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.
When 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.