We’re all dying for a place to belong. But for many of the people we serve, it’s hard to believe that authentic and safe community actually exists.
The radically inclusive and welcoming nature of Jesus’ life and ministry was confusing, , challenging and frustrating for the religious people around Him. How strange to see this man who claimed to be the son of God live so closely to the undesirables and the outcasts.
Jesus invites us, His body, into the same uncomfortable mess. Many churches claim “all are welcome here” but do their small groups reflect the same sentiment? Are those brand new to faith welcome? How about the single mom whose life is chaotic right now? What about the addicted wild card? Is transformative community available to those who need it most?
Jesus invited outsiders into His life, even though they weren’t “good enough” to be there, and we can too. Here are three main problems that prevent those who are new or “messy” from joining groups, and solutions for overcoming them.
PROBLEM: Most people don’t think they’re good enough to be “in”.
SOLUTION: Excessively invite people in so they believe they really are welcomed.
We all go through life with a sinking suspicion that we are on the outside. Authentic community can sound too good to be true to those who haven’t experienced it. It can also strike them as one of those things saved exclusively for those who have it all together. It’s our job as a church to weave the invitation of community into everything we do. Position community as the destination for anyone who engages in your church with clear next steps for getting into a group at every turn.
PROBLEM: “Christian-ese” is confusing and scary to those who don’t speak it.
SOLUTION: Do the hard work of communicating in a way that makes Biblical community enticing for anyone, even the non-Christian.
Jesus carefully customized his communication to the audience he was trying to reach. He told stories that related directly to the normal life experiences of those he lead. It takes more time and effort, but careful communication and translating is necessary to make community accessible.
Don’t be so focused on communicating the lofty goals of discipleship that you make that very discipleship a foreign concept to those who need it.
PROBLEM: The material we study in groups can be intimidating.
SOLUTION: Make groups accessible to all.
Imagine being brand new to a group and learning that they’re studying the book of Revelation for the next 32 weeks. Guaranteed no-show in week 2! It’s our job to make sure that what we study in groups is accessible enough for people to feel qualified, but still challenged. That’s why we try to focus in on weekend message-based groups, interest groups, and short-term topical groups that anyone can be a part of without going to seminary first.
As trust in a group grows, and people are more relationally locked in, it’s easier to push each other toward studies that are more challenging and even rigorous. But in our efforts to “raise the bar”, we can’t accidentally “raise the bar of ENTRY”.