The regular part of a healthy and growing church means that new people need to be assimilated into existing small groups that the church has. As Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hill Community Church we refer new people to groups every week! Below are some tips about how to assimilate new people into small groups.
A. Quick Review of our “LIFE” LIFEGroup Culture at our Church
Our church calls our small groups “LIFE” groups. The L.I.F.E. each stands for a core value.
- L = Learning – Instilling the Word of God.
- I = Including – Assimilating new people.
- F = Fellowshipping – Experiencing biblical fellowship.
- E = Equipping – Preparing people to minister.
2. Four Practical Aspects to RHCC’s LIFEGroups
There are a few practical things we want each group to do as a way to maintain a healthy small groups.
- Apprentice – Training new facilitator leaders. We want every group to have a facilitator and an apprentice or co-leader.
- Empty Chair – Committed to outreach. Keep an empty chair visible as a reminder for the group to pray for the lost and unsaved person.
- Unifying Question – Complimenting weekend worship, not replacing. This is a question we have the groups ask before the begin the meeting to tie the small group lesson into the big church sermon from the weekend.
- Serving – Working together to serve our church and community. We want every group to serve once a year either inside our church or doing outreach.
3. Why Do Small Groups?
New Testament believers met in temple courts and from house to house (Acts 2:46; 5:42; Rom 16:5).
4. Why this topic?
Why spend a blog post about how to assimilate people into a small group? Well, there are a few reasons.
First, I often say that the small groups of our church are the discipleship arm of our church. Yet, part of the great commission of Matt 28:18-20 is to go out and grow the body of Christ. And, as our church grows so will our groups. So, we need to develop a heart for the lost and be ready to welcome them into our groups.
Second, the longer your group has been together the harder it is for a new person to join and feel like they belong. This post is designed to help you as the facilitator to welcome new people into your group.
Third, your group can gain some great benefits from having a new person join your group. A new person comes with a fresh perspective on the topics that everyone has already talked about. A new person can help the group have fresh ideas on service projects and evangelism. A new person can help the grow no longer be complacent and content.
II. THE “I” IN LIFEGROUP STANDS FOR “INCLUDING”
A. Anticipation: The “Empty Chair” (prayerfully expecting growth)
1. Why An Empty Chair?
As humans, we naturally don’t seek out the uncomfortable situations. We don’t want to do the things that come unnatural to us. And when it comes to a small group it is easy for us to get caught up in our small group—our friends—which we like and not want to get others involved.
An example of this was in one of the men’s groups that I had started and was facilitated for about a year. We had been meeting for about six months and one of the guys said, “Yeah, I thought about inviting my brother-in-law to our group, but then I was thinking that I really like our group and that I didn’t want it to change.” It was a new group and I let the comment slide because if he had that attitude, who’s fault was it? His fault or my fault as the facilitator? My fault of course. But, that’s the attitude that we do not want to have.
I remember talking with someone who said, “You know when Pastor Dave tells us at church during the break to ‘meet someone you don’t know,’ I hate that! I don’t want to meet new people. But, when I do it I am glad that I did.” That’s what I am talking about here. It’s tough for us to get to know people that aren’t Christians, so it takes a little reminder or nudging to get us to look for the unsaved.
2. Pray Weekly for the Unsaved Person
Every week, try to pray for someone that is not saved to come to know Jesus.
First, encourage each person in your group to have one person in their life that they are regularly praying for and seeking to be saved. Yet, I don’t mean that someone has an uncle in another state that they never talk to or engage with, but want to be saved. They need to find someone who they regularly see and talk to. It’s the barista you always see. It’s the guy that mows your lawn. It’s your mother-in-law. This is someone who they are actively talking to, developing a relationship with, and seeking to share the Gospel with.
Second, during your prayer time regularly pray for these people. You don’t have to pray for every person every week. But, it might be good to ask how it is going with sharing the Gospel? Or maybe there is a lesson in your material that relates. When I visited one of our small groups I really like how it wasn’t a prayer request for that night. Instead it was a time of prayer for the things they had been praying about! They pulled out the prayer list from last week and began praying.
B. Attraction: Personal outreach (inviting for growth)
I’ve often said that the best way to get new people into your groups is to personally invite people at church that you know to join your group. Especially if it’s a new person that you have noticed attending church a few times and that they are new.
