FIRST-PERSON: Clique. Un-clique.

PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP) -- "We're a friendly church!" It's a phrase heard regularly in most churches. Often, the more true statement is, "We're really friendly with one another." Is it possible that newcomers to your small group or your church perceive your sweet fellowship as cliquish?

Answer this question: Do you function more as a social club or an army of God? If your small group/Sunday School class is comfortably stagnant, or your church is plateaued or declining in attendance, perhaps it's time to un-clique.

As the fall semester kicks off, try these simple ideas to un-clique your class:

* Stop and refocus. Teach members to pay attention. When a guest arrives, members immediately change their focus from chatting with one another to warmly welcome the guest.

* Every member's a greeter. Train members to see every guest through God's loving eyes, and connect personally. Learn their name. Listen well and introduce guests to others. Learn their name. Sit nearby guests. Have real conversation with them. Learn their name. Tell them about church events and ministries they might enjoy. Invite a guest to join you for lunch. Get to know them and share your own Jesus story. Don't forget to learn their name.

* Add chairs, and move over. Anticipate guests. Provide plenty of seating so a guest never has to search awkwardly. Members can make guest seating less intimidating when they avoid "saving" seats in worship. Give up your end-of-pew seat rather than forcing newcomers to climb over you. For a Sunday School class, rearrange classroom seating often. Change from rows to a circle, or face a different direction.

* Avoid exclusive phrases. "Most of us are related." "We've all been friends for years." "We all grew up in this church." Phrases like these inform guests that they'll never be accepted. Show love for one another, but never at the expense of excluding others.

* Invite. Challenge class members to invite their unchurched acquaintances weekly. Print business-card-style invitations for members to carry with them. Teach members to be alert for guests in worship services and invite them to their class.

* Provide frequent entry points. Guests are always welcome, but intentionally plan special days to encourage members to bring newcomers. Use any excuse. A new Bible class or sermon series is set to begin. We're going out for lunch after church together. Bring your neighbor early next week for coffee and tea. Keep members thinking of the lost people they know.

* Connect digitally. Guests feel welcomed when individuals send an email to invite them back next Sunday. Add guests' names to your class or church email list immediately. "Friend" them on Facebook.

* State the goal often. Remind the group that we are organized to reach those who don't yet know Jesus. Strive for second-time guests and new members. Small groups can set numeric goals for growth. Ask every guest if they'd like to join the class. They don't have to be a Christian yet to join a Bible class. Church not a closed group.

* Un-clique leadership. Involve more people in large and small leadership roles. Many responsibilities are appropriate for newcomers, so offer a place of service as soon as possible.

* Plan for explosive growth. When members bring their lost friends, and the church warmly envelops guests with God's love, growth will happen. Get ready for them. Mentor potential teachers and leaders. Intentionally create new breakout groups, or multiply your class. No one can accuse a growing group of being cliquish!

The Great Commission is too vast -- and eternity is far too important -- for us to sit in a huddle. Make a commitment today: Un-clique.

Diana Davis, on the Web at www.dianadavis.org, is an author, columnist and ministry wife in Pensacola, Fla. She is the author of "Fresh Ideas," "Deacon Wives" (B&H Publishing) and the newly released "Six Simple Steps -- Finding Contentment and Joy as a Ministry Wife" (New Hope Publishers).
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