Every small group or Sunday school class drifts toward becoming inwardly focused. Here’s how it plays out: a new group forms and enjoys early days of developing new relationships and connections with people. Everyone is equally eager to develop these relationships. The group grows numerically as new faces are added. Excitement builds as the group grows and reaches new people who were formerly unconnected. This momentum lasts for a time but, after a while, it slows as the group leans more and more toward becoming closed in nature or less receptive to newcomers.
This trend toward becoming closed isn’t intentional, it’s accidental. It’s natural inertia. Relationships become solidified among group members as you do life together over time. Mountain and valley experiences of life are shared and bonds form as people walk side by side on life’s journey. And all of this is good. It’s what you must develop in a small group community. But the challenge is to not become so closed, so inwardly focused, that you forsake the importance of creating room for newcomers who desire to experience the same community you enjoy.
So how do you do that? How do you fight against the natural tilt toward an inwardly focused group? Consider these ideas:
- Expect Guests. It sounds silly but it’s true. Inwardly focused groups do not expect guests and, therefore, do not have a plan to receive them, acknowledge them, and help them feel accepted. When you don’t expect guests, you neglect guests.
- Wear Nametags. You may know everyone’s name in your group, but guests don’t know any names typically. Wearing nametags sends the message that you expect someone who doesn’t know your name to be present.
- Avoid Cliques. It’s so much easier to talk with people you know and already have a developed relationship with. But fight the urge to segregate yourself from others, especially guests, and take initiative to connect with newcomers. The worst possible scenario is for longtime members to chat with each other while not including guests.
- Sit in Circles. Group size obviously dictates set up but, whenever possible, arrange your chairs in a circle. Circles promote group growth, unity and combined synergy. This sends a positive message to guests who desire to belong and grow. Life change happens best in circles, not rows.