It was our second night of small group.

In the high school ministry at Saddleback Church, Josh Griffin has all of the small groups come together on campus for the first three weeks. He has about 40 minutes of large group program and then we’re in small groups for about an hour.

Doug Fields and I are leading a small group of freshman. He was out of town, so I was on my own.

I had very little planned for our time together. I had a few ideas ready in case natural, free flowing conversation wasn’t working. I knew we would have some new people, so I figured everyone could share a little bit about themselves and we would see where it went from there.

I said a tiny bit to set the tone, but not much, maybe 4 minutes. Once the sharing started, it was close to chaos: the guys weren’t doing a great job of listening to one another. I half expected this, but was hoping for better focus.

Time for my back up plans.

I gave everyone a couple of index cards and moved to something more structured. The instructions: write your name and what you want to get out of this group. As the dudes finished, I had them go to the other side of the room so they wouldn’t distract the guys still thinking.

Once everyone was done I had them take another card and write down a few words/sentences that describes their experience/perspective of church…and told them to keep their names off.

The HSM staff put together a small group covenant, 7 or 8 commitments that make for a good small group. I figured we’d talk about this next. Before reading a single word, several started signing it. I laughed. Loud. On purpose. I said, “you can’t sign something you haven’t read, something you haven’t thought about…it would be a meaningless commitment. Your name is important, and so are your commimtnets. We’re going to read it, talk about it, and then you’re going to take it home and think about it this week.”

I knew who’d I’d put on the spot to read, the kids who did the most talking. They also had to explain why that commiment would make a good small group.

I had each kid grab another index card, instructions: put your name on it, and write down something that I can pray for. It got a little quiter, for about 20 seconds. We had too many people to go around and share “prayer requests,” so this was what we were doing this week.

I gathered the cards. I then started telling a story, when I was a freshman playing football (most of the guys play football). I was three sentences in, and stopped to say: this has nothing to do with anything. I repeated that two minutes later. Eagerly, several of the loudest said, “we’re listening cause this is good.” I finished the story, and it had no point. I could have began the night with that, but I had a reason for not doing so. I’ll talk about why with the guys next week. Some of them may be reading this, and so I won’t say anything else about it now. I don’t want to cheat them out of thinking on their own.

I also gave everyone “homework,” which I talk about in this post.

Everyone stood, so I could pray for the group. One kid started to say, “I have something I’d like everyone to pray for.” I interrupted and said we didn’t have time for that…we have 22 guys, and only letting one share wouldn’t be fair. In writing this, this may seem really harsh, it wasn’t. I made sure to follow up after to make sure he understood why I did what I did.

Honestly, I could have gone either way on something like this. I’m not so sturctured, or so controlling that I have to have everyone follow my directions. In the split second after he started talking, I felt like it was the right thing to do. It was a risk.

Not a glorious begining to small group, but it was a fair start.

Creating relationships from scratch is tough, terribly tough.