Most Sunday School groups are delighted to have guests attend. Sunday School is designed to be an organization of open groups. Ministry leader David Francis defines an open group as one that expects new people to attend every time it meets.
But what happens after a guest has attended? What should the group do in response?
Always remember that it’s a big step for a guest to choose to attend a group. More times than not, the guest will know few people in attendance. They probably have fear, anxiety, and even trepidation at the thought of attending. Yet they have chosen to take the big step of “trying out” your group. If the guest has gone through all of this, should the group not reciprocate with at least an acknowledgment of the visit?
When my wife Donna and I moved to Tennessee in 2006, we began to look for a church. We attended several. We attended several Sunday School groups, seldom knowing anyone in those groups. In all these visits, we received not a single acknowledgement of our attendance from any group. No visit. No phone call. No email. As a result, we really felt the groups did not want us to be a part of them.
Let me share three ways groups can respond to a first time guest:
1. Assign someone to follow-up.
Hebrews 13 admonishes us to not neglect to show hospitality. Let’s be honest: sone do that better than others. Find a group member with that ability and enlist them to have specific responsibility for follow-up with first time guests. That might include a phone call, a hand-written note, a visit, or better yet, a meal together.
2. Give a gift.
Provide something tangible for the guest to take home after the session. Every guest should be given a personal study guide during the Bible study session so they will have what all the members have, so be sure to order extra personal study guides for guests. But think even beyond that. A coffee mug filled with candy? A devotional magazine? A handmade gift from a member? A gift indicates the group desires and appreciates guests.
3. Call before the next session.
A quick Saturday evening phone call says volumes to guests. It shows that the group really does care and wants the guest to return. The phone call does not have to include much more than simply expressing a desire for the guest to return and be a part of the group.
Bruce Raley serves as Executive Pastor of First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, TN. A native of Hot Springs, AR, he previously served as Director of Church Partnerships and Church Education for LifeWay Christian Resources for 10 years. While at LifeWay, he personally trained hundreds of new church leaders. He also served on staff at First Baptist Church of Panama City, FL, and Walnut Street Baptist Church of Jonesboro, AR.