The First Five Minutes, Part 2
Start on time.
That may sound trivial, or persnickety, or overly formal for a
group. Whatever. Start on time.
"But, if we were to do that, half our group isnít there and they
would miss it." Start on time. One of the reasons people show up
late to church events is the leadership is in the habit of starting
late. We reward the people who are late by accommodating their
lateness. We punish the people who are on time by not starting on
I would not have thought this was any big deal if it were not for
my wife. She does training with me. She trains children and
preschool workers, while I train adult workers. She has a talk
called K.I.D.T.E.A.C.H. The "A" in this acrostic "Arrive early."
When she first told me that I thought it was a little trivial. But,
based on the feedback she has gotten from church leaders across the
country, I have come to see the importance of bringing this up. She
has told me story after story after story of people who have come up
to her after conferences and thanked her for bringing the time issue
up. "It is a real problem around here," people will confide in her.
All of the things we talked about in the last chapter can only
happen if we are there on timeĖearly in fact. Often visitors are
nervous about being able to find their way so they show up early. It
is pretty bad if they show up before the people who are in charge.
Show up early. Start on time.
Life exposure question
I always start a group the same wayĖwith what I call a life
exposure question. The life exposure question does not have to do
with the Bible; it has to do with life. It opens the window of each
personís life and letís us peer in. Here are some examples from some
recent lessons I have written for
The Lesson Vault:
- Letís each share our name and one favorite fruit.
No one gets to repeat a fruit. (The question relates
to that dayís study and this verse: "You did not
choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go
and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the
Father will give you whatever you ask in my name."
John 15:16 (NIV)
- Letís each share our name and how many Christians
you work with, or how the people you work with feel
about Christians. (The lesson that day had to do
with being persecuted. This verse sets the stage for
- Share your name and one time you have been
robbed. (The lesson included John 10.10, "The thief
comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have
come that they may have life, and have it to the
full." John 10:10 (NIV)
As you can see, I try to relate the life exposure question to the
lesson of the day. This allows the life exposure to do double duty.
The life exposure question can fulfill two purposes at the same
timeĖit exposes a bit of the groupís life to each other, and it
helps to teach the lesson itself. (Another example of double duty is
using biblical illustrations to make a point. By using a biblical
illustration from another place in the Bible, you illustrate your
point, while at the same time reminding the group of a biblical
Sometimes, I canít think of a question that relates to the
lesson, so we canít come up with a question that can do double duty.
In this case, I resort to a totally trivial question:
Share your name and your favorite restaurant.
Share your name and your favorite fast-food restaurant.
Share your name and your favorite burger.
Notice, we always start with "share your name and." If the group
is doing any kind of outreach, there will be people there who do not
know each other. Or, more likely, they kinda know each other, but
they canít remember that name. If you feel strongly that you donít
need to do this, I have a thought for you to consider: maybe you
need to do more outreach. If everyone there knows the name of
everyone there, it is time to go out and get some new people. The
best way to do that is through parties. Have a party once a month
and invite every member and every prospect. That is a great idea,
but not the subject of this book.
Benefits of life-exposure questions
They get everyone talking.
I often encourage groups to engage in a question and answer style
of teaching, rather than a lecture style. Sometimes, people object.
Their objections go something like this. "But our group doesnít
talk. They donít like talking. They like hearing me talk. They are a
listening kind of group and I am a lecturing kind of teacher. We are
a match made in heaven. I talk. They listen."
Or, sometimes people will say, "I tried to get my group talking;
they just didnít want to open up. It was awkward."
Here is what I have found. If you can get everyoneís mouth open
in the first part of the hour, it goes a long way toward creating a
discussion during the rest of the hour. Sometimes, you get their
mouths open and you canít get them shut, but that is a topic for
another day. Life-exposure questions get groups talking.
They create connections
I have seen it happen a million times. We ask a question like,
"Share your name and where you were born." Someone says, "I am Bob
and I was born in Baltimore." Some shy person from across the room
will say, "No way! I was born in Baltimore. Arenít the crabs the
best there?" "Absolutely, best crabs on the eastern shore. What is
your favorite crab place?" About this time you might have to
encourage the group to continue this crab conversation after class.
Over time, these little connections turn a group of strangers
into a group of friends. It doesnít happen in a day. It doesnít
happen in a week, but, week after week, layer upon layer, this kind
of experience creates a groupness. It creates a bond, a sense that
we know each other and love each other and know one anotherís
stories. We feel connected.
