Someone raises an interesting question that everyone wants to comment on. Someone shares a deeply moving need that everyone wants to pray for.
You look at your watch, and it's 10.45.
"Whoa!" you cry, "time these little piggies were all tucked up in bed for the night." Some members shoot out of their seats and head straight for the door. Others linger in the hallway talking by the open door. You stifle a yawn, close the door and switch on the TV to wind down before you go to bed. The light doesn't go off until 12.45.
Time can just rush by at a homegroup when things are going well, when enthusiasm and interest seem to be sky high. But did you notice the warning signs in the little scenario above? "Some members shoot out of their seats and head straight for the door."
Before you read on, just pause for a moment and consider what the typical timings for your group meeting might be.
1. Know your group
The enthusiasm and interest of some members can make us blind to the real timing needs of others. In my current Home Group, there are some single men and women who work in the city, a student, a mother with three young children. Even though they are interested and engaged, I often catch stifled yawns from a couple of them. The reason is that their working life means that they rise early, and are often so shattered by 8 or 9 at night that they are really no good for much else than curling up with Cocoa after 9.30. So even though it might seem to be spoiling the fun for everyone else, you really owe it to them to finish in time for them to get home.
Before you read on, just pause for a moment and think about your current group members. Who finds it difficult to turn up on time? Why is this? And whose life situation might mean that they really need to get home by a specific time?2. Understand how people learn
By and large, people's minds work best in small doses. An hour, or an hour and a half means that everyone will be still able to concentrate and be engaged with the subject (so long as you keep it on track, and don't allow too much digression). Sometimes extending the time you are talking doesn't actually add anything to what people are able to learn and process in an evening.
Sometimes less is more.
3. Leave them hungry for more
I never tire of telling people that good Christian work is nearly always long term, low-key and relational. The real benefits to a Christian's life and discipleship is about growing over a long period of time in fellowship with others - rather than through spectacular one-off events. That is, although individual evenings can have a significant influence, as the Spirit speaks to them from the Word of God, the cumulative effects of being part of a group that prays for each other and works through larger parts of the Bible together is much greater overall.
That has an implication for how you run the timing of your group. It is better long term to leave them hungry for more at the end of an evening, rather than go on for a long time and leave some exhausted. And that's because people will want to come back week after week. Whereas, in the scenario above, everyone will have agreed that they had a great time, but the following week, a couple of people may be thinking: "great time, but I was so exhausted the next day, I fell asleep at my desk," or I'd love to go, but I was so ratty with the kids the following day, that I can't face it."
Have a game plan
My game plan is to start the study at 8.15, pray at 9, and have and allow people to leave at 9.15. I try to make it easy for people to leave who need to. I try to allow those who want to stay for a while to do that. It doesn't often work like that, but having a game plan in mind will help reduce the likelihood of straying into injury time at the end of a long day.
It may feel a little "unspiritual" to work to timings like this. But experience has taught me that ignoring ground rules like this is simply unloving to some group members. So...
Have a clock within your eyeline. Make sure that you have a game plan, and...
Watch the watch!