An example of this I had two weeks ago at church. There was a lady that looked familiar—like she had been to our church a time or two—but I hadn’t officially met here. So it was during the break time when we are supposed to meet someone we don’t know. I approached her and introduced myself. She said that she had visited our church a few times, that her daughter had just gone off to college, so she has more free time and wants to find a good home church. I told her it was great to have her here at church, and if she wanted to get to know some ladies that we had a couple of women’s Bible studies in the program if she wanted to try one out.
Let’s look at how it changes when someone in your group has someone that they have been witnessing to or inviting to church. If someone in your group has invited someone to church and they have been coming, what better way to get them plugged into a group than the one that you are in.
I would like to encourage you to start with inviting the person to church. Invite that person to attend church several times. If, you feel that that person is not willing to go to church, maybe you think they might be more willing to try out a small group, then invite them.
I’ve often said that you are welcome to invite people to your group that are not churched. That is totally okay. If people in your group have been praying for someone to come to know Jesus and that person has visited church a few times, then I would encourage that person to try out a small group. Or, if you have had someone in your group for a while and you think that person’s spouse might be willing to try out the group, then do it.
Whatever avenue you feel is best is fine.
However, the small group is likely going be a little more difficult for an unsaved person for a few reasons. First, the Sunday welcome/announcement period is always geared to the “new” person. At our church Dave, David, and I often introduce each other and what we each do at church. And, we say, “If you are new here at this time we do this, etc.” Second, sermons usually are prepared in a way that the person who has never been to church can still learn and grow. When you are taught to preach in Seminary you are taught to picture different people in your congregation that you are trying to preach to and feed.
C. Action: Doing the “one another’s” (where a small group excels)
The “one another” passages in the New Testament are important for us as Christians because they tell us how we relate to each other. More specifically, in a small group setting it tells how we are supposed to interact with each other as Christians in community. A quick survey of the “one another” uses in the New Testament using the New Living Translation landed me on seven key one-another ideas.
1. Proof of Discipleship (John 13:35)
In John 13 Jesus washes the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-17), tells the disciples that one of them will betray him (John 13:18-30), then he tells the disciples that it is time for Jesus to leave (John 13:31-38). In the process of telling his disciples that he is going to leave he tells his disciples that when he leaves the disciples need to love each other just as Jesus loved them (John 13:34) because their love for one another will prove to the world that he was their disciples (John 13:35).
2. Love One Another (Rom 13:8; Gal 5:13; Phil 2:2; 1 Thess 3:12; 4:9; 2 Thess 1:3; Heb 10:24; 1 John 2:7; 3:11, 23; 4:7; 2 John 5, 6)
This is by far the most common use of “one another” passages in the New Testament. Believers are supposed to love one other. Yet, that is not always easy. Christians are justified and made righteous in God’s eyes by their faith in Jesus, yet we are still imperfect, have faults, and are to love each other. Perhaps God knew that loving each other would be difficult to do, so he gave us many reminders from three different authors of the New Testament?
3. Forgive One Another (Eph 4:32)
The first three chapters of Ephesians contain lots of doctrine and theology, then in chapter four Paul turns to practical matters. He tells Christians to start living out their faith and one of the ways to do that is to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, hard words, slander, and all evil behavior (Eph 4:31). Instead of doing those things and acting in that way, believers are supposed to be kind, tender-hearted, and forgive one another (Eph 4:32). Still not convinced that this is the way that a Christian is supposed to live? Paul hammers home the point that we are supposed to forgive others just as Christ as given us (Eph 4:32). Ouch!
4. Submit to One Another (Eph 5:21)
In Paul’s section talking about wives and husbands are supposed to interact with each other, Paul starts out the section saying, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21). Women are supposed to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22) and husbands are supposed to love their wives (Eph 5:25). But, the mutual action that each person is supposed to do is to submit to one another out of respect for Christ. Warren Wiersbe writes about this verse, “Does this suggest that children tell the parents what to do, or that the masters obey the servants? Of course not! Submission has nothing to do with the order of authority, but rather governs the operation of authority, how it is given and how it is received” Wiersbe, Be Rich, 152).
5. Serve One Another (1 Peter 4:10)
There are places in the New Testament that talk about the spiritual gifts of Christians. Those locations are Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. Here, the leader of the early church, Peter, is about to talk about using spiritual gifts. But before he describes the spiritual gifts he says that they are supposed to use those gifts to “serve one another.” Meaning, the gifts are meant for the benefit of each person in the body. Kind of like the guy who is a body builder and believes he is unselfish because he wears no shirt and walks down the street so that everyone can enjoy looking at him, right? No, your gift should benefit me and my gift should benefit you.
