How to Create a Welcoming Small Group Environment

4 students interacting with each other, eating food, and playing guitar

Creating a welcoming, safe, and hospitable environment is key to establishing a small group where strangers can become friends, and even family to one another. Hospitality is the spiritual discipline where you make room for God and others in the same space so that you all may be transformed into the fullness of who God has made you all to become.

Here are some steps you can take to create this environment:

1. Pray

Even before the small group begins, pray for your small group participants: those you know, those you don’t know, those you hope to know. See your network map to pray through the details. Ask God to remove obstacles for yourself and others to come and bring your full, authentic selves. Ask God to help you and others be able to hear from the Holy Spirit.

2. Practice empathy

What do you want small group participants to feel or experience as they come into your space? What do you need to do to make a welcoming space for them (for example, selecting a chill space without too much distraction to meet in, bringing snacks, etc.)

3. Restate your vision

At your first few gatherings, restate the vision of the small group (for example: I hope we can be a safe space for strangers to become friends, have fun, and explore what spiritual faith in Jesus looks like in our lives on this campus). Have new small group participants share what brought them to this small group and the hope they have for your time together. Take extra time to welcome people, share names, and do warm-up activities like ice breakers.

4. Thoughtfully pick Bible passages

Intentionally pick Bible study passages that are short and easy to jump into and out of, like Jesus’ parables. This makes it easier for people who don’t come every week. Be willing to be more loose with your plan and let questions from seekers guide the discussion (this often feels like you’re not following the inductive method, but that’s okay!)

5. Name group culture

Have your small group name the norms that your group will keep and repeat them, for example:

  • We’ll avoid inside jokes and Christian-insider language like “purity,” “accountability,” “discern,” “sanctification,” etc.
  • We agree to be as open and honest as we feel safe and to listen to each other without judgement or interrupting. We’ll share about what would help us feel safe as far as we know it – including avoiding ethnic or gender-based humor. We’ll check to make sure everyone has a chance to speak if they want.
  • We will be spiritually curious as we dig into the content of this small group. No questions are too big or too small. We’ll look for the answers together.
  • It’s okay for people to opt in or out of prayer. You won’t be put on the spot to pray.
  • Conflict between us is a healthy sign that there’s trust in our group. When we find ourselves in conflict, we’ll name that moment, and grow deeper in trust for one another by resolving it together. This will help us grow as people and as a small group.

 

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Accelerated  Resource

This resource has been tested and approved by InterVarsity’s National Strategy & Innovation team for campus ministry. Explore more resources by visiting the Accelerated Small Group Leadership Collection.

 

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Anna serves as InterVarsity's National Director of Discipleship & Growth. She has the joy of innovating and strategizing with staff, students, and faculty around the country to follow Jesus. A second generation Chinese American born and raised in NYC, Anna was a social worker in a pediatric AIDS clinic before serving with InterVarsity. She has both a MSW and BA from NYU. She lives in Queens, NY with her husband and two daughters. Anna enjoys eating adventures with gracious people.