even starts, be prepared to ask questions individually that draw people out: where are you from, what do you like to do, etc. Initiate conversations. Introduce people to each other. People will return if they feel welcomed and if they start to make friends. It might help to start the lesson with an icebreaker question, especially during the first few weeks or when newcomers show up.
Expect some awkwardness at first
People are naturally a bit cautious when a group is getting started. Give people permission to feel that way, knowing it will get better. Be patient with the group as people connect. Don’t hurry though relational time to get to the lesson. You don’t have to hit a home run right off the bat. Give it some time and keep working at it.
Don’t be weird
Don’t do things that will make people feel awkward, like asking people to share private things, or to touch each other, or to do some strange group exercise. If you’re not sure what is and what isn’t weird, ask your co-leaders or coach to give you feedback on your ideas. Put yourself in the shoes of a newcomer or person unfamiliar with church ways. Realize that people who have attended church or small group for a while can easily forget what seems weird to a newcomer. Don’t assume that what you have become comfortable with won’t seem odd to them.
Establish group ground rules in the first few weeks
A few ground rules help people understand how group members should treat each other, including things like confidentiality, listening to each other, and accepting each other non-judgmentally. Model these to the group. Talk about these ground rules over the first few weeks. You can sprinkle a couple of them in every week. Reinforce them every so often as time goes on as they are needed.
You only have one chance to build a trusting environment when the group begins. If people don’t feel safe and loved, they won’t come back. Start your group off on the right foot!
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Brainstorm some questions you could ask to help a person feel welcome when they walk in the door the first time.
- Why do people feel awkward when first attending a new group? What can you do to alleviate that feeling?
- What are some things that might seem normal to an old-timer but weird to a newcomer?
- How do group ground rules help establish the right kind of relationship environment?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.
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- [Related Topic: Icebreaker Questions for Groups]
- [Related Topic: How to Make Your Group Welcoming to Guests]
- [Related Topic: Small Group Ground Rules]
- [Related Topic: Get Your Group Off to a Good Start]
- [Related Resource: Small Group Team Page]