Getting to know you . . .

I’ve been noodling over this for a while but thought I’d throw it out to you all, since you always have such good ideas. Basically, I’m looking for ideas for church-based socialization. I’m not quite sure how to describe it so I’ll give you the long story.

I go to a wonderful congregation. We’re blessed to have pastors who preach beautifully and administer the sacraments faithfully. Our classical school is doing well. Everything’s great, in fact. And we’re growing. That’s not a problem, obviously. But the problem is that our congregation has grown so much in the last few years that we could use greater opportunities to get to know each other. We’re in the busy suburbs of Washington, D.C. Busy jobs, traffic, the whole nine yards.

Where we used to be small enough to all know each other and organize informal gatherings (“Hey, you want to get brunch?,” “You want to throw a Reformation Day party with me?,” etc.) we’re sensing that some people could use some direction and help with the whole socialization side of things. I’m usually the first to introduce myself to visitors. But with two young children (at least one is guaranteed to be crazy on any given Sunday), that’s become more difficult. There are tons of people in my church now who I don’t even know and haven’t met.

And that’s why I’m coming to you.

What ways have your congregations come up with to help congregants get to know each other better? One of my friend’s ideas, which she just started this last Sunday, is to have a seasonal brunch for new members. Do you have any other suggestions? I’d love to hear them.


Getting to know you . . . — 37 Comments

  1. Dinners for 6-8. Adults only (usually), someone takes signups and shuffles everyone into groups. Each group has 4 months during which each couple or single hosts organizes a get together once. Then you reshuffle!

    Picnics with those ridiculous mixer games that they use for high schoolers–random assignments N,S,E,W and then each group has to find as many things they have in common as possible.

    Game night–one church I attended has this on New Year’s Eve. It’s a dessert thing–potluck desserts, hot mulled wine and cider, lots of non-computer games.

  2. We had a dinner group. First we announced what the menu would be. Then all the folks who wanted to attend responded. Then we put about 10 people to a group and sent out recipes. Then the participants called the host to let them know what they would bring. Basically, it was a potluck without the luck. We met pretty much everyone that way. It was great.

  3. For several months our fellowship board did a card type game, inviting whomever would come .. it was some kind of game where you had 4 at a table, and were paired off, and the losers stayed at the table and the winners moved to another table.

    For a shy person like me it helped me at least get to know more people, and was a great idea in my opinion.

    We’ve also tried the new member fellowship dinners, but that doesn’t help for the shyer members, and as we held more and more of them the attendance decreased.

    Perhaps potlucks?

  4. Having a “welcome wagon” group, is always a good idea. Nothing cheesy, just a nice little packet or basket, w/a directory, some nick naks, that sort of thing.
    Couples Supper Clubs, are always a great idea. My parents friends, were mostly from Church, & they always did a round robin thing, 2x a month. Then the group would go out to eat, once in a while. There are lots of things couples can do, Wine/Beer Tasting Groups, Foreign Food Nights, Card Clubs, etc. Family Fun nights & outings are always a good idea. W/your Congregation, just outside Washington, you’ve got the Smithsonians, & all the great museums, Veterans Day is coming up, so you could get a “tour” together for Arlington, & the Monuments together.
    The hardest group of people, to get together as a group, are well…the guys. Breakfast & Men/Men dinner nights for football, & sport events are always good. Church wide events, go for the “seasonal” party. Harvest Fest, May Day Festival, 4th of July Party, etc. St. Nickolas parties, for kids are good too.

    Mollie, usually, you have a core group of couples or families, that tend to be more outgoing, interested in meeting new people, organizing, etc. When or whatever you start, the understanding that if it gets more than 10 families, couples, or individuals (always even numbers, always) the understanding that future dictates splitting up & forming more groups. That is one tough part. The other, is making sure, that core group, doesn’t get burned out, for all their efforts & doing.

    -Pastoral involvement is key, he needs to visit once, each quarter. No ‘gift’ survey needed
    -call by phone, interpersonal communication is the key! Don’t use tech, unless the person or family your contacting prefers it.
    -Use sign in sheets, for both the organizers & the Pastor. It helps learn names, people, & does the same for them
    -have a family or couple assigned to each new member. A core group is ab fab for this. It isn’t always possible to do this by area of home address, but it does help, just make sure no family/couple is # heavy.
    -Shy people like other people, don’t force/chide ENCOURAGE. But, as always, no means no.
    -Knowing & being known, personally, is a general human need. It tells you/them one matters, make sure they know they do & make it count, even if it costs you (not monetarily). People need to know they matter, to the Body of Christ they attend. They chose your Congregation, not the other way around. Always remember that one.

