Author, speaker, workshop and seminar leader and creator of the Ungame, the world’s most popular communication game, Rhea Zakich, shares about The Grace of Rain and how to run a successful small group.
Creating the Space for Intimacy with God By Rhea Zakich
My experience has taught me that 80% of the success* of a group has more to do with creating the environment and atmosphere where the Holy Spirit can move…
*Success – members lives are changed in some way by being part of the group.
The book you’re holding (The Grace of Rain) is about learning to listen to God and responding. God speaks in many ways to those who have “ears to hear” and “eyes to see”, and if you listen with your heart, you’ll be amazed at what God will reveal to you.
After leading and participating in small groups for over 40 years, here are the things I consider important when planning for a rich group experience:
Invitation: I listen for guidance to help me decide who to invite. I put the invitation in writing making clear the date, starting and ending times, and the purpose of group. I usually set up a group to meet for 4-6 weeks, so we can evaluate at the end to see who wants to continue. This gives members place to bow out if it’s not what they expected. I ask for a commitment from members for each 4-6 week series.
Size of the group: Depending on the length of time you will be together, be sure there will be time for each person to share something. The smaller the group (4-7), the deeper the sharing will go. The larger the group, the more superficial the sharing is apt to be.
Environment: Privacy is important. Eliminate distractions by closing drapes and doors and silencing phones to enable the group to remain focused. Smaller rooms seem better than large rooms for intimate sharing.
Snacks/Refreshments: I do not begin my groups with socializing over food. Beginning with “catching up” brings in a variety of subjects making it more difficult to focus on the material in the book. I want people to come with eager anticipation to listen for a word from God and gain wisdom from each other. I may serve light refreshments at the end of our time together.
Seating arrangement: The chair arrangement is important. A circle is best so everyone can see and hear each other. I have found that the closer the chairs are together, the more intimate the sharing will be. Sitting around a table seems to keep the sharing at an intellectual level, while being in a circle with nothing between members seems to evoke deeper sharing. I always remove any empty chairs and draw the group in.
Nametags: It’s always good to have each person’s name visible each time for the sake of any new person. I prefer those that hang around the neck with first names in 1” bold letters so those across the circle can read them.
Ground rules: Make the purpose clear at the very beginning and remind each time you meet so everyone is on the same page. For example I might say, “Let’s listen for God to speak to us as we ponder and share.” By doing that, everyone has the same expectation. I might say, “The purpose of our sharing is not to change anyone’s mind but to weave us together as we find things in common, and to learn to see and hear with new eyes and ears.” I explain to the group that “sharing” can bring people together, while “discussing” can divide, so we will remain silent when others are sharing, honoring them with our full attention. That means no questions, comments or suggestion, etc. We will simply listen, let, and love as we wonder what God might be saying to us through their sharing.
Timing: To avoid someone monopolizing the time, I remind the group each session that we want to make sure everyone has a chance to share if they want to. I let members know that I’ll give a signal when I think we should move on. The leader should listen to the Holy Spirit regarding this and be willing to be flexible, but be careful not to let the valuable time be spent on subjects that could be talked about outside the meeting.
Emotions: Sometimes emotions will come to the surface when someone is sharing. Encourage the group to accept the tears and simply be present, supportive and caring. Tears are healthy and words are not necessary. Just be present and accepting.
Silent Spaces: Silent time is important and it’s difficult to find in this day and age. We need time to let go of “thinking,” and empty our minds of random thoughts, so we can learn to “listen” for God to speak through a thought, an image, a scripture, or a memory, etc.
Sometimes I read a verse or portion of a larger work and ask the group to sit in silence for a few minutes to ponder what they heard. Sometimes I have them write their experience before asking people to share. This tends to keep the sharing focused.
I don’t try to cover a large amount of content. What’s the hurry? It doesn’t take much to awaken inspiration in the silence.
Pondering Questions: I use openers like,
What word, line, or phrase stood out to you? (I wait until 5-6 people share something)
What did this bring to your mind? (Don’t be afraid of silence between sharings)
What might God be saying to you? (All responses are accepted)
I ask only one question at a time so members experience “being of one mind.” If they are given a list of questions, everyone’s mind is on a different subject and that affects the group’s spirit of unity. After hearing one or two responses, other members will be prompted to share if enough time is offered.
Remember, no discussing, questioning, or even commenting. Simply listen, let, and love. Let the Holy Spirit be the teacher.