6. Motivate and Encourage One Another (Heb 10:24-25)
Life as a Christian in a fallen and corrupt world can be discouraging. So, the author of the book of Hebrews encourages the people to meet together and while they meet they should motivate one another (Heb 10:24) and encourage one another (Heb 10:25).
7. Remain Faithful in Marriage to One Another (Heb 13:4)
In conclusion of this long letter the author of Hebrews tells the Christians to give honor to their marriages by remaining faithful to one another. In an American culture that does nothing to value marriage any more, it is important that Christians remain faithful to one another in marriage both sexually and emotionally.
D. How to Welcome and Accept New People
There are various things that you as the facilitator and your group can do to welcome new people into your group when. Here’s a list to get you started.
1. Greet them at the door.
This is a great way to help them feel welcome. When someone is coming to a home for the first time they walk up to the door and they don’t even know if they are at the correct house.
2. Explain the purpose and expectations of the group.
Each group is slightly different. Tell them why your group exists, what the expectations of the group members are, and the expectations the group has of the facilitator.
3. Explain the format.
Each group has a format that they follow each week. My groups start with a few minutes of fellowship, the Unifying Question, our study through the curriculum, prayer requests, and then dessert. Your group will have its own format, so take some time to explain it to the person who is visiting on the first night.
4. Clue them into inside language and humor.
Any group that has met for a while has learned some language and uses it in a unique way. Additionally, there are specific jokes or humor that the group knows about that no one else knows about. Take some time to clue them in when that happens and explain the words being used or the joke referenced.
5. Give them a gift. Nothing says “we are glad to have you here” like a gift.
Simple and cheesy is okay. A gift given to someone says “welcome.”
6. Give them the curriculum for free.
A new person might be a little nervous, and is not sure if they want to continue with the group. So give them the book for free. Tell them that the first time guest doesn’t pay for the book. It’s a gift to help them feel welcome and let them know they are valuable.
7. Ask them to share a little about themselves.
Don’t make it awkward or weird. Just ask them to share how they found out about the group, where they are from, who they might know in the group, etc.
8. Add some fellowship time.
Whether you have time for fellowship at the beginning or end of your meeting, try to add some extra time so that your new person can get to know people in the group. If you have the fellowship time at the beginning of your group you might want to start your study a little late. If you have your fellowship time at the end, try to end the study a little early. Don’t tell people what you are doing or why. Just do it.
9. Let them be quiet.
Their first night or two they are going to be quiet. They are observing and learning about the group. They are seeing if this is something they might want to be part of. Allow them to just listen if they want.
10. Leave the door open, blinds up, and lights on.
One way to provide a welcoming environment is to try to leave your door open when people will be arriving. Maybe you have a screen door or security door in addition to a wood door. But leaving your door open provides a welcoming atmosphere which we like to use at church as well. If you can, leave the blinds open so that the visitor can see inside the house and know that he or she is at the correct home. Lastly, no one likes approaching a dark home. Try to keep plenty of outside lights on if you know that you are having a visitor.
11. Follow up and invite them back.
Before your group meets again call your visitors and let them know you enjoyed having them there and invite them back to the next meeting.
III. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. An Attitude, not a Requirement for Action
The LIFEGroups at Rocky Hill Community Church are the discipleship arm of our church. It is where we take people that are somewhat regularly attending church and try to get them with some other believers to help them grow and deepen their faith. If you’ve got a good group of twelve believers, I’m not requiring you to always accept new people. That’s not what I’m trying to say here. What I’m looking for is an attitude of inclusion where we don’t say, “We four. No more. Shut the door!” We want to be an open and loving group of people that accepts new people whether they are new Christians or have been walking with Jesus for a while.
B. Encourage your group members to reach out and invite people to your group.
Try to stretch the people in your group. Encourage them to reach out to someone that they know and invite that person to your group. Tell them that the group is meant to disciple people so they should invite people that need to be discipled.
C. Commit to three ways you want to welcome new people into your group.
Out of the eleven ways I have outlined above, commit to three of those that you want to do for the new people. Maybe even share this list with your group as a reminder about how your group can properly welcome new people into your group.