In time, groups turn inward. It’s just a fact of group life. Groups, especially Sunday School groups, are supposed to be “open” groups (open to the arrival of new people each week). Sadly, many open groups are functionally closed. They are supposed to be open, but they aren’t. I see it over and over again in my travels, and in conversations with newer group members who have had hard times fighting their way into groups. Here are 3 reasons why it’s hard for an open group to remain open:
- The group has been together a long time – the rule of thumb in group life is that if a group has been together longer than 18 months, it’s very difficult for it to remain open to outsiders. The group has done life together, come to know one another, and have served and prayed together. It’s not that they are opposed to new people, it’s just that many of the current group members don’t have “relational space” to take on new friendships – all their time and energy is going into the existing group members, and they have little time for forging new relationships. This is why it is critical that groups regularly start new ones – it’s easier for guests to fit into newer groups where the people are more relationally open to starting new friendships.
- There is a concern that guests might change things – in some groups, there is a concern that newer people may disrupt the composition of the group, change things, and ruin whatever the current group likes about itself. In a situation like this, a group may do subtle things to make potential group members feel unwelcome.
- Guests are infrequent – when you don’t have a steady stream of guests, it’s easy to become a closed group. If you don’t have guests each week, then the group becomes about the group, not about the people “not yet here.” There isn’t much you can do about the flow of guests into your group, or is there? Look around your worship service – they are in there. Find them. Invite them. Or better yet, have every group member list 5 people they know who would fit into your group, but do not have a current church or group they attend. If you have 10 people in your group, you now have 50 potential group members to begin cultivating!
- You forget to do the little things – if you want your group to remain open, do the little things such as wearing stick-on name tags every week (yes…every week); this reminds your group members that you are expecting guests, and it serves as an act of faith. Have extra chairs and extra study materials for when the guests do arrive – make sure they know you are expecting them and welcoming them into the group. Sit with your guests in worship. Invite them to lunch. Introduce them to the newest person(s) in your group so they might potentially begin a friendship. Just be intentional about “the little things.”
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