Here are some tips on leading a small group session well. Some are less relevant if the session is online; some are more relevant if you are covering certain topics (e.g. mental health issues)
BEFORE THE SESSION
Prepare in Advance
It may be helpful to read each session and watch any accompanying films before your group meets. Familiarizing yourself with the discussion questions and exercises in advance will help with time management during the meeting. You may select discussion questions ahead of time, or you may allow the group to select discussion questions as they read through the session.
Start on Time
This isn’t always possible, but it is helpful. Your group may want to address the following questions during the first meeting: What is a reasonable amount of time to wait for late participants? How should late participants be welcomed into a session?
Greet each participant by name and let them know you are glad they are part of your group. Consider providing snacks and beverages in order to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
If participants are comfortable sharing their email addresses or phone numbers, send weekly email or WhatsApp reminders with the meeting date, time, and location. Include the title of the session that will be covered each time.
You can easily send emails to the whole group via MyChurchSuite.
Commit each session to God, asking for his blessing and his presence in your meetings. Pray for the members of your group, asking the Holy Spirit to meet their needs, heal their wounds, and answer their questions. Seek direction and discernment as a leader, and then rest in the knowledge that God loves to encounter his people and answer their prayers.
DURING THE SESSION
Work through the sessions in the way that best suits your participants. Some groups may decide to complete the reading in advance and reserve the group time for discussion questions, films, and reflection exercises. Other groups may decide to read through the material out loud together and limit the time spent on discussion questions and reflection exercises.
Encourage Voluntary Participation
Sometimes sensitive and painful subjects may come up, and participants may not feel comfortable or able to answer particular questions.
Please present all discussion questions as invitations, and respect individuals who choose not to share.
It can be helpful to acknowledge particular dynamics or circumstances during a session. For example, if there is a distracting noise outside or if a misunderstanding occurs during a discussion, stop and name it before attempting to address the concern.
Confidentiality is essential for establishing trust and a sense of safety in your group. Participants’ stories should never be shared outside of the group without their permission. However, it is important to communicate that if you believe participants are a danger to themselves or others, you will contact the appropriate emergency services. Please direct participants in need of professional or medical services to a health care provider, counsellor, or mental health service agency.
Create and Respect Differences
The following tips can help create an atmosphere of safety and respect:
- Give undivided attention to each person speaking
- Briefly share your own experiences
- Thank participants for sharing
- Encourage participation from everyone
- Respect that participants may not want to share at any given time
- Be patient when presenting the group with a question, and make time for silence and reflection
- Refer participants to the group guidelines as needed
- Encourage the group to consider and explore different opinions
- Gently alert participants who may be speaking longer than the time can accommodate
- If side chats occur, remind participants to allow each person to finish speaking without interruption or distraction
- If the person speaking goes off topic, acknowledge their contribution and then guide the group back to the main point of the session by asking for additional thoughts
SUGGESTED GROUP GUIDELINES
These guidelines are designed to help create an atmosphere of safety and respect. Read through them as a group during your first meeting, and then discuss whether specific guidelines need to be amended, deleted, or added.
Allow each person time to finish speaking before responding.
Share the Air
Ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate by respecting the time available. The leader has permission to redirect the discussion if it gets off track.
If you disagree with something shared, don’t immediately give voice to criticism or rejection. Instead, ask yourself the following question: I wonder what led this person to these thoughts/beliefs? Make room for others to offer opposing views and diverse experiences.
What is shared in the room stays in the room.*
*Note: Participants’ stories should not be shared outside the group. However, if a participant is a danger to themselves or others, emergency services should be contacted.
This course sometimes deals with difficult and painful subjects which can affect participants emotionally. Decide in advance how you will respond to one another in these sensitive moments. Some options include giving participants permission to take a break and step outside, asking participants what they need in the moment, and offering participants comfort items like tissues, a blanket, or a warm beverage.
You are encouraged to view the experiences of your fellow participants as Holy Ground—a place to walk with gentleness, reverence, and respect. Please keep this perspective in mind when someone in your group shares about their own struggles.