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Let’s face it—the “check-in” is an essential part of small group ministry. While it may seem like a small gesture, the check-in period can provide a way to dive deeper into Scripture and fellowship. As a small group leader, this portion of ministry can be really exciting! Not only does the initial check-in provide a space for authenticity, but it can also be fruitful through ministry of accompaniment.
The check-in, or the first portion of your small group meeting, provides a space to debrief. While the initial period of small-group might not seem the most significant, this portion can be one of the most impactful. Check-ins normally last for ten to fifteen minutes (unless otherwise structured differently). Or, some check-ins might influence the remaining time spent in small groups—especially if individuals are experiencing similar life occurrences. Regardless, the check-in can be anything you deem as fitting for the group (e.g. icebreaker question, reflection time, etc.).
Check-ins have proven to be extremely successful for community building. In addition, they are known to help break the ice. As one can anticipate, check-ins can occasionally go “into overtime” (it seems silly, but small groups definitely have a flow). On the other hand, check-ins sometimes might feel awkward. For example, the participants are asked a prompt: “What is a high and a low of your week so far?” One participant might answer,“My high of the week is that I like school, and my low is I’m tired.” These answers are a great first start, but it’s important to create space to unpack why school is enjoyable and why sleep is a low. Combined with this, being able to draw these experiences back to faith is also significant. To make the check-in productive and truly allow for a heart-to-heart, try these four tips during your Bible study!
According to Romans 12:6-8, Scripture invites followers of Christ to utilize their own spiritual gifts. Incorporating these spiritual gifts into check-ins can allow members to feel comfortable sharing their stories. Embracing our own gifts allows participants to do the same. For example, if one of your spiritual gifts is healing, perhaps your check-in of the day could be a prayer activity: create groups of two and each pair will be prayer partners for the remainder of the week. This practice encourages members to pray for one another, thus creating space for healing and compassion. One of the joys of ministry is the organic aspect of it, and incorporating spiritual gifts can allow for creativity and raw conversations to occur!
It should also be noted that utilizing one’s spiritual gifts encourages healthy levels of vulnerability as well. Brené Brown, sociologist and bestselling author of Daring Greatly, encourages individuals to lean into the practice of being vulnerable. While vulnerability may not seem directly tied to the Gospel teachings, Jesus’ ministry actually sought to be authentic and vulnerable. John’s Gospel, for example, represents this bridge between Jesus and the human condition. By showing emotion and leaning into one’s spiritual gifts, we are promoting and encouraging authentic spirituality. In essence, utilizing spiritual gifts are in accordance with Christian ministry.
Sadly, Jesus did not have a social media platform to proclaim the Good News to his followers. Luckily, modern day Christians have Group Me and Imessage! Amen! Prior to the small group meeting, send out a quick message, asking members if they have any prayer intentions for the week. Their responses can provide some direction for how to plan and outline the upcoming check-in. For example, if the responses are requesting prayers for physiological needs (e.g. rest), perhaps a worship song or 3-minute meditation can be useful. Or, if one member alludes to a personal hardship, perhaps journaling could be a good way to allow for some time to process. Their responses should be confidential. In addition, Group Me also has a lovely survey feature—so you can make options for how the group would like to spend their time during the check-in (e.g. journaling, sharing, prayer partner time, etc).
Community is an essential aspect when it comes to “doing ministry.” Moreover, it is often one of the biggest themes throughout Scripture. Psalm 133 encourages individuals to build kinship with their fellow peers. In early Christianity, kinship meant showing love to your family and neighbors. Yet, the same theme of community can be applied to ministry. Essentially, building community (whether in-person or digitally) can be fruitful when initiating small group check-ins.
One of the beautiful things about small groups is the growth that comes along with meeting new people. Because of this, members are constantly learning new things. As a facilitator and small group leader, you might be learning new things about yourself and your relationship with God. Encouraging questions can be a great tool for diving deeper in a community and learning more about yourself. In addition, followers of Christ are all disciples. The word “disciple” in Greek means “student.” Thus, encouraging members to always learn more can serve as a source of comfort when navigating new topics.
When you’re asking questions to the group, acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers. That is okay! As facilitators, you are making a direct and positive impact on the group. Not having all the answers (especially during check-ins) is a normal occurrence, and it is important to give yourself grace. The disciples in Scripture were continuously trying to understand Jesus—and perhaps that task takes place throughout one’s faith journey. If a group is trying to navigate a complex question together, this could also serve as a future check-in idea. For example, if the group has specific questions about Christianity, a future check-in could be centered around asking a minister questions. Once again, ministry is organic and grace is abundant.
Following each group member’s response, express gratitude to reinforce the power of vulnerability. Whether it is a simple “thank you for sharing” or a more tailored affirmation such as “you are a light to this group,” an affirmation solidifies that it is okay to share. Expressing gratitude aligns with Scripture (Philippians 4:6-7).
Similar to prayer, members feel validated when you thank them. Affirmations create a mutual sense of trust and allow for authentic check-ins. For example, if a group member shares a personal story, responding with words of affirmation also help to validate their experience. Showing gratitude also will prompt group members to do the same—ultimately creating deep trust.
Empowerment is a constant practice, but you are equipped to go out and lead: Everything you need is already with you. Yes, digital technology and other additional tools can be helpful ways of connecting, but you are enough! The Live Salted community values your passion and excitement for ministry, and it is your unique experiences that make your leadership style a gift for so many! Rooted in the mission of Live Salted is a deep desire to know and love Christ, and your story is a part of this unfolding. You are a vessel for these participants, and however you seek to structure your Bible study is celebrated by this community. Go forth, be a light, and live your saltiness!
Elizabeth Ekman (she/her/hers) has a B.A. in Religious Studies from Gonzaga University and is currently a first-year M.Div. student at Yale Divinity School. Her academic interests include Catholic feminist theology, moral theology, and Christian ethics.
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