How to Start a Small Group

Get motivated and get the word out.

Instead of giving up something for Lent this year, I decided to start a small group that would use Christ Is for Us. After working on the book last year, I was eager to share the published version, so I committed to prayer, put out the word, invited anyone interested to join me, and together we decided on a mutually agreeable time. We are women and men; single and married; with young children, school-aged children or no children; taking part with our spouse or on our own. We’ve rescheduled the laundry, arranged for child care, gotten out of the house and over to the church earlier than usual–all in the interest of getting together to deepen our faith and strengthen community together.

Be ready to experiment and see what God will do.

I thought we’d give it a try for three Saturdays in a row, then see what we might decide from there. Although we had all agreed that Saturday 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. was the best time–and some thought maybe the only time–we had to meet, I wondered whether a Saturday morning time would be sustainable. With my leading a creativity retreat in Ottawa this Saturday, I knew that three Saturdays in a row would be my limit, and maybe that time would prove challenging for others too. What’s more, since most were new to this kind of group or hadn’t been in one for a while, I wondered how it would go. Maybe we would meet for the three weeks and then decide to finish the book on our own. Maybe the group would continue even while I was away. I was excited to experiment and see what God would do.

Share your hopes and life together.

In our first session, I asked each person to share their hopes for the group, then we focused our conversation on the theme of the first week, A Place to Begin. Some had already given up chocolate or other habits for Lent, while others hadn’t. I felt encouraged by the breadth and depth of our sharing, and the way we listened well to one another. We ended with prayer, and for the following week we decided that I’d put on the kettle for tea, someone else would bring muffins, and we’d continue with Faith for the Journey and then Renewed by the Spirit over the next two weeks.

Focus on relationships, not numbers.

We had a few more people for our second session, a few less for the third, and by then we had established our rhythm as a group:

  • tea and muffins ready for our gathering,
  • introductions and/or personal check-in so each could share about their week,
  • a brief summary of the week’s theme and Scripture readings,
  • focusing on any highlights and questions from the group, supplemented by questions in the book,
  • conclusion and prayer.

Let the group take shape.

I loved the way our rhythm developed organically over our first few weeks together–not as a five-point outline or a model imposed on the group, but growing out of our sharing that precious morning time together.

This last Saturday, we also decided:

  • we’d like to finish the book as a group,
  • we’ll switch to meeting every second Saturday instead of every Saturday,
  • we’ll switch to meeting in a home instead of the church fireside room,
  • we’d like to continue inviting others.

Although Christ Is for Us is a resource for Lent, the overarching theme is bigger than just this time of year. Jesus journeys with us through Lent and always, so the book will still work well for us after Easter.

Plan ahead.

But, asked one person, how does our meeting together work with what you wrote in the book about needing to release? Do you have time to meet?

I assured the group that I would have time – since we’re using material I wrote last year, my additional preparation is minimal; we’re not meeting every Saturday; we’re meeting early enough and for a limited enough time that there’s still a lot of morning left; others could take a turn leading; and besides, I love getting together.

Since then though, I’ve thought more about his question, and re-read this part of the book in response to the complaining of the Israelites in Exodus 17:1-7 :

A few years ago, instead of a new year’s resolution, I chose just one key word to help give focus to my year. My one word was “release,” a word that came to me in the midst of preparing for Christmas. I still needed to write my annual Christmas letter, send out cards, buy a few more gifts to mail away, find readers for Christmas Eve, plan the Christmas Day service, figure out what I was going to bring to the Christmas Day potluck, get ready for our family Christmas on the following day. . . . Whew! It seemed as if my to-do list was getting longer instead of shorter.

“But why? Why take on all of those things?” said the still, small voice underneath all of my hectic preparations. Why not simply release them? I imagined myself releasing my life to God—not only for the Christmas season, but for the coming year—letting go of the things I clutched so tightly and allowing more room for God’s Spirit to work.

I started practicing that Christmas, and “release” became my word for the new year, a word that I kept coming back to again and again. Instead of complaining that I had too much to do, I let some things go, not because they were bad but because they were simply too much. Some things were taken up by others; some things simply faded away. As I practiced releasing again and again, I discovered again and again that God remained faithful and granted me renewal.

When the year was over, I moved on to a new word, but living with “release” for that year was a healthy and helpful discipline for me. I think it would have helped the Israelite people too. Instead of longing for Egypt and remembering it as so much better than it was, what if they had been able to release their old life of slavery and embrace God’s new future for them? What if they had rested in the faithfulness and sure provision of God instead of complaining at Massah and Meribah? Perhaps then Rephidim might have truly been their resting place.

Be Thankful.

Re-reading this excerpt makes me realize how thankful I am that someone had posed the question, as it applied Christ Is for Us in a thoughtful, practical, and life-giving way that challenged me to think more deeply. Did I have time to add an on-going group to my already full schedule? Would it become too much of a good thing? Was there something else I needed to release instead?

I’m still mulling this over in prayer, but I already have some ideas about how to shift some things to better accommodate our Saturday morning time. That’s another benefit of being part of a small group – to deepen faith, strengthen community, and ask good questions.

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Writing/Reflection Prompt: There’s so much more that could be said about how to start a small group. This post is simply my experience this time around. Are you part of a group using Christ Is for Us or other material during this time? How is your group going?

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Categories: Church and Ministry

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3 replies

  1. April, these are some very practical and helpful ideas about starting a small group. I especially liked what you wrote about the word “release” under the section “plan ahead.” Being able to let go when there is too much on our plate is very important, but also very difficult for high achievers.

    • Thanks for stopping by. I hope others will find this post helpful too – both for starting a small group and for taking stock to discern what commitments to make and what things to release.

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