People join small groups with different expectations about how often is regular, who will do the organisation and what is private information. It may be that everyone within the group that has started (or existed for a while) has really sensible expectations, but there may be confusion and frustration if they are all different. It is important to discuss them, not to be legalistic but so that everyone shares together.
Being aware that discussions and prayers are not going to be shared (and become gossip) is important to developing trust to be open. However, if the entire content is confidential it becomes very secretive and isolated. We need to find a balance between creating a safe space to be vulnerable and open and encouraging each other in our stories and struggles.
If someone is in danger of harm then that information needs to be shared with the relevant person (with the person sharing knowing that this will happen).
What parts are completely confidential?
If you break into smaller groups, does that become confidential to just that smaller group?
Are husbands and wives allowed to share with each other?
Commitment is about attendance, providing food, leading etc, which depends on the way that the group works and what is expected. Presence is needed to grow trust and honesty. The ideal for a small group is to meet weekly, but if most people can only do fortnightly, it may be better to meet less regularly but have all of you there. However, there will always be people who cannot commit to the same level, perhaps they take in turns with childcare, work shifts, cannot provide food etc. It is important to have expected commitments but also to be responsive to individuals.
What commitments are people able to give?
What commitments do the group need?
How do we respond to those who cannot commit in the same way?
Understanding what different people do is important for not stepping on toes and for empowering people to step forward. If there is a leader it is important to know what they organise and lead and where the opportunities are for others to support. If the study leader is leading then it is likely that they are seen as coming with expertise and they have prepared to share their knowledge. If the study is facilitated then they still should have prepared and learnt, but it is more about asking questions and drawing out conversation. Most will be a combination of the two. If you open any part of the group to others to lead or take ownership (e.g. different members leading the study, providing food, praying etc), it is important to consider whether to encourage by asking people to opt in (more likely to get people who feel prepared and skilled, but could miss potential if someone doesn’t feel able) or to opt out (encourages everyone to take a part and explore, but could have people who feel they don’t have a choice). How we have that conversation is key.
What is the role of the leader/host?
Is your study facilitated or led? What does this mean?
What is expected of members within the group?
Do we ask people to opt in or opt out? Why?
Some small groups plan socials into their pattern of meeting. This is good because it demonstrates the importance of spending time together. It is also important for people to want to be together at other times as well, it moves them from being a small group that meet at a specific time to a community who want to be and choose to be together. The difficulty is that this is most effective when it is suggested and planned spontaneously rather than always by the leader. If someone is a musician, you could go to their performances, arrange something when there is a birthday, have a coffee, invite to a pub quiz, a community production or anything else.
How do you create time for socials within your pattern?
How do you encourage people to suggest, invite and do things together?
Lots of small groups base their meetings around the school terms. For some this is important due to their commitments in the holidays. For others this is unnecessary and can create a feeling of isolation during the longer breaks as their life continues in the same way. Holidays and breaks are important but where they are should depend on your group needs rather than the status quo.
What patterns of holidays and meeting would suit your group best?
If you follow the school holidays (or have a longer break), how do you encourage contact and gathering within that space?
Other things to discuss:
Should we discourage or encourage phone use? Why, when and how?
How do we help people to arrive and leave on time?
How do we deal with people talking over others or during the study
How do we encourage the quieter members of the group?