Leading a small group is one of the most rewarding things we get to do as Christians. I’d bet every single one of us has a story about a woman who impacted us, created a safe space for us, taught us more about ourselves and about Jesus. Now we get to be that women for girls a few steps behind us. Is there anything better?
The problem is — leading a small group isn’t always easy. We have this idea of what our small group will be like — a group of close friends being open and honest about their lives as they dive into scripture together, meeting Jesus in deep and transformative ways. But the reality doesn’t always look like that.
In fact, often I think we look around our group realizing they just haven’t bonded the way we want them to, girls aren’t opening up as much as we’d hope, and sometimes, the biggest battle is getting them to show up at all!
If that’s your group, know that you’re not alone. Those are things we all run into as small group leaders. And the best part is? I have some easy tricks that I know will help!
So without further ado, here are my 7 simple tricks to getting your small group to show up and open up:
1. Turn off the overhead lights.
This might seem frivolous, but ambiance seriously impacts our experience in a place, how much we open up, and how likely we are to come back!
Think about it. Are you more likely to enjoy small group and open up about your life when you have a cup of coffee, a blanket, and are snuggled into a friend’s couch? Or when you are sitting in hard plastic chairs under florescent lights in the church Sunday School room?
So this is an easy trick I learned from my mom: Turn off the overhead lights. Overhead lighting is cold, and stark, and makes people feel exposed, so turn on some lamps instead. It will make people feel warmer, cozier, and instantly more comfortable.
2. Light candles.
Will this really help? Yes. Candlelight is ambiance magic. Big candles, tea lights, whatever works. If you go to the dollar store, you’ll find tea lights for a buck. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but I’m telling you candles make a space feel cozier, more special, more intentional, and more pleasant. And the more pleasant small group feels, the more likely girls are to come back!
Snacks are such an overlooked thing in small groups — but we all know — if snacks are around, our enjoyment of a situation goes up 100%! In my last small group we would make popcorn and coffee at the beginning of each gathering. It was such a random combination, but we loved it, and I always looked forward to it. Popcorn, coffee, chocolate, La Croix, break and bake cookies… those are definite crowd pleasers (and inexpensive, just in case you’re like me… a small group leader on a budget.)
4. Get comfy.
Whether you’re meeting at the church, or at your house, the more pillows and blankets you can have around the better (here's a podcast episode all about making your house feel cozy). Also — make sure your girls know they don’t have to be perfectly dressed up to come to small group. Yoga pants are totally welcome. I am such a believer that our outsides mirror our insides, and if our outsides feel comfy and warm and nurtured, our insides will too — which helps us enjoy our time together and open up!
5. Gather in the same place every time.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m going somewhere new, there are a thousand obstacles in my way. I don’t know where it is, I don’t know how long it'll take me to get there. I don’t know where to park. And once I do park, I don’t know exactly where I’m supposed to go. It’s uncomfortable, and when something’s uncomfortable, we avoid it. So I like to try (as much as possible!) to meet in the same place at the same time every week. Letting small group become a well-worn part of the rhythm of their week makes everyone more likely to show up.
6. Privacy please.
If your girls are worrying about who is going to hear what they’re going to say, they’re not going to say it. So as much as you possibly can, create a safe, private space where people aren’t likely to walk in or overhear.
7. Help them get to know each other.
Most of us join Bible Studies because we’re looking to connect with other Christian women. We’re feeling lonely in our lives or in our faith, and we just know that it would be so much better if we had some friends to walk through this with.
The problem is — as we all know — we can be in a Bible study with women for years without ever really knowing them. We can study scripture together without ever becoming friends. And if the whole reason we joined a small group was to make friends and we don’t have friends in our small group — the likelihood of us showing up, or opening up is incredibly slim.
So for us as the leader — how do we fix this? How do we help a group get to know each other, become friends, start to trust each other, and open up? (Please tell me I’m not the only one who has frantically Googled, “Small Group Ice Breakers” right before a gathering!)
It took me forever to figure out how to crack this code. And once I did, I knew I couldn’t keep it to myself. So I wrote a small group guide called The Real Girls’ Guide To Taking It All Off: A small group guide to removing the layers between you and true friendship.
It’s a 6-week guide (with no homework, and all of the work done for you as the leader!) designed to help your group get to know each other, become each other’s people, create that foundation of trust and friendship that will take your small group and their friendships to a deeper, more meaningful level.
And once this happens — you won’t be able to keep them from opening up! They won’t want to miss a week because this is where their people are!
My sweet reader Cara went through the guide recently with her small group and this is what she had to say about it:
“My group and I just finished your study, “Taking It All Off,” and we absolutely loved it! Our group wasn't super close to begin with, we were all friends of friends, but now we couldn't be closer. In the study you asked questions that I would never think to ask, and talking through those things together transformed our group. They transformed me! Now I have 5 new best friends, and I'm so grateful to this guide for making that happen. Seriously, best decision ever!”
Click here to learn more about the small group guide. I can’t wait to tell you more about it!
These are simple tweaks and changes, but they’ll help your group enjoy your time together even more, help them feel comfortable, nurtured, known, and help your girls open up.
You are doing an amazing thing by leading this small group — you are creating a safe space for them to have an amazing mentor (you!), to cultivate amazing new friendships, and to get to know Jesus in a deeper, more beautiful way.
You’re doing a great job. You really can do this!