Last year, my wife and I were on a journey of seeking a church home. We determined not to just jump into the first church; we would visit a myriad of churches, see what God was doing, and determine the best place to serve. This journey began each week by visiting a church’s website and learning about their Bible study groups. The majority of groups and classes used some variation of this description: A friendly group that loves to fellowship.
Their idea of “friendly” was skewed.
Every group we visited was definitely friendly … to each other. They were all nice to visitors, but only a few did more than shake our hands, say hello, and offer us a place to sit. We experienced what Thom S. Rainer and Ed Stetzer described in their book Transformational Church: in most churches, you either have to “fit in” or “break in.” In other words, outsiders join and get involved when they find a group of people “exactly like them” and/or they do all the work of meeting people and making a place for themselves.
People are not just looking for a ‘friendly church,’ they’re hungry for friends” (Transformational Church, p. 100).
Let me offer four things you can do to move beyond “friendly” and become loving and embracing.
- Listen. In your early conversations with guests or newcomers, keep the focus on them and not on the group. In other words, don’t talk about the group. “You’ll love our group. We do this and we do that.” Instead, ask about them. Listen to their story. We feel welcomed and loved when others show a genuine interest in us.
- Spend time with them. The previous point about listening should not just happen in the first 2-3 minutes they enter the room. Take them to lunch. Plan some time to meet in a coffee shop or in their home and listen to their story.
- Match them up with others in your group. As you listen and discover who they are, you will likely find points of commonality with others in your group. Lives may intersect because of kids, a sports team, a shared profession, interest, or hobby. If they haven’t met yet, make the introduction.
- Lead group members to follow your example. What would it look like if all the members in your group listened and spent time in meaningful conversation with visitors to your group? Wow. Talk openly and lead your whole group to be intentional in building relationships.
My wife and I are now involved in a church that is currently meeting in an elementary school. And what started it was visiting a Sunday morning Bible study group that moved beyond friendly. And we are now leading a new class for young adults with the same relational focus.
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.