Warmth counts! Until recently when I became the interim at Northwest Baptist-OKC (a great church, check it out here), I would often have the opportunity to visit Sunday School classes in different towns and churches. Since I'm not a familiar face in most places, I go "incognito". Often, I encounter a very warm reception upon stepping into a Bible study class. Occasionally… well, using the word "chilly" might be a more apt description.
Most of us really believe that our class is the friendliest class in town. Maybe the state. Perhaps the universe! But often, what we experience as a warm friendly environment personally may be less than that to a new person. A warm, welcoming environment is a critical part of who we are as believers. Let's face it, we all are sinners saved by grace and the warmth in which we receive a guest is a way for us to reflect the graciousness that God has given us. The reception a guest receives from believers in a class or small group can either encourage or hinder their receptivity to the gospel.
Warmth is also disarming. Many people, especially those far from God, may bring a lot of baggage with them about who Christians are. They may be hurt. They may be defensive. I read a report from LifeWay Research in which they interviewed a young woman who compared going to church with visiting a used car lot…ouch!
Here are some suggestions to help make your Sunday School class a warmer, more inviting place:
- Nametags! My friend David Francis from LifeWay is "Mr. Nametag". Have you ever been a newcomer and had a bunch of people introduce themselves to you? A few minutes later, how many names can you recall? The simple act of wearing a nametag is a great help to a newcomer. Plus, they get to wear a nametag too, so people can call them by name as well.
- Do lunch.My wife and I visited a church together a few months ago. Following the Bible study hour, the teacher invited us out to eat lunch after worship. We went, and had a great time with the teacher and several other people from their class. What a great experience!
- Fellowship. Always invite guests to your next class fellowship… and fellowship often. My friend Josh Hunt has made hosting a fellowship an art form. Visit here for some ideas from Josh about how to have a great fellowship.
- Notes. Send the guest a note, especially a handwritten note. Personalize it. Most of us don't have so many guests in our class each week that we don't have time to write a couple of notes to a newcomer. Be sure to put something personal on it so that they know you remember them.
- Email. Take the time to add them to your class e-newsletter.
- Enroll. We will talk about this next week, but ask every guest if they would like to join your group. People like to belong.
- Phone. Call your guests on the phone and after some chitchat, just ask them how their experience went and if there is anything you can do to help them.
- Welcome their kids. When a guest arrives with children, be sure to accompany them along with their kids to every Sunday School class for each of their kids. Preschool and children's leaders – it is imperative that when a guest arrives in your class that you give them your complete attention! Mom and Dad will feel so much better when you greet their child properly and show them respect. Involve them in a learning activity as soon as you can. Youth leaders – be sure to introduce a guest to several students in the group and stay with them until it is obvious they are expected.
IMPORTANT note: For most Americans, children choose the restaurant where the family goes to dine. In many cases, children choose the church too!
Finally, be sure to engage their story. We will talk about this more in a later post, but everyone has a story and most are eager to share their story if asked. Simply asking a guest to share their story (not in the large group in front of everyone, but in the hallway or on the phone) is one of the best actions you can take to make a person feel warm and appreciated.
I know there are other ways to engage people so that they are less intimidated by a group. We are learning from each other so please feel free to share something you or your class does to take the frost off your group and how you extend warmth to new people.
Also, remember that every person who posts a comment to this post receives a free CD by the Ryan Smith Band!