I went to a minor league baseball game with a friend one night this past week. We cheered for our team on a pleasant summer evening. The ball park was not packed very tight and we had room to spread out a couple of seats apart. There were only a few other people sitting in our row and we didn’t have to get up once to let someone slip by us. So we enjoyed the space we
occupied in the public arena and our team won. But I could not tell you the name of another person who went to that
game with me, except for my friend. It was a public space.
David Francis, in his book Transformational Class, tells about his love for Panera Bread stores where he gets coffee and writes (pages 22-23). He may know a few of the regulars and someone may call him by name, but by and large it is a social space where he is comfortable, but yet allowed to relax and do his business.
He mentions there are also personal spaces such as a gathering of family or friends (even friends you haven’t been around in a while, but you enjoy seeing them). And most people have an intimate space, such as your own home, or a place where you share with a close personal friend or a small group that is accountable and highly relational.
Francis argues that Sunday School operates on that social space level and allows people to come to the class, attend, be somewhat comfortable, but does not require them to get too personal or intimate with the class unless they are ready to go to that level. Sunday School classes that allow people to freely come in (an “open” class environment) will help people find their comfortable space in Sunday School.
Think about the ways you can help you Sunday School classes be a safe, open and friendly space (but not too personal) for first-time guests:
- Have well-marked rooms that are not too hard to find.
- Have a couple of class greeters, but don’t “smother” people when they arrive.
- A good cup of coffee or some orange juice available provides a “safe” way to mingle (and if you are a little timid, you
can “hide” behind that Styrofoam coffee cup).
- Have plenty of seats, so folks can spread out and keep their personal bubble of space around them.
- Use name tags and make introductions, but allow people the freedom to be semi-anonymous if they wish.
- Give opportunity, but don’t push for a repeat commitment to attend the class again or to enroll if the person seems slightly hesitant.
- Please don’t embarrass persons in this “social space” by calling them out or asking them to read out loud or pray without determining if they would be comfortable doing so.
Note: David Francis quotes Joe Myers in the book The Search to Belong for the discussion on the four kinds of spaces.
Richard Nations is the Church Health Strategist for the Baptist Convention of Iowa, Des Moines, IA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.