For years, people tried to crack some closely guarded secrets. For example:
- The formula for Coca-Cola.
- The enigma machines used by the Germans in WWII to deliver coded messages.
- The recipe of 11 herbs and spices in Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Let’s remove one item from that list: the secret to getting new people into a Bible study group. The amazing thing about this secret is that it hides in plain sight.
So what is the secret? The secret is in this story that goes back over a century.
A scandal broke in Chicago regarding a prominent man and a woman of dubious character. Foster Coates, the editor of The American, wanted a picture of the woman, but none could be found. He sent multiple men out to secure a photo, but they all came back empty-handed. The day was closing and they needed to put the paper to press. Coates spotted a young man who had just been hired and was in training. In desperation, he asked this young man to see if he could get a photo.
The young man was back in an hour with a photo. Amazed, Coates asked the rookie reporter to tell the others how he got the photo. “I went to her house, rang the doorbell, and asked the lady for a photograph. She gave it to me.”
This story contains a great principle I’ve applied to a lot of things—especially my Bible study groups.
Go to the person and ask.
But that’s no secret at all! True, but based on the frequency of people raising the question of how to get more people into their groups, apparently not everyone sees it. When I was the director of Bible studies at my church, one of the group leaders asked me, “I know our church has people who visit every week. Can you help me get them into my group?”
I just raised one question in reply. “Have you asked them?” (Cue the cricket chirps.)
1. Ask. Nothing beats a personal invitation. A generic announcement from the pulpit is not a personal invitation. Neither is an online or printed invitation. I’m talking about a personal invitation from you.
Look for people who visit your church’s worship service or special events, people who match the age or affinity group you lead. Introduce yourself, tell them about your group, and invite them to participate.
2. Ask together. Even better, get one or two of your group members to join you in the conversation. The invitation is strengthened as more than one person talks enthusiastically about the group.
With this invitation, you or one of the group members can offer to pick them up. If the group meets at the church, the group member can meet them at a certain entrance, walk with them to the room, and sit with them.
3. Ask anywhere. As you model for your group members how to invite others into the group, encourage them to invite people anywhere and anytime—whether they meet them at church, on a neighborhood walk, at a school function, wherever.
4. Ask and answer questions. You can do a lot—even a short conversation—to dissipate any fears a potential group member might have. Fears? Sure. Think about your group from an outsider’s perspective. They don’t know exactly what you do, what will be expected of them, or if they will even fit into the group. A conversation can squelch those fears.
Ken Braddy has written a good article for pastors and church leaders on the subject of connecting people to a Bible study group. He includes the following idea: Give them a copy of what your groups are studying. Doing this reduces anxiety around what will be talked about when they actually visit the group. They can read ahead, feel prepared and know what the group is going to be studying. Plus, putting a book in their hands affirms that your groups have purpose, that you are headed somewhere, that you want them to join in, and that now is a good time for them to start.
So in a nutshell, here’s my secret recipe for getting new people involved.
- Personally ask people to come to your group.
- Invite them anywhere and at anytime—at church and away from the church.
- You don’t need to “sell” the group, but do share enthusiastically about your study and purpose of the group.
It’s that simple.
Lynn Pryor is a team leader for adult resources at Lifeway. He and his wife, Mary, lead a Bible study group for young adults and have survived raising two sons to adulthood. A graduate of Southwestern Seminary, Lynn has previously pastored and served churches in Texas. Follow him on his blog at lynnhpryor.com.