5 Ideas to Help Small Group Members “Be Present”


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People are going to arrive for small group in five minutes. The house is a mess. The kids are crying. Your spouse is running late. And you have not even looked at the study to prepare. And now you need to lead a conversation?

We have all been there whether we have kids and/or a spouse. Whether we are leading the small group, or just trying to attend our small group, we rush into it feeling frazzled and out of sorts, distracted by the day that has been and the long list of things to do for tomorrow. And yet when we welcome others into our home or walk into someone’s home, our goal is to be present to each other and to Jesus.

How in the world is this supposed to work?

In my last blog post, I shared about improving your conversational skills by offering support responses versus shift responses taken from Celeste Headlee’s great book, We Need to Talk.

Part of the difficulty in having conversations is our ability to be present, not just bodily, but emotionally and spiritually. This can be difficult in small groups when just getting there can be a real chore. So how can we as leaders be more present and then also invite others in our group to be more present as well?

First, we have to realize, as Headlee points out, in order to have a good conversation, we have to give it our full attention. This is a struggle today because of the myriad of distractions we are confronted with every moment. Second, instead of owning the distractions, we try to multitask, which research has proven, humans are incapable of. Unfortunately, our brain likes to think it can multitask and gets an adrenaline rush trying to do so.

Thankfully, most small groups are structured in such a way as to help people be present: beginning with prayer. But I must confess that I am all too guilty of not being intentional with this prayer as a means for our people to intentionally and prayerfully be more present.

Here are are 5 suggestions on how to use the opening prayer to center the group:

  1. Take 2 minutes before others arrive to pray yourself. Helping others become more present will be a lot easier if you yourself are present.
  2. Slow the prayer down. It’s amazing what a soothing, slow prayer can do to help people slow down themselves.
  3. Begin with encouraging people to take a deep breath and exhale slowly. We are, after all, physical bodies, and physical acts and postures can aid in us spiritually.
  4. Slowly read a short passage of scripture a few times, asking people to prayerfully consider what the Lord might want to say to them.
  5. Invite the members to silently pray themselves, specifically voicing to Jesus where they are at.

Q What have you found to work to help people be more present during your small group time?


  1. Thanks for this. I like your tip about slowing down the prayer. I think I too often speak quick prayers and talk too fast. Going forward I want to slow down my prayers. Thanks for this post.

  2. I have led my group in an exercise when I sense they are having a hard time focusing. I give everyone a piece of paper and instruct them to quickly write everything down on it that they are thinking about. After a couple of minutes we stop and put the paper away to look at after our gathering is over. Because all of those things are written down, their concern of forgetting them goes away and they are able to be present. I’ve been told by some group members that this is their favorite exercise I do before a Bible study.

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