    -Did I say, Pastoral/Pastoral Family is key?! When you see a Pastor & his wife, or family at small events, in private homes, it speaks volumes.

    God’s Blessings in this endevor Mollie. Gee, can ya tell what my better half & I do for the Congregations we’ve been members of & what our parents did, before us?!

    Can’t wait to see how this goes for you, but every Congregation should have a LARGE bulletin board, by the mail boxes or just of the Narthex or in it. Kids can post babysitting ops, new fellowship groups can post, w/o being shy, and it saves quite a bit in paper, for the announcements.
    “Remember to check our Fellowship Board, the most amazing things happen there.”

  5. Mollie,
    I know that last post was really long, but just a few more things. A Congregation, can encourage & edify, marriage…the family…it’s young & children…& individuals, just by encouraging options. It’s what we do, even the 3ft radius Lutheran principle applies. How many bones are there in the human body…that is just the bones/frame…even the largest Confessional Churches can do that. We are members, vital parts, we work & are known, we are a family/body together that work together & are connected for HIS Good, not our own. Mindset, heartset, method & motive are vital. But…your Pastor, his wife, & his family are key, they must be enthusiastically involved, it means & shows each person matters, whether your 1 or 101. It is why even we Confessionals, do what we do. We C.L.’s do this, we just don’t happen to be showy or overly vocal, about it. It is vital, involvement in a family is key & so is knowing, that you breathing air, matters to your Home/Congregation.

    Do not insert, ‘We are a Family’ here. Doxology, would be the key. He gave all, for us, to have the ‘family’ & opportunities, we can have. Make Him & His Aim your goal, w/Him as your focus & aim, who could fail, in this?!

  6. @RevFisk—I agree with Jason—LOL.
    However, many of the suggestions do reflect non-worship small groups, for which many of our larger churches are chastised. Maybe it’s okay as long as we don’t call it a “small group.”
    Larger churches trying to connect their members do feel that choir, Bible study, visitation teams, youth groups, etc. are small groups in the best definition of the term–Christians getting to know Christians; to depend on Christian brothers and sisters for support; to know that they pray with the same doctrine in mind; to know that each believes as the other.

  7. We’ve tried couples date night, with the youth group babysitting (as a fundraiser for their activities). The couples can go out to dinner/bowling/wine tasting, anything to get them visiting together (no movies). Or a card game night (I think Norm is describing “Bunco”), with the little ones out of the way, it’s easier to carry on a conversation with other adults, and fellowship follows.

  8. WRT pastor/pastoral family involvement:

    As an introverted pastor’s wife I struggle with this – a *lot*. We have a biggish church, and if my dh went to everything, we’d never see him. And while I suppose I could go with him to all this stuff, I have two little ones – 4 and 2 – which makes the whole thing pointless, most of the time. It ends up that I keep the kids occupied in a non-child-friendly environment while dh participates – it is *hard* and lonely work, and I usually don’t bother (and the kids won’t stay with a babysitter even if we could afford it – and the idea of spending what little discretionary money we have to go to yet another church thing…sigh; and that would mean that the kids would never see their daddy). It doesn’t help that Sunday services and Wednesday choir practice (in which I have both kids b/c dh has confirmation) gives me my fill of socializing – I can handle one more thing occasionally, but weeks in which there are three or four things are *exhausting*. And, as Mollie said, there’s not much opportunity to socialize at church when you’ve got littles – all my attention is on them, especially since I do all the Sunday morning parenting.

    I *know* I need to do more wrt proactively getting to know the people in the congregation, but I’m not sure what to *do* – all the usual things are so far out of my current abilities that whether or not I *should* be able to throw parties or have people over or invite them out to lunch or just have phone chats or whatever, I just don’t have the financial or mental/emotional resources to *do* it. We do stuff when people invite us, but those are usually the core members who do stuff like that – and that’s not doing much to get to know the people who *aren’t* the core members. The card party idea that a pp mentioned is intriguing, though – have to think on that.

    But even given that, I just don’t see how it is viable, when your church is big enough that you need smaller events to foster people getting to know each other, to expect the pastor to be at *all*, or even most, of them.

  9. Double Standard, Having your cake and eating it too, You can’t have it both ways, etc.

    Some here would have us believe that all small groups are against our religion. Yet how are we to get to know each other WELL? Where 2 or 3 are gathered together…

  10. “Small group” ministry is not the same as “small groups.”

    Small group ministry is a particular anti-clerical, anti-educated approach to CATECHESIS.

    Small group socialization is just that.

