It is intimidating to be the new person in a group Bible study. What if they call on me to pray? What if they ask me to read out loud? What if they ask me to talk a lot about myself? Where do I sit? How can I remember everybody’s name? These same questions sometimes keep group members from inviting other people. There are five simple practices you can employ to make guests feel more comfortable and to create a culture where members feel good about inviting someone to attend group with them.
1. Enlist the pray-er ahead of time and announce it to the group. Ask someone if they’d be willing to lead the group prayer time. (Sometimes people will say “no” for reasons they don’t want to explain. Don’t make a big deal about it.) When it’s time for prayer, say, “I have asked Alex if he’ll lead us in prayer. Looks like we have about 7 minutes to share requests.”
2. Enlist readers ahead of time. Prepare an index card for each Scripture passage the group will explore. Hand it to a group member and ask them if they’d be prepared to read it. They can mark their place and be ready. You probably know what translation each group member prefers, so sometimes you can select a reader based on that. Again, if someone declines, don’t make a big deal about it.
3. Allow the use of “hard word.” You might even model this occasionally. When reading out loud, make sure everyone knows it is okay to substitute the phrase “hard word” for one of those names or places that is difficult to pronounce.
4. Wear name tags. Nothing makes a guest feel more comfortable than a group of people wearing name tags. First name large enough to see across the room. Last name smaller. Something else each time the group meets. Hometown. Favorite movie. Birthday. Be creative.
5. Always have an empty chair. Or two. Even if all the chairs are occupied, find an empty one to add to the group. It says, “There is always room for someone else.” If there is. Is there?
David Francis is Director of Sunday School at LifeWay. He is the author of eleven small books available for free at lifeway.com/davidfrancis or at the iTunes store. His interactive Bible study, Spiritual Gifts, is in its ninth printing and is not free! (But it is available to order at lifeway.com.) He and his wife Vickie teach four- and five-year olds in Sunday School and are members of a small group of empty nesters. Their three sons and their families live in three different time zones—Boston, Los Angeles, and Bryan-College Station.