The healthiest churches I know have small groups that are intentional about reaching non-believers. They set that goal, and they seek to reach lost people and then disciple new believers.
At the same time, I’m thinking about my mom as I write this post. She’s not yet a believer (so please join me in prayer), though she’s increasingly open to talking about spiritual things. Church has not been a part of her life. As I think of where she is in her journey, I’m reminded of reasons unchurched or newly-churched folks may be uncomfortable attending your small group.
- They don’t even know a “small group” is. They may hear multiple announcements about small groups, but that doesn’t mean they understand the term – especially when the term often varies (like community groups, cell groups, fellowship groups, life groups, etc.).
- They don’t know what happens in a small group. If you’ve never been to a small group and don’t know whom to ask about one, the best you can do is imagine what might go on there. The unknown can be frightening enough to keep people away.
- They may not know anybody else well. Of course, relationships are usually the glue that holds a small group together. In some cases, though, a visitor to a small group may not know anyone well. Even newly churched folks may still not know many people.
- They know what they don’t know. They may know that the Bible is the textbook for the group, but that’s what alarms them. When you don’t know the Bible, you don’t often want to hang out with people who seem to know it well.
- They fear they’ll be put on the spot. This issue is related to the last one. It’s bad enough not to know the answers everyone else knows; it’s even worse to be asked a question that forces you to admit your ignorance.
- They worry the small group will be a personal counseling session. Sometimes their only understanding of a “small group” is related to a recovery group. If they hear that the small group includes accountability as well (a positive element of groups), their concern is only magnified.
- They don’t understand “church lingo.” We really do have our own evangelical and denominational languages. Unless you know our terms and expressions, you can get quickly lost in the discussion.
- They’ve heard “horror stories” from others. They’ve heard about groups that became nothing but gossip sessions or back room church mutinies. Even if the stories were exaggerated, they still carry influence.
- They’ve had their own bad experiences. Some folks have tried small groups in the past, only to find them boring, irrelevant, or even ungodly. One really bad experience is difficult to get past.
So, how might you convince folks like my mom to attend a small group? Be sure to explain what a small group is. Talk about its purpose. Tell folks what to expect, and then meet those expectations. Don’t assume Bible knowledge. Don’t put guests or new members on the spot. Clarify terms. Give attenders a good experience – show them that good small groups exist.