Author Archive for Tom Belew

The Return (Inviting Guests to Come Back)

Getting in the diamond with your guests may be easier than you think! If you are going to succeed with your group, relationships are extremely important. You want to know you are connecting with guests, and ensure that your relationship is inside their circle of awareness. So what does that look like/mean?

Most group leaders make a follow-up phone call and most churches send a letter. It would seem that leaders are concerned about getting too close too soon, when we actually want to get close quickly. We want our guests to come back next week!

In contrast, I have learned most people come back to a group if there was more than a call or letter. Numerous times a guest has told me they came back because someone in the group:

  • Visited them
  • Invited them to lunch
  • Invited them to a fellowship activity
  • Invited them to go to an event with them
  • Offered to sit with them in worship

Three weeks ago, we had guests in our group and I was thrilled to see what happened:

  • The group leader took time for everyone to introduce themselves.
  • As the group dismissed at least three families went over to get better acquainted.
  • One family sat with them during worship.
  • I heard a family invite them to lunch even though they had several children.

By the way, they came back, and stayed for a church fellowship on their second Sunday.

Tom Belew is the Small Groups & Childhood Specialist for the California Southern Baptist Convention.

Identify Your Mission Field

When asked “Who are you planning to reach?”, the pastor walked up to the window and said, “Look at those houses out there.” The Mission Field for your group needs to be specific and include the opportunity to develop relationships with the lost. Identify the place where you are most likely to succeed.

Identifying your Mission Field options:

  • Geographic Area – Pick an area fitting the capability of your group, such as a new subdivision.
  • Potential Per Member – Ask members to identify reachable friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers, then set the total as your field.
  • Community Opportunity – Identify a school, single parents or families of kids on a ball team.
  • Age-group or Life Stage – For example 30-35 years or newly married.

Get your group involved in the decision to increase ownership of the idea. At a group meeting fellowship, ask each group member to list at least three possible Mission Field opportunities on sticky notes, one idea per note. Next ask the group to identify the best opportunities on the list, using the following questions:

  • Is God already working in an area where we need to join Him?
  • Is there a location where we already have relationships with people who do not know Christ?
  • Are you especially passionate about one of the ideas?
  • Eliminate ideas you could not afford in dollars or time.
  • Eliminate ideas beyond the capability of your group.

Now, ask your group to pray about the remaining ideas. After a few days of prayer, ask the group to pick the Mission Field where they feel led by God.

Tom Belew is the Small Groups & Childhood Specialist for the California Southern Baptist Convention.


4 Mistakes to Avoid When Ministering to Members

WHY IS THIhighexpectationsS IMPORTANT? When a group takes care of those within the group, they can be a great blessing to the Lord and their church. A mother was diagnosed with cancer. She had two school-age children, and she and her husband both worked to make ends meet. Over a three-month period, their group dug in to help the family through this difficult time. First there were visits and then a call for group members to bring food every night. As the family burden increased, the group developed a plan to take the kids to school, pick them up, and drop them at the house when dad got home from work. The group even helped with the family’s house payment. The mom survived her bout with cancer, and the entire group was forever changed because of the experience.

WHAT DO I DO? Not every ministry experience tracks well. Here are a few mistakes to avoid:

  • Assuming someone else will do it – A group failed to visit a member who had lost her mother because everyone thought some knew her better and would make the contact. Ultimately no one made the contact and the woman left the group and church hurt.
  • Being unclear on expectations – Sometimes we ask for volunteers and fail to make ministry expectations clear. Or the person we are helping expresses a need and we misunderstand.
  • Not listening – Often we are too busy doing the ministry to listen. Many times the best ministry is just listening.
  • Poor communication – Sometimes we drop the ball because we do not communicate well.


The Difference Between Open and Closed Groups

Open or Closed

Have you ever driven to a store hoping they were still open? When you drove into the parking lot the lights were on, there were cars there and as you got closer you could see people moving around inside. So you park your car and head for the door only to discover the door is locked.

Without thinking, a church can send mixed messages about their groups. The announcements say, “Sign up for a group today, everyone is welcome!” On the list you spot a “Building Strong Marriages” group that sounds perfect. You and your wife decide to go for it. When you get to the group the leader eagerly greets you and says, “We would love to have you, but we are halfway through an eight-week study. You will have to wait until the group is offered again.” Suddenly, you discover the group, just like the store, has limitations on when it is open. If the group was repeated often, in reality it would just be open a few days a year.

