Is there hope for my small group?

For's GQ-060830.

One of the best parts of college life is being a part of a small community of peers that gathers to study the Bible. We look forward to meeting new people, engaging in lively discussion and having fun together in the process. But what if the first meeting feels like a flop?

Here’s the full version of the question: Is there hope for my small group? Our first meeting kinda flopped. People weren’t all that open or talkative right off the bat, and some of these are my friends (but not all). The Bible study part was … well, less dynamic that I hoped it would be. Any ideas or words of encouragement? Is there anything that can make this work better?

This question reveals a caring heart; you’re obviously sensitive to group dynamics and you want everyone to enjoy the time together. (You didn’t say whether you were the group leader or not, but that doesn’t matter for a question like this. Every member of a small group contributes to the well-being of the whole group.) We asked a couple of experienced small-group trainers for their responses to this question.

First, you can relax. Cindy Bunch, senior editor for InterVarsity Press, says, “This is normal for first meetings, especially the silence in the bible study discussion.” Lindsay Olesberg, area director in Iowa, concurs. “Don’t worry. First meetings are often awkward since folks aren’t comfortable with each other.”

What’s going on when people get together for the first time? “It takes a while for people to warm up to each other,” says Cindy. It turns out that groups have a life of their own, and they go through stages. The first stage of a small group involves members getting to know each other. Small-group members are asking, “Who are these people?” “What are they like?” “Do I feel welcome here?”

Some people love meeting new people and can start revealing themselves easily and quickly. Other people are more guarded and take a little longer to feel like talking about themselves or expressing their opinions. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not into the discussion or not enjoying the meeting. Cindy adds, “As people get to know each other more and just get comfortable in the small group environment, they will be more comfortable with the Bible study.”

Lindsay and Cindy both suggest spending some time doing fun things as a group to help people get to know each other. The next meeting for the whole group could be to go out for ice cream or just to play some games together, such as Balderdash or Uno. Cindy points out that “the first sessions need to be heavy on getting acquainted. But bear in mind that some people don’t like to be overloaded with the what-kind-of-fruit-are-you-like kind of questions. One good icebreaker could help.”

Lindsay suggests getting together outside the normal meeting times: “You can take one of your friends in the group to visit a new member of the group and get to know them some.” By hanging out at odd times, you can learn a lot about a person, and soon the group time will feel more comfortable and the discussion will flow more freely.

So don’t worry about that first meeting or two. Be warm and welcoming, and trust that the group wants to be together.