Welcoming Spiritual Seekers (Part 1 of 2)

The best groups are high in health and impact for God’s Kingdom. For both to be true, a leader must be prepared to welcome people into their group’s life together regardless of where they are at in their commitment to Christ and His Church. We reflect the beauty and greatness of our God when we accept one another just as Christ accepted us (Romans 15:7).

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“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” – Romans 15:7

The more group leaders know how to welcome and encourage truth-searching guests, the more effective they will be with engaging them with the Good News in transformational ways. To this end, I’ve compiled twenty-one recommendations for how you can welcome spiritual seekers, build relationships with them, and inspire everyone to grow in their relationship with Jesus.

 

  1. Warmly introduce seekers into your group. Learn a little about them before they show up to their first meeting because this will help you to introduce them to others in a more personal way. Do your best to remember facts they share about who they are, their family and friends, and how they found your group. One of the simplest ways of helping a newcomer feel ‘at home’ in your group is to repeatedly call them by their first name.
  2. Connect them with a few people as they come in and help to strike up conversations before your study begins. Use what you know about them to ignite conversations with other group members.
  3. Briefly introduce seekers to your group at the outset of your gathering using what you learned about them. Unless your guests initiate sharing more about themselves, do not put them in the position where they have to talk in front of the whole group. Just do what you naturally do for each group meeting.
  4. Consider newcomers as seekers until you learn otherwise. Believers who are new to a Christian gathering tend to convey something about their faith / church commitment up front. If they do not, chances are they either do not have a relationship with God or may not have a strong one. On this point, it is vitally important to avoid making assumptions about what your guests believe. Rather, look for ways to affirm the truth God has apparently given to them as Paul did in Athens (Acts 17:22-23, 28-29).
  5. Use relational terms to explain theological concepts in your Bible study. For example, salvation is having a relationship with Christ or being friends with God now and forever. Redemption is Jesus helping us to connect with God and know Him. Do your best to stay away from Christian jargon.
  6. Express appreciation for their input. When newcomers say something that does not harmonize with Scripture, don’t correct them. Be positive and say something like, “Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!” Discipleship happens through relationships that develop over time.
  7. Prioritize seekers in your group time by making it a goal to help them feel safe and a valued part of the gathering. Look for ways to include them socially and affirm any contribution they try to make to the conversation.
  8. Take a minute on the front end to say what your group is about and invite input from others so guests can get exposure to some of the other personalities present. In a group situation, most people prefer to get a good feel of the dynamic before jumping into the discussion. The more free people feel to participate, the more likely it is they will return.
  9. When you have guests, leave plenty of time for people to socialize at the tail-end of your group. Everybody is different, but newcomers tend to be more interested in being more personal toward the end of a group than the beginning. This will give time to introduce your group members to guests and have fun and relaxed conversations.
  10. End your group time on a high note so guests will be encouraged to return. Studies show that when something ends positively the entire experience becomes a good memory for people, which they are more apt to repeat.

In my next post, I’ll share eleven more thoughts to help group leaders create a welcoming environment for newcomers and inspire everyone to take their next steps in their relationship with Christ.

What’s Your Top 10?

Recently, I got to speak at the Leadership Summit for Woodside Bible Church. During my time with them, I was interviewed about the ten questions below. I’d be happy to share the video of my Q&A with you if you let me know via the “CONTACT ME” page of my website.

  1. What’s a good meeting format (or template) for a group to follow? What do you do when your group meetings frequently run over?
  2. How does a group leader stay healthy and effective for the long-haul?
  3. How do you measure spiritual growth and progress from one season to the next in your group’s life together?
  4. What are some common threats to healthy group life and how do you avoid them?
  5. How can you get your group to serve together – to be ‘on mission’ together?
  6. What should you do if your group is feeling stagnant or tends to major on the minors in its Bible study?
  7. What’s a good size for a group? What do you do when it gets too large?
  8. What should you do if you’re feeling tired, discouraged or overwhelmed in your group leadership?
  9. Trouble-shooting common challenges in group life. What do you do with somebody who consistently talks a lot and dominates the group’s conversations? What about a person who is highly-opinionated and off-base biblically?
  10. There’s so much group curriculum out there – how do you know what to choose? What do you look for when you’re choosing great group studies?

 

Simple Small Group Study

  1. Less is More – Prepare…but not too much. Pull together only HALF as much as you think you’ll have time to go through in a single gathering. Generally, facilitators with LESS material on hand to go through find themselves more open to the conversation going new and different directions. Conversely, facilitators with MORE material prepared to cover experience more pressure to progress through it. You want to be time-conscious, but not too ambitious about what can be achieved during a highly-relational 60-90 minute meeting.
  2. Point to the destination…but don’t give too much direction on how to get there. Think of ONE thing you’d like for your group participants to walk away with. What do you hope they’ll learn or feel as a result of your study and discussion? For example, “I hope each person will learn in a deeper way that Jesus is with him or her every moment of every day and therefore will experience more of His peace in their daily life.” What matters in the study time is not how much ground you cover as it is how much transformation happens within members’ hearts. This can happen through study content, but more often, it occurs through Spirit-led person-to-person interaction.
  3. Guide, don’t direct – Be flexible with the “agenda” and avoid over-facilitation. Trust the Lord with how the study and conversation flows. The tendency is the more a facilitator speaks, the less responsive people get. The resimplesg2sponse ratios to the right measure how the number of people in a group affects individual participation. It’s good to be aware of these ‘interpersonal laws’ because they can prompt you to know how to encourage greater interactivity, which results in more energetic and fruitful conversation. Besides, following the other ‘simple rules’ shared in this section compresses these response ratio results.
  4. Recap and Refocus – Share what the group accomplished together and a basic plan for your next gathering. This instills a since of accomplishment and purpose for group members. It shows them that you have a plan and you’re all going somewhere together. This simple practice boosts participants’ commitment and brings more focus to the course of your study overall.
  5. Don’t meet up to the last minute – Give people time to unwind and socialize toward the end of each gathering; it’s a simple way to foster unity and inclusion in the group. This is more likely to create a positive conclusion for everyone, which will leave them with an increased desire to come back for more. In other words, end on a high note! This also ensures all participants, particularly those who have to get home for the sake of their kids or the next-day’s schedule, can do so without stress and enjoy the company of the whole group.