What kind of group do you have? Is it open or closed? What difference does it make anyway?

David Francis and Rick Howerton, in Countdown: Launching & Leading Transformational Groups on pages 11 and 12, explore both of these options. Here are some thoughts. Let’s start with closed groups.

Closed Groups

  • New participants are not accepted after the first couple of sessions.
  • Participants need to meet a requirement to join, such as completing a previous study or being a church member.
  • The group specifies participant expectation with a covenant or agreement, such as confidentiality or a commitment to a schedule.
  • The number of participants is limited by the seating capacity or space.
  • As you can see from this list, closed groups often have many conditions that apply to those who can participate. Without thinking, churches establish groups with conditions that greatly limit participation. The greatest of these limitations is the ability of closed groups to keep guests, regular attenders and members from joining a group when God begins to penetrate their heart.

Don’t get me wrong, churches need closed groups. Many of the topics and ministries a church does require closed groups. The challenge is what to do for those who what to join a group today!

To address this challenge, churches need open groups. Notice the difference in the characteristics of an open group.

Open Groups

  • New people are welcome anytime.
  • You can invite people before they believe or unite with the church.
  • New groups are started when space is limited, to continue to keep them open.
  • Open groups have an intentional outward focus. To meet this challenge, open groups have limited curriculum content. Each session must be designed for a first time guest. Since there is a possibility of the first time guest being an unbeliever the content needs to be usable and understandable for this person. Open groups are intentionally planned to include unbelievers. As a result open groups have the power to change our world.

Tom Belew, Small Groups & Childhood Specialist, California Southern Baptist Convention

Day 14-Shepherd Relationships

Luke gives a great example of the relationship the shepherd has with his sheep in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-6). When the shepherd goes out and finds the lost sheep, he cares so much that he calls friends and neighbors together to celebrate the recovery.

PhoneIconWhen we think about a great caring relationship for those in our group, it reminds me of a Sunday school emphasis I came across a few years ago. The acronym for the emphasis was EMPOAF which stood for “Every Member Present or Accounted For.” Can you imagine what it would be like in your group or class to know the “where and why” for those not in attendance? EMPOAF was just that kind of emphasis. Each week, teachers and care group leaders were to contact each person or couple to see how they were doing and if they would be able to be in Bible study the coming week. As a result, the teacher did not show up at the next class wondering who might be there. They knew who was coming and they knew they had lost some sheep, if someone did not show up. Just like the shepherd, they knew they should follow up right away.

One of the best relationship builders is regular contact. Andy Anderson, famous for the Growth Spiral, had an emphasis he called the “Saturday Night Caller.” Over the years of my ministry, I have seen several teachers and care group leaders use this method to keep up with their sheep (group members). One teacher told me about his experience using this method. As he routinely made calls each week, many of those in his class began to call him. They expected his call and when they knew something was going to prevent them from being in his class they quickly let him know. They knew he would be calling them after the class, if he did not know why they were absent. This kind of relationship was not seen as intrusive, but was reflective of the teacher’s sincere concern. It was not about attendance, it was love for a friend. The Saturday Night Caller emphasis does improve attendance because of the regular contact and concern.

What are some other ways a shepherd can build meaningful relationships with members and guests? I have always been a one-to-one kind of guy, or two-to-two with my wife. Making a visit in a home, meeting someone at a restaurant, or planning a trip to the park are great ways to build meaningful relationships. Remember, every shepherd is different and what works for me may not work for you. Here are a few other ways to build relationships:

  • Birthday and anniversary cards or contacts.
  • Class or group fellowships.
  • Class or group mission projects or trips.
  • Invite them to your home for fellowship and maybe a meal.
  • Invite classmates to lunch after church.
  • An ice cream fellowship.
  • An annual weekend retreat.
  • Learn to glean information about family weddings, funerals and school events, then plan to show up.
  • Being there in a crisis always builds a lasting relationship.

I am certain there are more great ideas you have seen or heard. Take a minute to respond to this blog with another idea or two. Other teachers and leaders will benefit from your thoughts.




Tom Belew is the Small Groups and Childhood specialist for the California Southern Baptist Convention.