How To Build Small Group Relationships (with and Between Members and Non-Members)

Note: this post is Part 8 of a series entitled, “Rebuilding the Sunday School/Small Group Ministry in the Local Church.”

I’ll never forget the last time I was the new person at church. My wife and I walked into a Sunday School class for the first time and did not know anyone. Now, I have been on a church staff for twenty years, so that was a long time ago, but over the years, that experience has shaped me and helped me many times.  It was not the nightmare you often fear. It was actually a very positive and easy experience to go from a first-time guest to engaged member of the class and we developed friendships that have lasted through the years. I wish it was that easy for every new person who visits our Sunday Schools for the first time.

As a Young Adult Sunday School teacher, I tried to emulate that experience in every class I led. As a Minister of Education, I want all of our groups to be a catalyst for growing relationships between members, non-members, and new people. Ministry is all about relationships and without relationships it is impossible for ministry to happen. There is a saying I like: “People are not looking for a friendly church. They are looking for friends.”

Here are a few things to consider that will help your groups be catalysts for developing relationships.

  • Set up your space to facilitate relationship-building. Circles are better than rows. It is hard to talk to someone when you are looking at the back of their head. I prefer rooms to be set up in circles or semi-circles. This makes it much easier to see everyone and it is much easier to talk and hear.
  • Get a greeter for your class. Find the person in your group who is a connector. This person likes to talk and meet people. Make them the class Greeter and give them the tasks of welcoming new people, introducing and connecting them to current members. This practice goes a long way in helping new people connect and stick in your church.
  • Get a coffee pot. Coffee brings people together. They love to talk around the coffee pot; so, if you don’t already utilize this time as people are coming in to class, get one. Give them a few minutes to talk with one another before you begin the lesson. Encourage them to fellowship. Consider having an ice breaker question to answer with another couple.
  • Encourage your teachers to add more group discussion time. Help your teachers see the benefit of good discussion questions that allow people to share who they are and what God is doing or has done in their lives. Common experiences, both good and bad, build community and foster acceptance.

Grow through times together outside of Sunday morning. Do something together outside of your Sunday morning space. Invite a family to go to lunch together, after church, or, go together as a class. Host a game night or plan some other fun activity. There is something special about getting together for a fellowship in someone’s home, and we have been really missing these times due to Covid. Hopefully soon, those days will return to us.

Author: Jason Walsworth, Minister of Education, Ruston, LA.