Break-Through Busyness

There are so many things that compete for people’s time in our culture – most people have too much to do and too much to manage. One of the most important things you can do as a group leader is to establish a common purpose.

Here is some practical guidance on how to lead through the effects that our busy culture has on groups. First, have a heart-to-heart meeting where you…

  • Review your group’s journey so far and re-cast the vision of biblical community for the group
  • Ask each person to share what they want to get out of the group: What would continue to make involvement in the group something that’s “valuable” to them?
  • Identify the common denominator with what each person shared so that you can create a common purpose
  • Decide with the group on how you can arrive at this common purpose even if it means changing what you’re doing now
  • Involve each person in fulfilling this common purpose – give each person a way to contribute
  • Follow-up with participants who don’t show for a gathering. This shows care and tells them they were missed. It also encourages their future return.

Summary

  1. Clarification: What does each person hope for?
  2. Consolidation: Bring together people’s dreams & desires into an all-encompassing statement. (Remember to facilitate the process and invite the group to help – don’t try to do it alone.)
  3. Consensus: Agree on how you’ll pursue your newly-fashioned “group mission statement.” Everyone is a stakeholder and should let their voice be heard in the design of your group’s plan for growing together.

The Indispensable Practice of Eating Together

Food is the best ice-breaker. It seems to have the same effects that we like to get from ice-breakers like helping people engage in conversation, feel more at ease, and bonus…it fills tummies, which makes everyone feel more content! I think that’s why it’s been said that the quickest way to a person’s spirit is through their stomach!

Eating together is a vital part of your group life. There is something about gathering around a meal that knits the hearts of people together. In fact, sharing a meal is one of the most profound physical expressions of our life together in Jesus Christ. Some of the most significant events in the Bible center around food (1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Mark 14:22-25; John 13:1; Acts 2:42-47). Repeatedly, we see the early believers making food an integral part of their worship and community life together (Acts 2:42, 46, 20:7, 11). For example, the Lord’s Supper was meant to be just that…a supper!

The way that Communion (or Eucharist, meaning “Thanksgiving”) was celebrated in the Early Church was by sharing a meal together, usually in the evening (Luke 14:12; John 13:4, 21:20). The setting of the Lord’s Supper, even in the larger gatherings, was always the home (cf. Romans 16:23; Acts 20:7). Similarly, we ought to give thanks and remember our Lord Jesus Christ when we gather and share a meal with one another.

Make it a goal with your group to celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a season / semester. There are many creative ways to do this in your group and you can look to Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20, John 13-17, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 for guidance on what to say and do during this time together so choose the one below that resonates the most with you and run with it!

  • Have everyone stand in a circle. Take a whole loaf of bread, break off a piece, and hand it to the person on your right. As you hand it to them, say a prayer for them, bless them, and/or give thanks to God for them. Then that person does the same for the person standing to their right, and so on, until it comes back to you. Then take a drink together in remembrance of the Lord. Afterwards, pray or worship the Lord Jesus giving thanks for His birth, life, death and resurrection.
  • Celebrate the Lord’s Supper in a public place (like a nearby park or outdoor eating area) because it is a way of sharing the Good News about Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:26).
  • Invite group members to facilitate the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a way to empower them in using their gifts to build up the Body of Christ.
  • Set aside a meeting to talk about the Lord’s Supper and what it means. Talk about how your group could express the meaning of the Lord’s Supper in acts of love for one another and those outside the group (1 John 3:16). Then celebrate the meal together.
  • Have a potluck meal and convert it into a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. At some point during the meal, ask everyone to pause for a short devotion and listen to a scripture reading that focuses on Jesus’ death and resurrection. Afterwards, say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for His sacrifice and love (John 3:16).

eatingtogether1Now if you’re like me, steps on what to do and say might be just the help you need to get started so here’s a suggested order:

  1. Read 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 and choose to read one of the Gospel accounts: Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25 or Luke 22:14-20. You can use this as your own personal devotion or draw from these passages for what you share on the front or tail end of this time together.
  2. Thank God in prayer for His love, sacrifice and forgiveness.
  3. Pass the bread and remind everyone how it represents Jesus’ body broken on their behalf and say, “Jesus said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ Let’s eat together.”
  4. Pass the cup reminding everyone how it represents Jesus’ blood shed for them and say, “In the same way, after supper Jesus took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ Let’s drink together.”
  5. Finish with a prayer of thanks to the Lord or listen to a song where you all reflect on Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice.

Don’t miss out on this transformational experience that God will use to build the bond between your group members, deepen your relationship with Him, and share His selfless love with others!