HOW-TO: Plan Your Next Small Group Soiree

One of the greatest gifts you can give, as a small group leader/facilitator, is the gift of hospitality. In my opinion, this element of community-building (i.e., a good party!) within small groups is often over-looked. I grew up in a church environment where many of my fondest memories of what it means to be church revolved around celebrations and food. As summer approaches, why not make some memories with your small group members by putting together a great party?

Last month, I got the chance to help my mother-in-law plan a Springtime Garden Party for her women’s small group.  Here are all the details, including the Tea Tasting Game that got the party started and a free printable of the promise cards that were included in their giveaway bags.

GardenParty1

This party was actually a women’s small group — a group whose sole purpose was to gather together for a one-time event (i.e., the party) sometime during the Spring quarter. Since a sign-up was the equivalent of an RSVP, it wasn’t necessary for invitations to be sent out. We knew ahead of time that we were planning for 30 guests.

Sidenote: This is a great example of thinking outside the box when it comes to what a small group can look like. If you live in an area where it’s hard to get folks to commit to a 12-week long small group study, why not start with a one-time event that’s meant to help connect people with each other?

1 MONTH BEFORE

GardenParty3

Order party favors/giveaways:

From Beau-Coup Favors, Inc.:

From Amazon:

TWO WEEKS BEFORE:

Shop for tea to be used in the Tea Tasting Game.

7 different teas from Teavana

  • Click here for Tea Tasting Quiz (I simply took the tea descriptions from Teavana’s website)
  • TOTAL: $80.81
1-2 WEEKS BEFORE:
  • Plan the menu.
    • OPTION 1: Our approach to planning for the food was more of a structured potluck (because yes, I have OCD). We handled this by creating a Sign-Up Genius with requests for specific foods, as well as how many servings to plan for. This is ultimately what we decided on (admittedly, this ended up being a lot of food, so you’ll have to adjust the serving size so it makes sense for your group!):
      • Appetizer (6) – Recipe should yield at least 5 servings.
      • Cheese Bread (2) – Each recipe should yield 15 servings.
      • Fruit Salad (3) – Each recipe should yield 12 servings.
      • Quiche (4) – Each recipe should yield 8 servings.
      • Tea Sandwiches (5) – Each recipe should yield 12 whole sandwiches (i.e., 24 half sandwiches). Recipes typically yield 3 cups, and recommend using 1/4 cup filling per whole sandwich.
      • Chicken Salad (3) – Each recipe should yield 12 servings (1 cup per person).
      • Salad/Vegetable Dish (3) – Each recipe should yield 12 servings.
      • Dessert (4) – Each recipe should yield at least 8 servings. Need some ideas?
      • Drinks (provided by host) – lemonade, peach iced tea and water w/ lemon slices or cucumber slices
  • Send an email reminder to your small group members and confirm what they plan on bringing to the party.

GardenParty2

  • OPTION 2: In the event that you would prefer to provide most of the food, it’s actually not that difficult (and this is coming from someone who learned how to cook from YouTube!). This is what I was able to pull together the day before the party:
    • Appetizer: Deviled eggs (I doubled the recipe for 24 servings)
    • Appetizer: Cheese platter (I looked here and here for inspiration)
    • Cheese Bread: Cheese straws
    • Quiche (4) — 1 Quiche Lorraine, 1 Broccoli-Cheddar Quiche, 2 Spinach-Mushroom Quiches (I ordered these from Balducci’s for $13.49/8-inch quiche. In most cases, if you order by 2pm it can be available the next day. Whole Foods and Wegman’s also provides quiches but I think they need 48 hours notice.)
    • Dessert: Mini dessert cakes (I ordered 3 dozen petit fours for about $70 from a local bakery)
    • Dessert: Chocolates (courtesy of Trader Joe’s!)
    • Dessert — Cookies (used a mix for Meyer Lemon Sugar Cookies from Williams-Sonoma)
    • TOTAL: About $300
Timeline for the Big Day (12:00-2:00pm)
  • 12:00: Volunteer #1 welcomes guests as they arrive meet and greet / Volunteer #2 passes out name tags / Volunteer #3 facilitates tea tasting game
  • 12:15: Opening Prayer / Lunch is served
  • 1:00: Time to introduce each other / Announce winner of tea tasting (each winner received a $5 gift card to another local bakery) / Special nugget (i.e., brief words of encouragement based on the promise cards provided in the giveaway bag) and prayer
  • 1:45 p.m. Wrap up and Clean up

Contents of Giveaway Bag:

  • Cherry Blossom Coasters
  • Promise Cards (Click on image below to enlarge)

promisecards

And as a special treat, we also had each of the women bring home a cupcake baked especially for them by one of my mother-in-law’s baker friends.

At the end of the day, the grand total of the party came to around $600 (I’m rounding up to include the cost of tablecloths, fresh flowers, and drinks). Remember — if this were a full-fledged potluck, the cost would be closer to $300 (and I’m sure that if you didn’t want to go all out with party favors and fancy teas, it could cost even less).

In light of all of this preparation and planning, ultimately, our gift of hospitality paved the way for a the time of building up, encouragement and prayer. While most typical parties might be deemed successful as long as everything goes according to plan and all major crises were averted, the main purpose of the group — to deepen our relationship with Christ and one another — was made complete during our brief time of reflection, and as each of the women were being prayed for.

How often do we, as Christians, really take the time to dwell on the promises that God has in store for us in Scripture? How often do we take the time to pray with each other, with the conviction that God hears us whenever two or three are gathered in his name?

This party could have just been a run-of-the-mill gathering of women with the sole purpose of getting to know one another.  What I love is that because it was something that was already understood in the context of a Christian small group, the time of prayer didn’t feel out of place or forced, rather, it was expected.

I firmly believe that those who are intentional about being part of a Christian community yearn for this type of prayer and meaningful relationships (either implicitly or explicitly), we just have to be willing to think outside of the box, to be bold and creative in how we share our faith with others, so that we might go wherever the Spirit leads us. And sometimes, thinking outside the box might mean giving people a great reason to gather together – a party! – so that that all present might know how special and valued they are, and experience Christ’s presence through the preparations made, the people gathered and in the prayers said.

Admittedly, I am (more than) a little biased when it comes to all things planning-related, but I do believe that the process of planning any event, whether it’s a party or retreat or prayer service, is an integral part of your ministry. People know when care and thought is put into something that they are invited to, and you have the opportunity to help others experience real hospitality. In the event that you might not have a knack for planning, I guarantee that you have members in your group that know how to throw a good party, so don’t be afraid to ask for help!

And, while this might already be a given, I’ll say it anyway — begin praying for everyone who will be present the day of the event as part of your planning process. It helps keeps things in perspective and is a great reminder that you’re there to make sure the people are taken care of (and that means being flexible enough to adapt and change plans when necessary!).

What parties are you planning this summer? I would love to hear what has worked for you!

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