-- Am I late? Cultivate a high-energy, welcoming atmosphere before class. Assign early coffee makers and friendly, informal greeters. Play a music CD. Encourage members and guests to arrive early for fellowship.
-- Teach members to truly greet. When guests arrive, all members must immediately, intentionally turn their focus toward meeting, befriending and including them. Eternity may be at stake!
-- The list. Prepare a members/guest list with email or phone numbers. Ask guests' permission to add their names; then update it before next week. Place an asterisk by guests' names, and make a goal to remove the asterisk.
-- Hi, Paul. Enhance fellowship with permanent nametags, readable from six feet away. Use disposable tags for guests, and promise a "real" one next week. Provide Sunday School literature and Bibles for guests to use, too.
-- Add paint. God's house should look as nice as yours. Get permission, then paint, viciously de-clutter, update décor, add Christian art and make needed repairs. Joyfully repeat the process annually, or if your room assignment changes.
-- Joy photos. Create a wall display or looped slideshow with action photos of your small group in fellowship, ministry, study, laughter, worship and prayer. Add current photos at least monthly.
-- A simple "freshen-up." Regularly make small changes to subtly heighten interest and avoid stagnation. Face chairs in a different direction. Rearrange them in semi-circles or rows. Add a teacher's podium, table or stool.
-- An empty chair. If all chairs are occupied when a guest arrives, he feels awkward, unexpected and unwelcome. Move over, mature Christians. Expect guests. Add chairs.
-- Open God's Word. A great Bible study class must have -- surprise! --quality, life-changing Bible study. Is more time spent discussing ailments and town trivia than God's Word? Change that. Consider printing announcements and prayer requests.
-- Respect minutes. Consistently begin precisely on time. If class precedes the worship service, it's imperative to always dismiss with ample time to arrive before worship begins. Leaders demonstrate that priority by eagerly leading the way.
-- Find guests in worship. Every leader and member should eagerly watch for guests in the worship service and personally invite them to their Bible class.
-- Intentional follow-up. Within 72 hours after guests visit your small group, they receive a phone call, email, personal visit and snail mail welcome note from various members. Delegate these weekly assignments. One growing class invites newcomers to coffee or lunch so they can get to know them, share their own God story and invite them to join the group.
-- Fellowship or flounder. Create an atmosphere of love, and enhance relationships by planning annual events and frequent fellowships, with a focus on including newcomers. Meet often for Sunday lunch. Participate in all-church activities.
-- Stagnate or multiply. Make a class goal to multiply at least annually. That means your class will intentionally reach new people and birth a new, reproducing class. Train an intern teacher, set numeric goals and schedule the multiplication date.
Sunday School isn't a closed group. Our purpose is to share Jesus with our world -- not just to huddle! Make a plan to intentionally reach new people for Christ.
"... They welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Consequently, many of them believed," (Acts 17:11b-12a).
Diana Davis is author of "Fresh Ideas" and "Deacon Wives" (B&H Publishing). She is an author, columnist and wife of North American Mission Board's vice president for the south region, Steve Davis. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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