I’ve met some of my favorite people and done epic stuff through connections that originated via Meetup. I’ve faced down fears, gotten brave enough to do an epic hike, and witnessed acts of kindness as the result of my experiences with group and event organizers who use this platform to promote their activities.
To be clear, I’ve been part of loosely organized hiking groups and even cycling groups before I encountered Meetup and even before the Internet existed (though I’m still puzzled as to how my friends and I planned and executed weekend hiking trips without texts or emails).
The Meetup platform isn’t the only way to gather and organize a group. But it offers valuable tools for getting strangers together and turning them into a community of friends.
For the uninitiated, Meetup allows you to start and organize a group or find and get involved with a group. Typically, this group focuses on an activity, a demographic, or both. For example, there are hiking, real estate investing, and Sci-Fi writing groups as well as dinner, travel, and coffee groups for people over 40, twenty-somethings, introverts, and more. I’ve been considering whether to use Meetup for small group ministry and I’m starting the decision-making process by articulating its benefits, features, and drawbacks.
The Unique Benefits of Meetup
If you’re looking to meet or organize like-minded people outside of your usual circle of friends from work, church, or the neighborhood, Meetup can help. Here are features that combine to create a powerful resource for group organizers:
- dedicated area to create a digital “home” for your group and collect members among the broader community
- space to communicate the purpose and requirements of the group
- capability to leverage the main site (meetup.com) to promote and expand a group (new groups are announced; people can discover your group through searches and recommendations)
- tools to announce events, collect sign-ups, communicate event details, respond to questions, and convey changes to events, such as cancellation due to weather, etc. in one place
- ability to get prompt feedback about the group and its events
Having organized people using a variety of methods (face-to-face interactions, phone calls, emails, texts, etc.), I find serenity in crafting and conveying a single message. Meetup mode allows me to spend more time planning and praying for an event (and its attendees); and less time navigating individual preferences for communication and recalling various details of what I’ve communicated to some and need to share with others.
How to Meet People via Meetup
Peruse the various groups in your area (or an area you’re visiting) to find people like you and activities that you may enjoy better with friends. Note that some groups are private so you may need to join before accessing event details, member profiles, etc.
Consider these suggestions for a positive Meetup experience as an attendee:
- Before attending an event, join the group hosting the activity (that is, don’t just show up). When you join, answer questions about your background and interests relevant to this particular group; your responses allow event hosts and group organizers to understand your capabilities and needs.
- Read and adhere to rules of the group and each event. Some rules may appear to be restrictive and downright unwelcoming. But certain ones are there to ensure a rewarding, fun, and safe experience for all. Whether they’re sensible or excessive, consider opting out of an event or group if you can’t or won’t abide by the requirements.
- Check that you plan to attend (e.g. RSVP “yes”) only if you plan to attend an event. If your plans change, update your response to indicate you won’t be there. Responses aren’t required unless you’re planning to attend (unlike, say, traditional invitations that you should either accept or decline). Be extra-diligent about giving an accurate response and updating your status for events with a wait-list or limited number of spots.
- If you have questions about an event, pose them in the comments section. Alternatively, contact the event host or group leaders through the Meetup platform. Not only should you receive answers but you should also get an idea of the responsiveness and friendliness of group members. In addition, use these methods to let folks know to look for you and hopefully, greet and welcome you.
- To supercharge your involvement in a group, review the profiles of event attendees to help you remember names and spark conversations.
At each event, introduce yourself to the host and fellow attendees. Consider asking “how long have you been coming to this group’s events?” to get people talking. Keep in mind that events are often designed to be casual and unscripted. They may or may not measure up to your expectations and comply with your preferences. If you have concerns, express them directly to the event host or a member of the leadership team. Most importantly, relax and have fun.
Afterwards, consider rating the event and venue, posting a comment, and telling folks you enjoyed seeing them via Meetup tools.
How to Gather People and Keep Your Sanity as an Organizer
Running a Meetup group is fulfilling. The beautiful and compelling aspect of a group is that you can make friends and build a network based on an interest or purpose that transcends demographic and other differences. But unless you set boundaries, serving as group organizer can be exhausting. The diversity of people may mean that communication styles vary as do expectations.
