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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.