Whether you’re meeting in person or online, it’s important to honor the start and end time of your small group. Otherwise, group members can finish their time together feeling frustrated or fatigued. You don’t want people to feel trapped. Consequently, they either won’t return or they ‘stick it out’, which can make participating in the group feel like a chore instead of a refreshing well of community that fills their cup spiritually.
The effectiveness of your small group leadership and the impact of your group’s meetings will be greater when you respect everyone’s time. Here’s a handful of practices that can help without making things feel unnatural or awkward:
- Set the expectation of starting and ending on time at the beginning of a new season or study for your group. Let your group know that you will strive to honor the start time and end time that was originally communicated for your group. If you use a group commitment / covenant, you should include start and end times in it.
- Allow fellowship to serve as book ends to your meeting format. Pre-planned fellowship on the front-end helps your group time feel less agenda-driven and more relational because it takes the edge off the start time and allows people to catch up. Fellowship on the tail-end provides a time cushion and allows people to connect more and process through their insights and experiences in the group.
- If there is a set of questions based on the content you’re studying together, plan to get through only half of it. Determine which half is the most important for your group to cover and be ready to leave the rest behind. This helps your discussion time feel more relaxed and more focused, which will increase participation. It also makes space for ministry and prayer, enriching the overall experience.
- Double whatever time you’ve planned for prayer because this aspect of your group-life usually takes longer than expected. A lot of ministry happens as people open up about what’s on their hearts. If ministry is happening as you near your group’s ending time and you don’t feel like it is appropriate to stop, then don’t…just pause. Gently acknowledge aloud:
- The time
- That you feel God is doing something significant
- Even though it’s everyone’s heart to stay…some need to go because of family or work commitments, etc.
- Release them: It’s okay for anyone to go! For example:
“Hey everyone, I just want to let you know that it’s 8:30pm, which is when we usually finish up. However, I feel like the Lord is doing something significant in John’s life right now and we’re to continue to pray over the things he just shared with us. I know you’d all love to stay and be together through this, but I realize some of you are unable to do so. It’s okay to go now. We’ll see you next time.”
- Ask somebody to be your group’s time-keeper. If it’s tough for you to watch the clock as the small group leader, appoint somebody else to help the group end on time. Establish this up-front with the whole group in a light-hearted way. Ask this individual to give you a signal when it’s time to get started or wrap it up. You might even invite everyone in the group to shoulder the responsibility of being aware of the time.
Your small group can decide together how long it wants to meet each time and you can invite people to hang out after the ‘official end time’ of your group to socialize. Whatever that time frame ends up being…stick to it as closely as possible. Meet long enough for people to connect and become engaged in dialogue with others, and short enough so their desire to return is not squelched.
Don’t feel like you have to tie up every loose end and make four-point landings for every discussion. The Holy Spirit is more than able to work with people who walk away from a spiritual conversation with more questions than answers. By respecting everyone’s time, group members will get more out of your gatherings and be more inclined to journey farther together.