I read about a man named Vincenzo “Vinnie” Ricardo, a resident of Hampton Bays, NY. According to an Associated Press story on February 18, 2007, the 70-year-old died while watching television at his home. The sad part of the story is that he remained there for one year before anyone discovered his body. He might have remained there even longer had pipes at his home not burst.
City workers discovered his mummified body still sitting on the couch, the TV still on. Because of cold temperatures and dry conditions in the home, his body was well-preserved, leaving his facial features and hair intact. Medical examiners said they had never seen anyone dead this long. As it turns out, Mr. Ricardo was blind, and he was estranged from his family. Only one neighbor dropped in to read him his mail and pay his bills, but she quit stopping by when he continued to press her for more of her time. Other neighbors never noticed that he had quit wandering in the streets with his cane. One neighbor said, “I didn’t really know him that well, but apparently nobody did.”
This story reinforces the need we all have for relationships. It is so important to help people develop relationships in our Sunday Schools and small groups. You may have Vincenzo Ricardos on your class roll…people who have gone missing. Do you know why they are missing? Do you know their story? One of the great tasks given to the Sunday School is to help people build relationships with one another. Dick Murray, in his book Strengthening The Adult Sunday School, said, “It is a myth that most adults attend Sunday School primarily to learn. People attend for fellowship and friends.” That was a hard pill for me to swallow as a Minister of Education. I thought people came to Sunday School because they wanted to learn God’s Word. As it turns out, they are there to a large degree because of the need for relationships. Now that I teach a group weekly, I can testify that this is true.
Be savvy in the ways you help people develop relationships in your group. Here are a few simple things you can do to help people get (and stay) connected:
1. Wear name tags. David Francis, in his book Invite I-6, said, “There may be nothing more important for a class to create an inviting environment than a conscious and consistent effort to wear nametags” (p.24). In the group my wife and I just launched, we have practiced wearing name tags each Sunday. I’ve told our group members they’ll probably get tired of wearing the name tags each week, but it’s already helped us learn each other’s names, and it will help any guests who come to our class to learn the names of our group members. Name tags jumpstart relationships, and they are inexpensive!
2. Have regular fellowships. Call them parties, call them get-togethers, they are the fun events that provide opportunities for relationships to grow. My wife and I have established Third Sunday Lunches and our Bible study group now has a regular monthly lunch date. We have taken day trips and gone on other fun outings. This is just one facet of Sunday School, but it’s an important one. Are you having enough fun with your group? To quote David Francis again, “There may not be a better tactic for creating opportunities for invitation than department, class, or group parties. Parties should be scheduled regularly” (Invite I-6, p. 36).
3. Go after the people who are missing in action. In almost every Bible study group there are people who are absent each time the group comes together for Bible study. In fact, it’s a fairly accepted fact that about 50% of the people enrolled in a group won’t attend on any given week. If a group has 20 people in attendance, there’s a good chance there are 20 more on the group’s ministry list who are absent – and they need follow-up. Someone must reach out to them and make sure their needs are being met. They need to hear “We missed you last week.”
4. Set the example. If you want your group members to grow in relationship to each other, set the example for them and take the initiative to get to know them. Go to lunch with them. Invite them into your home. Play matchmaker and connect them to each other. If growing relationships is a priority for you, the group leader, then it will become important to your group members.