Small groups enable people to apply biblical learning to life. They also present opportunities for members to engage in mission with their surrounding community. In fact, small groups present wonderful opportunities for blending believers with those who have yet to believe.
Groups that experience the greatest growth tend to be those that have a mixture of people in different places spiritually. Therefore, it is important for small-group leaders to know how they can welcome spiritual seekers and nurture their sense of belonging. The more group leaders know how to engage and encourage truth-seeking guests, the more effective they will be in connecting the Good News with those looking for truth.
For the sake of this article, I am defining a seeker as someone who is in the process of seeking truth, but has not made the decision to follow Christ. A believer, on the other hand, is someone who has found the truth and decided to commit their lives to following Jesus.
Here are some practical tips to receive seekers and build relationships with them.
The First Night
Have an Open Group Policy
Small groups provide so many opportunities for outreach. So let regular members know you want them to invite friends. This attitude is one of the greatest contributing factors to a group making an evangelistic impact. If your group is in a season or study that is less conducive to having newcomers join in, it's okay to be a closed group for a time. It is always good, however, for group members to know they are commissioned and encouraged to invite their seeking friends.
Warmly Welcome Seekers
Learn a little about your guests as you greet them and walk them into your gathering space. Do your best to remember facts they share about themselves, their family and friends, and how they found your group. One of the simplest and most powerful ways to help newcomers feel at home in your group is to call them by their names each time you refer to them.
Connect Them with Others
As seekers come in, connect them with other group members and help strike up conversation before your study begins. This is when your memory recall comes into play. Use what you know about them to ignite conversations with other group members.
If they have been invited by a group member, the group member can serve as their "buddy" for the evening, helping them feel welcome and connected.
Briefly Introduce Them
Introduce seekers to your group at the outset of your gathering using what you learned about them. Don't ask your spiritually-seeking guests to talk in front of the whole group. Let them initiate sharing if they are comfortable. Just do what you naturally do each group meeting and let them chime in as they see fit.
Consider Them Seekers
Believers who are new to a Christian gathering tend to talk about their faith or church commitment. If your guests don't mention their faith or church involvement, chances are they either don't have a relationship with God or don't have a strong one. It is vitally important to avoid making assumptions about what your guests believe. Rather, look for ways to affirm the truth God has apparently given to them as Paul did in Athens (Acts 17:22-23, 28-29).
Introduce the Group Structure
Most people prefer to get a good feel of the group dynamic before jumping into the discussion. Take a minute at the beginning of the meeting to say what your group is about. Invite input from others so guests can catch a glimpse of the other personalities present. If your guests feel free to participate, they're more likely to return.