Archive for Open Groups

Not Just for Church Members

welcomebricksWHY THIS IS IMPORTANT? Do first time guests show up for Sunday School? Maybe they don’t know they’re invited?  Do your church website, Facebook page, and other publicity unintentionally imply that Sunday School is for “Members Only?”  Sunday School and adult groups are for everyone, but if you’re a new believer or didn’t grow up in church this might not be known or understood.

Sunday School, Life Groups, or whatever you call them, are the place where discipleship begins.  The setting should be an open group (anyone is invited to join at any time) with a stand-alone lesson every week.  This is different than an accountability group or a deeper learning discipleship class where one larger topic is explored often over the course of 8-12 weeks or more.

WHAT DO I DO? Because Sunday School has this format, people need to know that you don’t have to be a member to join.  Even if that is obvious by your church sign, website and other publicity, make sure that your group members know to communicate that to their friends and neighbors.

It’s been said many times, people aren’t looking for a friendly church, they are looking for friends!  What better place to find friends than in the Sunday School groups!  Make sure your class is a place where people who are looking for friends can find them, even before they become a member.

Invite and expect friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors. Greet them warmly. Connect with them in and beyond group time. Add them to the group care list.

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