Use your five senses to ensure that your meeting area will uplift your small group.
The poet Stephen Spender wrote, “There is always a tendency of the body to sabotage the attention of the mind by providing some distraction.” Who understands that better than the person in a small-group meeting unable to focus on spiritual matters because of an uncomfortable atmosphere?
Atmosphere is important to aiding interaction in a small group. You can bet that if a room is too hot, too cold, too bright, or too dim, discussion will suffer. The following is a list of advice I’ve gathered. These are applicable if you meet in a classroom, a living room, or a kitchen.
In general, lamplight provides a better ambiance than overhead lights, but make sure to experiment with lamp placement so that you can fill in the shadows around one lamp with the light cast from another. Here are some other useful tips:
- Meet in a circle, where everyone can see the face of every other person in the group. A circle helps everyone participate equally. If you have a couch in the living room where you meet, either do not use it at all or make sure only two people sit on it. Couches kill conversation, says Lyman Coleman, because the people on the ends have to talk “past” the person in the middle, and they cannot see each other easily.
- Be sure everyone sits at an even height. Again, this helps everyone be able to share equally, without any feelings of superiority or inferiority.
- Let your light shine. But not too brightly. Low lighting is preferred over bright florescent lights—just be sure everyone, especially older members, can see their booklets. Lyman Coleman suggests that if you use a classroom, bring several table lamps and use them rather than the overhead lighting. This makes for a nice, homey atmosphere rather than a cold, sterile one.
I recommend that group hosts play soft music as people arrive, but turn it off before the group begins. Also, guard against possible distractions once the meeting starts. Turn telephone ringers off (unless parents with small children at babysitters need to be contacted in an emergency). Put pets in another room, and see if children can play or learn in a different section of the house. Of course, turn off radios, TV sets, computers, and the like during a meeting.
We can get so accustomed to the smells in our home that we don’t notice them anymore: pet odors, last night’s dinner, heavy perfumes, even some room deodorants. As a host, you need to compensate for what might smell good to you, but is obnoxious to others.
- Sniff around. Obnoxious odors can kill a good discussion. Particularly if you have pets or young children (like mine) who tend to spill things in the oddest places, you might want to check the smell as you enter the house.
- Set up a fan to pull air out of your meeting room, providing good ventilation.
- Use smells to your advantage. Research has shown, for instance, that the smell of peppermint helps keep people alert.
Straight-from-the-oven brownies, popcorn or a beautifully-arranged tray of fruit do more than encourage group interaction. They let people know you want them there and planned ahead.
A comfortable room with one person in it may be uncomfortable when 12 warm bodies are added. One expert suggests 67 degrees as an ideal room temperature for groups. Keep in mind that everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to temperature, and if possible, meet in a room where temperature can be adjusted easily. Also:
- Physical touch. Perhaps more important than room temperature is a physical brush, the human touch—a hug or warm handshake. Even the apostle Paul knew its importance. As he told the Christians at Thessalonica: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
- Meet in a room comfortable for the size of the group. A small group may feel intimidated in a large meeting room. Individuals in a group of 12 may feel claustrophobic in a very small room.
- Sit close. Kent Odor says that a “knee-to-knee group” is best.
— Mike Mack; copyright 1998 by the author and SmallGroups.com.