In this audio from our October 2014 Leader Meeting, pastor Jay Hendricks explains how to welcome new people into your LifeGroup:
Fighting the Weirdness with Normalness
“Oh, you’re a pastor, huh?”
The dreaded moment in the process of meeting a neighbor had arrived. Historically, this is the moment when he’ll start acting weird; the moment when he’ll start being very fake careful with his language and the moment when the opportunity for building a real friendship evaporates.
“Yeah. And me and some friends get up at the Kraken on Monday nights. Would you want to join us sometime?”
“You do?” (…awkward pause because a pastor just invited him to a bar…)
“…Yeah man, I’d be into that.”
Thank Jesus for rhythms. Especially the rhythm of going together. For me as a pastor, the way that our LifeGroup goes together is very helpful in letting people know “yeah, no, it’s ok. We’re normal.” We love Jesus, we’d like to get to know you, but no you don’t need to be freaked out.
The Value of a "Third Place"
Going together is a practical way of being church family in the midst of the city outside of our homes and Gatherings. We enjoy restaurants, bars, food and drink as well as each other in a visible setting. In these relaxed environments we both get to know each other in regular normal life and we also get to invite others in to a community environment with a very low energy barrier. Our conversation is peppered with Jesus as we cover a range of topics from our marriages and relationships to our jobs to parenting to sports to local news and movies.
For our LifeGroup, we’ve had two primary rhythms that have worked well in going together. For about a year and a half we’ve had some number of guys who meet together on Monday nights at a bar to enjoy each other, enjoy a beer and as a welcome place to invite friends in. Through this rhythm we’ve seen a number of guys who have hopped in and stayed for a while only to bounce out after a time. We’ve also seen a few guys move from Monday night at the bar into a growing relationship with Jesus and involvement in all aspects of our LifeGroup.
A number of months back, we started a new go together rhythm where one couple in our LifeGroup has opened their home to have backyard movie nights every other Friday when the weather is nice. This has been a super hospitable environment to invite in friends who don’t know about Jesus at all and start building relationship with them.
When it Doesn't Work...
I want to mention that we’ve tried a number of other go together rhythms that have not worked or lasted. Don’t feel tons of pressure that you have to nail it on the first try. My biggest encouragement would be pray, find something that works and is sustainable for at least a couple folks in your group and just get after it until it catches on. It’ll probably take a while. It almost definitely won’t work for everyone in the group. And in the long run Jesus will use it to help your group experience more shared life as family and give your group an easy on ramp for mission and inviting in new folks.
Let’s say someone came to one of your Gatherings. The speaker made an announcement along the lines of, “we believe the church isn’t a once a week service, it’s a group of people who daily live out the gospel in their community. The way we do this at Midtown is through LifeGroups. So sign up for a LifeGroup!” The person accepted the challenge, signed up for a group, and is now placed in yours! So what’s next? Here are a few pointers on how to be welcoming and inviting to your new LifeGroup member.
Phone Calls are Always Better
It’s so easy for people to miss an email, or read it only to be distracted and forget a few minutes later. So, with us wanting to be as hospitable and inviting to new folks as possible, it’s best to start with a phone call. If they don’t answer, leave a message. It’d probably be a great idea to combo a phone call with an email as well, as long as the phone call happens. Don’t write someone off as not responding to your invite if you haven’t called them.
Meet with Them Sometime During their First Week
One great way to welcome someone into your life (and LifeGroup) is to go out and grab lunch with them sometime during the week of their first LifeGroup. You can meet with them before their first meeting to highlight what your group does and what their expectations are for a LifeGroup, or after the first LifeGroup meeting once they’ve had a chance to meet you. Either way, the main point is to make them feel welcome and get to know them personally. It may be difficult for some people to talk about themselves amongst ten people they don’t know.
Make Sure They Are Invited to Your "Third Place"
We recommend our LifeGroups having three “places” to hangout each week. And don’t worry; it’s not as much time commitment as you think.
The first hangout time is your weekly group meeting. The second is at a Sunday gathering. The third is a regular “rhythm” that your LifeGroup has to invite others to. This can be a weekly lunch, happy hour, or a farmer's market. We call this your “Third Place”, and it’s a great and easy way invite people into your LifeGroup without inviting them to your weekly meeting, which can be intimidating.
For the newest member of your group, your Third Place can be a low pressure, fun place where they can just hang out and get to know everyone a little bit better.