The Best Environment for Small Groups

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Does your meeting area have any character?

If your meeting place wasn’t your meeting place, would you want to hang out there?

If the answer is no, then here are some more questions to ask yourself and members of your group. In what kind of environment would they like to learn? To what kind of environment would they want to bring their friends? How can your environment be a place people feel welcome from the moment they walk in?

Be creative. Dream big. If your group gets excited, they’ll share what’s going on in your class or group with others and get them excited.

Your Meeting Area

Stop and look at your surroundings. Be a discerning eye and evaluate what your space communicates to others. Think about these questions:

• Is everybody comfortable? Is the temperature at a setting where it’s not a distraction? Are there enough chairs? Can people sit in them for the duration of your time together without fidgeting?

• Is your room the right size? Is it cramped and a bit stifling? On the other hand, are people way too spread out to connect with one another? Are you in a giant room and it always feels like someone’s missing?

• Does your meeting area have any character? Is it jazzy and bright? Warm and inviting? Or does it feel more like a minimum-security prison? Is there anything on the walls? Does your meeting area convey the character and personality of your group, or at least a sense of what they’re about to learn and why it’s important?

• Is the seating arrangement conducive to good discussion? If everyone’s facing forward, change it up. Chairs arranged around a long table tend to exclude rather than include. Making sure people can see each other’s faces makes for better discussion. Circling your chairs is ideal—get everyone looking at, and relating to, one another instead of just you.

• Does your meeting area appeal to all the senses (or at least not offend them)? What would you rather smell: candles, cookies, coffee, or mold? OK, we’re pretty sure that last option doesn’t appeal to anyone—but you’ve probably been there, haven’t you? And do you really want to go back? Again, make your meeting area the most inviting place it can be for your particular group.


Lighting has a direct effect on learning. One study showed that students in classrooms with natural daylight learn more than 20% faster than students with less light.(1) Also, because fluorescent lighting pulses, it creates additional stress and fatigue, especially if there’s no natural light source to help out.

Subdued, not bright, light is more conducive to deeper conversation. Think about your favorite restaurant or coffee shop. Classrooms with natural lighting facilitate leaning. Whenever possible, use natural light.. If you’re stuck with a room with fluorescent lighting, use full-spectrum tubes, your local lighting or hardware dealer will be able to help you find them. Think about it.


Likewise, music has repeatedly been proven to enhance learning. Music and long-term memory are both tied to the part of the brain that’s responsible for much of our emotions — so take advantage of that. The specific style of music isn’t critical, as long it works as background music rather than foreground music. Soft jazz, classical, or other instrumental music all work. Music not only enhances your learning environment but can be a powerful mood-setter, and thus open your group’s minds and hearts to what the Spirit wants to communicate.

So, your meeting area’s ready. Are you?  

(1) Study conducted by California Board for Energy Efficiency and Pacific Gas and Electric, cited in The Accelerated Learning Handbook, by Dave Meier, McGraw Hill, 2000.

Carl Simmons is Editor of Adult Curriculum at Group Publishing, and a small-group leader for more than 20 years. His six-part small-group series Growing Out: From Disciples to Disciplers is scheduled for release by Group in Spring 2010. Like what you’ve read here? Find this article and others like it at

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  • Jerry Davis

    Wow! I am amazed at the hoops you are suggesting to jump through for a Bible study! Sounds to me like the surroundings, including the jazz music, are the standard criteria for a spiritual learning experience. I still don't understand how a change in enviornment betters the spiritual atmosphere for Bible study! Do these "small groups" meet during the week? Certainly, I conclude, they do not take the place of church services! Just wondering and learning about this new concept that I hear about so often. I am a tradional Baptist and enjoy Bible study as we have in our Sunday School Classes in church. But, of course, I'm sure I would be considered old-fashioned, yet it has always worked in the past, so why the need to change?

  • Andy Gossett

    Jerry, has it really always worked in the past? Which past? Christianity hasn't "always" had Sunday School classes the way we have them today. Our teaching patterns, modes of operation, etc… have all evolved over the years. Resisting that change is the quickest way to extinction, thus somewhere over 80% of churches in America are not growing or are actually decreasing in size. Hoops? What hoops? Are you talking about the part about the area being comfortable, lit well, smell good, in other words, pleasant? Those suggestion are not "hoops", they are common sense, whether done in a home or at a traditional church setting.

  • zev

    i love your article. thanks for the great tips! im from the philippines and my ladies' cell group meets with in a children's room and yes i admit, the colorful posters and books have a way of distracting us. i realized the best way to reach out to more "yuppies" in our group would be to design a room that will suit best suit our needs. the coffee shop concept sounds appealing and the furnitures need not be expensive. comfy sofa with cushions with an assortment of stools and low table would be nice. i find that a snack area within the room is a sure winner. my group likes to linger after a good Bible Study and most bonding and deeper sharing (and prayer) happens over coffee and light snack. lasting friendship develops through these informal settings.

  • Mengistu Getie

    I think this is very important.

  • Andrew Mason

    Great topic Carl! The right setting can go a long way.


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