They were all guests who connected to our small group ministry at Renewal.
Biblical Conviction for Groups
The picture we have of the early church is one of deepening relationships with fellow believers through corporate gatherings in the temple and through meeting together in homes as the gospel is proclaimed (Acts 2:42-47). The Apostles were found in the temple and in homes teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Act 5:42). And the writer of Hebrews urges believers to meet together to encourage one another toward love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).
The example we have in Scripture of small gatherings of believers in homes or in groups was an essential part of the life of the early church. As a church plant, we desired to model this example and become recipients of God’s grace through living out the “one another’s” of the New Testament in small gathering of believers. We also desired for our small groups to be a place where the gospel is proclaimed and lived out.
As we prepared to plant Renewal Church in June of 2014, we adopted one of the core values of our sending church, Crosspoint Church in Clemson. “Fellowship Encourages Growth” became a core value of Renewal Church that made our small group ministry not just something we do, but a key to Renewal being a healthy church family.
In addition to adopting “Fellowship Encourages Growth” as a core value, we also determined that our first step in membership at Renewal would be for those pursuing membership to connect to a small group. Small groups have been a priority in the life of our church from the beginning and they remain a central and core element to Renewal Church.
Making the Leap
One of the keys to deepening relationships with our guests from our Sunday worship gatherings was to get to know them better in a more informal environment. Helping our guests make the leap from anonymity to connecting to a Life Group would take more than an announcement on Sundays during worship. It took more intentional efforts by our Elders, church staff, and covenant members. Connecting guests to our Life Groups was the next step for us to connect with our guests.
It’s been over three years since we launched our first Life Groups at Renewal Church and we have much to improve on, but here are three lessons we have learned about connecting our guests with our Life Groups.
1. Make it easy to connect. (Publicize)
Make it easy for your guests to know about small groups and connect with small groups. Those of us immersed in the life of the church, particularly as key leaders in planting the church, often forget how much we already know about our churches that our guests don’t know. We have quick side conversations about changes in times for events or location changes for our groups. And we are in the rhythm and flow of church life.
But, our guests are guests. They are not connected to the rhythm of the church and what’s happening and who to ask for details. They are figuring it all out. If they are interested, they are likely overwhelmed with the newness of the church. Many of them are just trying to decide if they want to come back to worship again.
We need to make it easy for our guests to connect to groups. If you have a guest card on Sundays, include an invite to small groups or a request on the card for more information about your groups. If you have a welcome table for guests on Sundays, include a brochure or list of groups available. You may want to set up an area with a person familiar with your groups to answer questions for guests. At that same area you may want to have a laptop or tablet available to register the guest’s information or show them a map of where your groups meet.
If you have a website, include key information, locations, and contact information for your groups. Make it easy to find groups on your website, and keep your information about your groups up-to-date.
If we are serious about connecting with our guests, we need to make it as easy as possible for our guests to get information and connect with our groups.
2. Make it everyone’s responsibility. (Personal Invite)
We currently name our Life Groups by the last name of the person leading the group. But we want everyone to have ownership of the group. We want everyone to feel like it’s his or her group. So we share various responsibilities in our groups from hosting to bringing snacks to watching kids. The whole group has ownership over the Life Group.
As we nurture ownership in our groups, each person who is a part of our Life Group becomes comfortable inviting someone to the group. The majority of our guests connect with our groups through personal invitations. A college student from Renewal invited the first year kinesiology professor to her Life Group. The German engineer was invited to worship and later to a Life Group by a co-worker. A family that was a part of our door-to-door visits in a neighborhood next to the school where we worship invited the empty nester couple to worship and to join their Life Group.
Guests most easily connect to small groups when they already have a relationship in the group. Teach and encourage your people to personally invite guests to their small groups. Don’t encourage them to simply tell a guest about small groups, but invite guests to their small group. Make connecting guests to groups everyone’s responsibility.
Over the years our “open chair” policy in our Life Groups and cultivating a culture of hospitality in our church family has created an environment in our groups where everyone is responsible for connecting guests with our groups.
3. Make it essential to church life. (Priority)
At the start, small groups were essential to church life at Renewal. From the very beginning, our Elders, church staff, and covenant members had a firm conviction that in order for our church to be a healthy and growing body of believers Life Groups needed to be a priority.
One of the key follow-up questions I ask every guest is “Have you plugged into one of our Life Groups?” Our Elders and church staff make posing this question a consistent part of our conversations with guests, and especially return guests. I am often surprised by how quickly many of our guests are invited to a Life Group by someone they meet during our greeting time in worship. When I ask this question often our guests reply by telling me they were invited multiple times to several different Life Groups.
If small groups are to be essential to the life of the church those groups must be healthy. Church leaders should determine and commit to the purpose and structure of their groups and work to maintain healthy groups. We have found that groups that struggle in connecting with guests are groups that are unhealthy. This year our Elders have implemented actions steps to strengthen and ensure our groups are healthy and vibrant so each group is ready to welcome guests.
Connecting Guests to Groups
Connecting guests to our small groups deepens relationships and creates an environment for fellowship, but it also opens the door to see the gospel lived out among believers. Whether the guest is a Christian or non-Christian the hospitality and the depth of relationship within our small groups can be a picture of the gospel and a bridge to not only a new relationship with a healthy local church, but also a new relationship with Jesus. Connecting our guests to our groups is gospel work and worth our efforts.