‘Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”‘ Matthew 9:37 NIV
All of us want to see new members in our Sunday School class, but what is the most effective way to reach them? Some are apprehensive about asking people out of fear they will say no. Others are worried that they are putting pressure on the person and will strain relationships. (They consider the decision to attend Bible study to be a private matter.) “After all, we announce that we have Sunday School. If they are interested they will show up.” I want to share a few thoughts from the perspective of the person in the pew.
No one has ever asked me personally to join them. In a previous church, I spent a lot of time visiting in the community. I discovered families who have lived in the community for several years. No one had visited and invited them to Bible study or church. Some of those families starting coming to both and would later make professions of faith and join. Persons in the church thought people knew where the church was and would come when they were ready. They were ready, but were apprehensive to show up without a personal invitation. They wanted someone to care enough to ask.
As I have shared in previous SS trainings, Albert Winseman in Growing an Engaged Church gives an insightful description of an actively engaged church member:
An engaged church member is able to affirm the following four statements:
1. I Feel Like I Belong
2. My Needs Are Being Met
3. I Am Able To Contribute Something Significant
4. I Know That I Am Growing, and that the Church Is Moving in the Right Direction
Are you able to say these statements are true about the persons in your Bible study? Persons in the pew become actively engaged in Bible study they need to feel as though they belong. They are looking for friendships and community. Inviting them to Bible study is part of the process.
I want to feel needed and a part of community. How are you building community with your people? Do they look forward to times of fellowship outside of the class? Do you have socials once a month and spontaneous gatherings at other times? Are persons who have a long history together in your class sensitive to conversations that would exclude new people? Do you have someone in the class who is a greeter/connector for new persons to meet people with similar interests? All of these ideas will help with community building and belonging.
I want to make a difference in the community and use my gifts. Discover a person’s passions and abilities/giftedness. Provide an ongoing service project for the class to use their gifts in the community. You will be surprised who might come to help you with a meaningful service project in the community. Some persons in the pew will meet you for a service project before they will come to your class. It gives you a chance to build a friendship, and they feel as though they have something to contribute.
I am not ready to join the church. There are some who have the perception that to join a class commits them to join the church. Years ago, I learned from a pastor about asking people about Bible study and not church. The pastor had learned that people in the South would tell him they are a part of the church down the street. (They were active twenty years ago, but not now!) He decided to change his approach and ask persons in the neighborhood if they attend a weekly Bible study. To his surprise he discovered a senior adult woman who was attending the Catholic Church down the street for worship, but was not involved in a Bible study. He invited her to Bible study at the usual time of Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. The next Sunday she showed up! A year later of faithful attendance and she gave her life to Christ! Ten years later she still attended the Bible study at the Baptist Church and then would go to the Catholic Church for worship.
There are people in our communities longing for community as a place to belong, have their needs met and wanting to make a difference. We simply need to recognize our part in bringing people to Good News. As Jesus said, “The harvest is ready, but the laborers are few.” We need to pray and see how God can use us in the harvest.