I love new beginnings. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new year, new month, new book, or the start to a new small group semester; I love the idea of a fresh start. This semester was particularly “new” for us. We’ve hosted a small group for 5 years, but this semester our group became two as a couple from our original group launched their own small group. It was difficult to part with friends we’ve been with for years, but exciting to see new families would now have the opportunity to join these groups.

So here we go, it’s time to get ready for the first meeting of this small group semester! There are a million questions my husband and I ask each other before a first meeting. Is the house clean enough? Will we have enough food? Do you think everyone will get along? What if they think we are weird?!

Our kids had a lot of questions too. The most important one to them was, “What friends will be coming?” When I told them they would get to meet new friends that we didn’t know yet, they said, “So you’re letting complete strangers into our house?!” Umm.. yes, I guess we are. It sounded a little terrifying from a child’s perspective.

All the prep work had been done for our first meeting. The house was clean; the food was prepared and plenty; and we had a Facebook page for everyone to get connected. To top it all off, this semester we had co-leaders who had prepared a game for us to play that would probably result in everyone thinking we were weird!

The doorbell rang and we jumped into “host mode”. (That’s where you plaster on a smile and act like you’ve not worried about this at all.) As people started gathering in our home, I was reminded of the excitement of “new”. New introductions, new names to memorize, new stories to hear, new lives to be impacted. Everyone was introduced to everyone…multiple times. We filled our plates with the well planned dinner and sat down to eat with friends and complete strangers. It was a little awkward at first; I think it’s supposed to be that way. My husband and I did the best we could to make sure everyone was comfortable and engaging in conversation. No one was curled up in a fetal position crying, so I guess it was a success.

Dinner was finished and it was time for our co-leaders to take over with a fun ice breaker. We didn’t really know what to expect, because we had given them full ownership of this task. Now, you need to know something about this couple before I tell you what happened next; they are possibly the most introverted couple I’ve ever met. They like to be behind the scenes and out of the spotlight, so when they walked out in their vintage MTV shirts playing 90’s hip hop, we were shocked!

We were split into two teams, men vs. women. This was perfect because it allowed people to connect with one another as individuals instead of as couples. The rules were laid out, and our very competitive game of “Guess That Song: 90’s Edition” had begun. I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime between Coolio’s Gangtas Paradise and Garth Brooks’ Friends in Low Places, I thought, “This feels right.” Everyone was smiling, no one cared what our house looked like, stomachs were full, and no one mentioned us being weird. It felt like I was sitting in a room full of close friends.

The first meeting was a success! Without realizing it, the group organically shifted from awkward to comfortable within a matter of hours. Our new co-leaders surprised us and set the bar high for fun meetings. As a group, we discussed what the semester would look like: what we would study, how much child care costs, and of course what we would be eating.

Every group is different and what works for our group may not work for yours; that’s the beauty of small groups, you get to design a group that’s unique to you. We bring food and eat together each week, child care costs $5 per family, we choose different studies each semester, and we ALWAYS start our first meeting with some fun.

Regardless of what works for your group, I believe there are a few things that are very important to include. First, find someone who can co-lead with you. Invest in them and give them the ability to grow as a leader. Trust me on this one, you will want someone you can depend on to pull you through on those weeks that you’re not 100%. Second, pray for your group. God has placed these people under your care for this semester and there is nothing more valuable than covering them with prayer. Finally, remember to have fun. No one really cares how clean your house is or what you’re feeding them. These people have joined a small group to get connected and do life with you. Let them. Let them see who you really are.

After that first meet, it gets easier…sometimes.  As you allow people into your home and your life, you will see change happening.  It may be in one person, it may be in everyone, or the biggest change may be how your group impacts YOU! Be prepared to see God move this semester!