They allow everyone to participate
When we get into the Bible study itself, some will be hesitant to
participate. Perhaps they donít know very much, or they are just
especially sensitive about being wrong. For a hundred reasons, it is
difficult to get 100% participation during the Bible study time
itself, although we push in that direction. But, during this time,
everyone can participate. Everyone may not know the meaning of the
word perdition, but everyone knows where they were born.
Making Life-exposure questions work
You want these to go quickly. Spend five minutesĖmaxĖon this
question. If your group is so big you canít get to everyone in five
minutes, you might consider creating another group, but, again, that
is a topic of another book. This question needs to go fast.
We get fast by modeling fast. Iíd start this way, "Letís all go
around the room, sharing our name and favorite restaurant. I am Josh
and my favorite restaurant is any Mexican food restaurant. Next." By
modeling fast, you give everyone the hint that you donít want the
complete Zagatís guide restaurants in your town. The life-exposure
question is important, but it is important that it be done quickly.
I would prepare this question ahead of time, rather than dreaming
it up on the fly. The reason is safety. Make sure this question is
safe and wonít embarrass anyone. You want to make sure that this
question canít go wrong. Please learn from my mistakes on this.
I was teaching a singleís group once and came up with this
question off the top of my head: "Letís all share our name and how
old you were when you fist kissed someone of the opposite sex. Not
your sister or your mother, but an honest to goodness romantic
kiss." My line of thought with that question was that singles donít
do a lot of kissing, so maybe they would enjoy talking about it.
And, we did have some fun. One gal was four and we kidded her
playfully. One guy was nineteen and we ribbed him a bit. Then we got
to one gal, and, (how do I say this gracefully?) not the prettiest
gal in the room. In the south they would say it this way, "Bless her
heart, she was not much of a looker." In the South you can say
anything about anyone, no matter how blunt or rude as long as you
proceed it with, "Bless her heart."
Anyway, this gal, bless her heart, not the prettiest in the room
confessed, "I am twenty-nine and I have never been kissed." Ouch.
I hurt her. I crushed her. If she is in a group twenty years from
now and the question was, "Who can tell us about a moment when you
were really embarrassed," that moment in my group would come to
mind. Learn from my mistakes. Think through these questions ahead of
Let me ask you to work on this a bit by filling out the following
What is wrong with it
State your name and where you graduated from
State your name and what is your favorite
How did you do? Here is my answer. The first question is bad
because there may be someone in the room that didnít graduate from
High School, but they donít particularly want to talk about it. You
can get at roughly the same information by asking the group, "State
your name and where did you live during your teenagers years." They
may not have graduated, but they did live somewhere.
The second question is a bad one because, sad to say, most people
donít read. Most people have not read a book in years, and many have
never read a book. This is a point of embarrassment to many people
because, although they donít read, they feel like they should.
I remember getting my hair cut one time and had just stopped by a
book store and picked up a new book. I was fired up about it and was
reading while I was getting my hair cut. I was reading until the
lady cutting my hair began to confess her guilt. "I feel so badly. I
should read more. I hardly ever read. I know I should." I am not
sure why people feel they should read but donít read. All I
know is that is fairly common for people to feel badly about the
fact that they donít read.
What about prayer?
You might notice that I didnít suggest we start the group time
with prayer. This may seem odd to some. Here is what experience has
taught me on the matter. If you start with prayer requests, it can
take a long time, especially as the group gets to know one another
well. If you are not careful you can spend half the hour talking
about prayer requests. This kind of thing can ruin you group.
(Notice, I did not say too much prayer can ruin your group; I said
too much talking about prayer requests can ruin your group.) We want
to spend some time discussing prayer requests, but not half the
time. Thoughtful people will get restless and anxious for us to get
to the lesson.
The solution to this dilemma is as simple as it is effective. Do
prayer requests last. Leave five or ten minutes at then end for
prayer requests and prayer. People are not nearly as apt to talk and
talk and talk about prayer requests at the end of the hour as they
are at the beginning of the hour. My practice, then, is to do prayer
requests and prayer last.
The first five minutes set the tone for the rest of group time.
The first five minutes after people walk in should be filled with
greetings, introductions and small-talk. The first five minutes of
the group time itself should be around a life exposure questionĖeach
person peeling back the layer of their lives just a bit. With this
beginning, we are ready to get into the Bible study.