By Allen White
I have to admit that including new members into your small group is a bit like the Junior High dance. (For the record, I didn’t attend Junior High dances. They were believed to be sinful, but that’s just my
Awkward is what I am talking about. The whole group very quietly and politely freaks out. “Who are these new people? Can I share like I normally do in group? Will they repeat what they hear at the meeting? Why can’t they find their own group?!”
To be fair and balanced, there is some freaking out happening in the other direction as well. “What is this group like? Will they accept me? Will they judge me? Will they think what I have to say is dumb?” Wow, with all of this going on, no wonder everyone wants to close their groups.
Here are some ways to keep the freaking out to a minimum:
1. When new members join your group, it’s a good time to review your group’s ground rules or covenant. Every group should articulate their expectations. Whether they are written down or just announced, it’s important to let new members know what is expected of them and to remind current members as well. Your group’s ground rules don’t need to be elaborate, but it should address things like when and where the group meets, confidentiality, childcare, starting time and ending time, listening rather than “fixing” especially during prayer times, and other things that are important to your group. You might want to include letting the group know when you have to miss. Also, if your group passes around the leadership, then let the new members know that they will lead the discussion at some point, host the group in their home, or provide refreshments.
2. Fill new members in on inside jokes. Every group has a history. Things happen over time become woven into the fabric of group life. In my group, the guys will occasionally ask “What about Bob?” It’s a reference to the movie and to Bob, who is one of our original group members. When that comes up, we just stop to explain what we’re talking about. Bob started his own group, but still joins us from time to time. They will look forward to meeting Bob, and they may even start asking the question themselves.
3. Be patient with new members. They will learn the rhythm of your group, if you don’t scare them off. They will learn how long an appropriate comment should be. Does your group speak in sentences or paragraphs? Give them time, and they will get a feel for the ebb and flow of the group’s conversation.
Adding new members can make everyone uncomfortable. The good news is that God never called us to be comfortable. New members mix things up a little bit, which is good for all of us. They will question things about the group that are long-established, which makes us rethink why we do what we do. That’s a good thing.
Rather than scratching our heads wondering why we can’t just get things back to the way they used to be, we should thank God for the continuing ministry of our group. After all, groups with no new members, eventually become groups with no members at all.