Welcoming Spiritual Seekers (Part 2 of 2)

You could say that a big part of a small group leader’s job is creating an environment where biblical community can flourish! This includes hospitality elements like greeting, seating, and food that help people to feel more ‘at home’, but it’s also about the way you pilot the group dynamics so that newcomers, or those who are exploring Christianity, feel included and accepted. We will now explore additional ways you can welcome newcomers/seekers with an emphasis on facilitating spiritual conversations.

11. Don’t over-accommodate. You can be sensitive to your group’s form without changing its Just be yourself and allow the group to be itself. For example, don’t hesitate to pray or worship in your group if newcomers / seekers are present. (Sometimes this is exactly what God uses to gather lost people to Himself – see Acts 2:46-47.) Just be natural about it and use everyday language as opposed to being churchy or religious in how you express things just because you happen to be in a Christian gathering. If somebody needs prayer, pray for them. If you are going to worship, just do it. Don’t attempt to explain it for seekers. They want to see things how they really are and would rather not have you disrupt the flow of what you do on their account.

12. Express solidarity with seekers through prayer. When your group prays together, thank God for everyone present and for how He is meeting every person right where they’re at in their spiritual journey. Then punctuate your prayer by asking the Lord to help each person encourage one another grow closer to Jesus. What you are doing is putting everyone on equal-footing and entrusting the power of spiritual influence to the Lord.

13. Find out what subjects your truth-searching guests have an enthusiasm or expertise in and talk about that! People like to talk about things they know about. Seekers will feel more empowered and comfortable talking about things of interest to them. If you listen with interest, you will show that you are interested in them as a person and they will not feel like a project.

14. In private, let seekers know how much you appreciated them coming and that you really hope you get to see them again. Unless they have a friend who brought them, make yourself available to talk anytime.

15. Most guests like to be acknowledged – they just don’t like to stand out or be spotlighted in front of a group…so don’t focus on them. If you keep things normal, the group will feel more natural and comfortable to newcomers.

16. Help seekers get to know others in your group. The more people your guests sense a possible connection with, the more likely it is they will want to return. Research has shown the possibility of a visitor joining a church is reduced by at least 50% with each passing week. This trend also holds true for small groups and can be inverted by the same proportion if guests experience the hope of developing healthy friendships. In other words, the likelihood of seekers returning increases by at least 50% if they experience a sense of belonging through their connection with others. This can be cultivated by highlighting things your truth-searching guests hold in common with other group members and timely follow-up.

17. Talk about how you would like for your group to make a difference in your community. Have that conversation spontaneously or just say you would like to talk about it next time. This allows you to revisit your group’s commitment to outreach and shows seekers that your group is…

  • Outward-thinking and it’s not all about those in the group – this actually helps guests feel safer because it makes the communal nature of the group feel less cultic and more caring.
  • Serious about making a commitment to share God’s love and grace to a waiting world. People want their lives to make a positive impact on others. This helps them to see that your small group can help toward this goal, making group-time a worthwhile investment of their

18. Do not offer advice for how your seeking guests can grow. That might sound funny for those who like to be helpful. The reason is because some people on the receiving end of such good advice might interpret it as homework and think you will be checking-up with them at the next meeting or they might even jump to the conclusion that you’re judging them in some way. You might be surprised how this inhibits people from returning, especially if they did not act on your advice or experience the results they assume you want them to have.

19. Follow-up with guests before your next meeting. Let them know you hope to see them again. If a seeker came with somebody, encourage their friend to welcome them back. Sometimes group leaders hold off from following up in this way because they are afraid of being intrusive or coming across as pushy. Guests appreciate this act of kindness and it makes your group more inviting overall. If you do not risk the remote possibility of coming across as intrusive in your follow-up, seekers/newcomers may feel like they are

20. After a gathering where you had spiritual seekers visit your group, write down facts about them or prayer requests they shared. Find a way to revisit these things when you follow-up with them and naturally weave them into your conversation. This shows you were listening and that you care, which has a powerful effect in drawing guests into your group’s community life.

21. Last but not least, decide as a group to be “open” and ready to welcome spiritual seekers and always encourage personal evangelism. Small groups provide so many opportunities and so much encouragement for outreach. You want group members to have more than permission to invite their friends…let them know you WANT them to invite their friends. This attitude is one of the greatest contributing factors to a group making an evangelistic impact. If your group is in a season or study that is less conducive to having newwelcoming4comers join in, just ask your small group ministry contact person to remove your group listing from your church’s communications for a time. However, it is always good for group members to know they are commissioned and encouraged to invite their seeking friends. Groups can and should always serve to encourage personal outreach.

Small groups enable people to apply biblical learning to life and believers are empowered to engage in mission through them. They are a vital extension of a church’s community life to the life of its surrounding community and present transformational opportunities for blending believers with those who have yet to believe.

Just know a group that has an open home, open hearts, and open hands is a group that is replete with life-giving possibilities. By following the recommendations above, you will create an environment where the hospitality of biblical community will receive and reach many truth-searchers for Christ!

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).

welcoming2
“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.