Here We Go!
It's usually a good idea at the very beginning of the meeting to explain simply what is going to happen, what will be expected of people, and what they should be doing. If people know what is going to happen, for example:’ we will spend 10 minutes doing this, and then 15 minutes doing that', they feel more comfortable and able to participate; less self-conscious and anxious.
Make sure you never ask people to do things they can't do. If you have several things to do, always start with the easiest to give people confidence. On the other hand don't be frightened, when it seems appropriate, to challenge people to try something new.
There is some merit in staying with the same pattern for most meetings, not to the point of total rigidity, but just so that people feel relaxed because they' are familiar with the routine.
It's important to start the meeting by introducing people to each other or maybe getting people to introduce themselves. It may also be helpful to provide a time when people can ‘off-load’ anything that they have brought with them. If they are worried about something they may need to share it before they can get down to prayer. Occasionally it may be appropriate to allow this to take over the whole meeting and to use it as the basis of the group's prayer together.
More prosaically, if someone has had to rush home from work, and grab something to eat before coming to the meeting they will need a few minutes just to unwind from all that. You can do that over coffee or just by having a few minutes quiet at the beginning of the meeting.
It may help to begin with a time of 'centring down' before moving on to the main agenda. This time of relaxation, of being still before God, is a necessary prelude to prayer for some people.
You need to be sensitive to times of silence giving people enough time but not so much as to become oppressive. The simplest way may be to ask people how long they would like silences to be.
It is sometimes helpful to end a prayer exercise with an opportunity for people to talk about what they have experienced – be it good or bad. Obviously nobody should be pressurised to share.