Dogs usually love groups. Dog parks, dog beaches, and pet-friendly restaurants were all created so that our dogs can get together with other dogs to be in community. Dogs are social animals.
On the other hand, cats tend to hate community. They seem to dislike people, other cats, dogs, and anyone in between. Cats are anti-social animals.
If you were to invite a dog to your next marriage event, they would instinctively introduce themselves to everyone and discuss the best chew toys and strategies for avoiding baths. And everyone would listen, because it’s a talking dog.
Although your marriage events won’t have any actual cats and dogs, you will likely have both social and anti-social people. And here are three lessons we can learn from dogs when building community with our large events.
1. Pull some chairs together
Community grows when it is void of rows. Placing people at tables is the best way to generate conversation. In addition, placing people together who share the same life stage will help to generate a lasting connection.
When tables are assigned and groups are deliberately organized, people will have less anxiety about where to sit. They can feel at ease with people who share the same life struggles, and generally feel comfortable and welcomed.
There will always be a token few who would rather grab an extra chair from a stack in the hallway and sit at the back of the room. Help them to participate also.
2. Find a common subject
Talking is easier when the subject is simple and engaging. Provide your groups with easy-to-answer questions that are void of provoking too much thought.
Creative questions can lead people into discussions that will prepare them for the discussion topic. Or can simply be a way to laugh, talk, and find common ground without having to deal with awkward silence.
Depending on the variety of the ages in the room, present questions that are appropriate for all audiences. Millennials don’t want to be thinking about how they will see themselves 20 years from now, and those with grey hair will have difficulty arriving at an answer to whether they would rather bungee jump or trapeze. (The answer is neither.)
3. Have fun
Games on stage or up in front are fun but create an environment where everyone else is watching couples on stage play, laugh, and win prizes but not enhance community.
Instead, create a multiple answer game where the couples at each table discuss the best answer to the question and pit their answer against other tables.
Another option for game play would be to have the individual couples compete against other couples in the room, or one where all of the individuals are competing against each other.
Providing couples an opportunity to work together and to have fun helps them to forget for a moment the struggles of career, kids, and car issues. Some couples haven’t had fun in years. Let this be a no-stress time for couples to re engage in fun.
What about the cats?
People who are reluctant to participate, (the cats in the room) can still enjoy their evening. Create a countdown clock so that they are aware of how much time they have to talk, when the game will end, or how the program for the evening will unfold. Eliminating the guesswork builds confidence and reduces anxiety.
Whether your event is filled with dogs or cats (or both), the success is more visible when you place them in circles, engage them with easy questions, and allow them to have some fun.
Although you don’t need to supply treats, both cats and dogs would appreciate something sweet or savory (as long as it’s made for human consumption).
Linda Vujnov is the Family Ministry Director at Mariners Church in Irvine, CA. She is a speaker, and author of Spilt Milk-Devotions for Moms, and writes for several for magazines, blogs, and devotionals. She and her husband Greg have been married 27 years and have four children.
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