Introducing a new participant into the pre-existing group is one of the most difficult challenges present in G4 because our groups are open and can be joined at any time. Adding a new group member to a group that has already built trust can be difficult and that means that the method that is used in each group might vary slightly while the purpose remains the same. New participants should feel welcome by the group and have an opportunity, as much as they are willing, to share a portion of their story. Because each group is different in size and composition, this is much more like an art than a science. Done well, this can allow for a major win, by allowing participants at different stages in their journey to serve as either a reminder of how far they have come or the hope they have before them.
- Introduce Yourselves
New participants will have met at least one of the group leaders prior to coming into group when they were checked-in for the first time. Depending on how early the participant arrived they might have had a chance to get to know some of the back story for the leader or give some of their own. Having even a brief conversation prior to coming into the G4 group space allows the participant to feel more comfortable and will remove some of the initial fear.
Typically, the best method of starting group when a new participant is present is to introduce yourself to the entire room even though most will know who you. In your introduction, it is helpful to share a small piece of your story with the group so that the new participant is able to know a bit more about you and can begin to relax in the room. For groups with leaders and co-leaders it is best to allow time for each of you to introduce yourself for the group, spending about 2-3 minutes on each introduction. Having each leader introduce themselves to the group again also acts as a model introduction for the other participants.
One of the most immediate ways to earn trust in a group setting such as this is to allow individuals to hear your purpose and your passion. Therefore, during your introduction, explain the reason that you first came to G4 as a participant or as a volunteer. Sharing the details of your own personal struggle with either sin or suffering allows the new participant to feel understood and as if they belong, perhaps for the first time.
- Allow/Ask Others to Introduce Themselves
One of the quickest way to build trust in a group is for new participants to know others and to feel known in a safe environment. While it is unlikely that all of this can take place in a single night, it is possible to make progress towards this goal in a first meeting. Allow for new participants to have the opportunity to hear not just from the leadership but from the group as well. This step will be done in a way that is largely dependent on the group size and composition.
For smaller groups with 3-5 participants, it might be possible to allow each group member to give each group member a chance to briefly introduce themselves in 2-3 minutes. As much as possible, these introductions will look like the introductions done by the leaders. Again, these introductions should give a glimpse into the story that has lead participants to joining G4 and the progress that has been made since joining in order to give hope to new participants.
For larger groups, six or more participants, it is not likely that you will have the opportunity to introduce every member of the group. Allowing too many participants to share their story will consume too much of the meeting time preventing the ability to get to the curriculum. To be sure that the best introductions are made, it might be best to have some participants aware that when new participants are present, they will be called upon to offer their story and introduction. If you are confident in the ability of all the participants to introduce themselves in a concise manner, then rotate those that you call on so that as new participants are added, everyone has a chance to share and hear each other’s stories.
- Offer the New Participant the Opportunity for Introduction
For some new participants, speaking up has felt unsafe for a long time. For this reason, it is possible that some participants will provide a very guarded or even incomplete or scattered version of their story. On the first night in a group allowing new participants to only share what they feel comfortable sharing the best option.
It is best to allow them to introduce themselves after others in the group have introduced themselves so that they do not feel as though the group is unbalanced. Giving new participants the chance to be heard, even briefly can leave a positive impact because for some participants this may be the first time they have been given the chance to share freely without fear of repercussion.
Lastly, be sure to thank the participant for sharing their story. It can certainly be difficult for some individuals to attend a group and sharing a part of themselves can be even more challenging. Affirming them by thanking them for sharing and ensuring that they do not feel alone in their struggle is an important first step in gaining their trust.