Here are some tips on getting people together for mutually beneficial purpose and delight:
Be clear about your vision for the group and its events. Pay attention to the group description, prompts for new members, and opening letters. Set appropriate expectations of the group, its activities, and its members. Plan and host fun, relevant, and inspiring events.
Establish rules and best practices for group leaders, particularly if you have many leaders or types of events. For example, you may have rules surrounding how to deal with latecomers or people who don’t bring the required gear for an outing. The idea here is to develop a group culture and common understanding of how things should happen, not mandate blind adherence to bureaucracy. Encourage leaders to describe their events and mention any deviations from the group norm. In this way, you can allow creativity while building group coherence.
Greet people, especially newcomers and introduce them to more established members. Enjoy a conversation with each attendee if possible. You never know who may be a great resource for the group or the broader community. For example, you may find event organizers, people with broad social and professional networks, or business owners who could be potential group sponsors. The point is not to be greedy or welcome people with connections only but embrace those who join and encourage a shared sense of purpose and community. People often look for groups to which they can contribute so let folks give their support when appropriate.
Set rules and don’t be afraid to communicate and enforce requirements. In my experience, most members are grateful to belong to a group and improve its value with their presence. But there are some who need specific guidance on acceptable behavior and basics of a successful group outing. Further, there are a few who revel in drama and disruption. So establishing guidelines from the start or updating rules based on recurring problems makes sense.
Ban members if needed. An online friend has banned a handful of folks who have done mean-spirited and frankly, odd, things like edit the details of events hosted by other people, treat group organizers as if they were personal concierges, and impersonate other members. That’s not to say that you want to kick out anyone who is disagreeable or brings up problems. But you don’t need to waste your time policing the actions of a few people.
Don’t be afraid to use or ignore the tools based on group goals and your comfort level. Set privacy levels as desired. Limit guests of events (plus ones or more) or allow as many people as possible to participate.
Deal with problems as soon as they arise — but understand that some people have misguided notions of their involvement with the group. Unless otherwise stated, a group exists to gather people for a purpose, not offer free services, make business or social connections for members, provide friendships outside of the group (great if that happens but not “required”), promote another group or activity, etc. Don’t let other people’s wild expectations influence you — plan and host a great event but remember that life transformation is up to God, not you.
How to Make Friends and Do Epic Stuff
Go to or host multiple events and it’s likely you’ll get to know people and they’ll get to know you. At this point (or possibly earlier for the adventurous), you can extend or accept invitations for gatherings outside of the traditional meetup boundaries. These can blossom into deeper friendships, linked together with common interests and scheduled events that facilitate regular interaction.
Depending on your frame of reference, the regularly scheduled meetup events may be epic. These could be a bucket-list trip, a 100-mile bike ride, or a challenging hike. But if you’re looking for something more, perhaps an overseas hiking trip or a marathon in a destination city, a meetup group may allow you to make friends and extend your network of friends to accompany you. In addition, you may be more likely to identify resources who can help you make your epic activities happen. For example, your expanded network may include people who have experiences and expertise that can guide you in your planning and inspire you to realize your dreams.
Meetup experiences will vary so make the most of great groups
The inaugural event of the first Meetup I joined never happened. Across the country, events were scheduled for devotees of a social entrepreneur as a way to gather people for a project launch. The local organizer couldn’t make the session but encouraged others to show up (which seemed odd to me at the time but now I understand why he decided not to cancel). Still, I couldn’t find the group at the event’s location at the appointed time and didn’t pursue further involvement.
Since then, though, I’ve taken on a leadership role of a cycling meetup group. I began as a reluctant member, attending rides because my cycling friends did. Eventually, I came to love the platform, despite some annoyances with its interface designs and redesigns. It’s neither perfection nor panacea for group leaders but it is handy as a tool to organize people and streamline communications.
Are you a member or leader of a Meetup group or community group? How has this group changed your set of friends and sense of community?