  11. By the way, thanks for all these ideas. They’re fantastic and I really appreciate it.

    I do have to say that not every pastor or his family will be as outgoing as another. And more than that, home life for the pastor and his family is very important. I’m thankful to have been raised in a pastor’s family. But I do wish my family had more time together just us at night and on weekends.

    So I think that while an involved pastor and his family is good, it isn’t a requirement and we should remember that we all need to help him protect his time with his family, too.

  12. @forty-two #10
    It would be well, I am thinking, if you would voice this concern with your husband [which you probably have] and maybe then he can take appropriate steps. I have never felt that the pastor needs to be at all the meetings. Years ago I convinced a congregation to meet in all their various boards an hour before the voters [which happend monthly] and then that was followed by the voters. Board meetings were limited to an hour and the voters to 90 minutes. At the end of time left over items were left for the next meeting.

    It takes a lot of courage for the pastor to make specific nights not available. It also take courage to tell people you won’t be at a meeting–but it only takes a couple of times to get it done. In a previous parish when my daughter was only three–I told the head elder that I would not be in attendance as that partifular night was going to be her first recital in dance school [not really dance but more like exercise class]. As they became older and did other things the congregation was informed that I would be at their events even as they were at the events for their children. Remember that the pastor must manage his own house well and part of that management I think, is being there.

    My current congregations ask that I only spend the nights necessary for meetings [about three nights in any month] and all others are free. It is a rual parish full of activity by young and old. I visit during the day while the wife is working and most of our evenings are free. We use them to go to local sports events and other activities in which the kids of the congregation are involved. We even travel for advanced sports things [regional stuff etc.].

    Encourage your husband to set the limits as to what he will do which will keep him away from his family way too much. He will have to educate the officers of the congregation but he can do it. It only take contineous work and firm resolve. Just remind him that Christ often went way alone for rest!! Remind him that God told us that we should rest one full day of the week.

    Blessings to you and your family!!! 🙂

  13. @Mollie #12
    I thought all small groups were for socialization and still against our religion. Because if any mention of religion outside the strict supervision of a pastor opens it up to heterodoxy, so I have gotten the understanding that this is forbidden.

  14. Okay, these aren’t small groups, let alone “s.g. ministries”. They are for fellowship, friendship, the getting to & ‘knowing you stuff’, folks. Small groups, is a nasty term, and not, remotely, what this is. Katie L, on any given day, had no clue who or how many Martin was bringing “home”, …”what’s in the larder, sweet?”, sort of thing.

    We, Confessionals, get the worst rap, for not being “friendly, intuitive, or personal”. We so very much are!!! We just don’t do it, and call it a group or, ew…ministry. We call a spade a spade, & things what they actually are, not give them lofty pursuits.
    It’s for the women, men, couples, kids, or families. It is for our family, our Congregation is our family, we don’t call it something it isn’t. There aren’t brownie points or time cards, counters, or trackers. We do it, as it is our family, our brothers & sisters & children & Shepherds. We do what we do, because we have great examples for it, Acts & the Luther family, to name just a few!
    The first ever pot luck, was a the Luther haus, lol. We are to celebrate w/eachother, share joys, encourage, share sorrows & burdens, not because it is a “ministry or small group op”, because a Congregation is a family, members of the Body, parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends, not in the literal sense, but in the “familial Congregational one. Mein Liebe Familia, im Jesu.

    Members, whether old or new, chose us, their Church, their gatherings, and where they spend, the only unredeemable…their time. Knowing why & being known & knowing others, makes the difference, not bells & whistles, least of which, anything named or inferred as a “small group”. Saints preserve us, from anything inferred… a ‘small group’. Give me friends & family in Christ, small groups are for herds & those who don’t understand the concept of Congregational Family in the Body of Christ.

  15. 42,
    You don’t have members or member’s teens, babysitting, just because?! That is not right, in any way shape or form!!!! That core group, should be doing it, because you have a need, not an event. I’m sorry for you both, that isn’t right. I got most of my babysitting jobs, from our Pastor, hence the Bulletin Board. People or Pastor asked or took calls, posts note cards w/all our info, and people asked Pastor’s advice. My parents, “watched” our Pastor’s 2 youngest, who asks their Pastor for $$$$? How base!

  16. “But the problem is that our congregation has grown so much in the last few years that we could use greater opportunities to get to know each other. ”

    More importantly Mollie, why do you think your church has grown so much in the past few years? Are you in a growing suburb or are there outreach activities that have been particularly successful?

  17. How about encouraging folks with similar interests, hobbies, needs, to do things together. It could be as simple as hositng a bible study during the week or mom’s group (for those stay at home mom’s or dad’s). How about a game night? It might be a family game night or movie night or ??? I hosted a game night with some of the guys bring over their game (insert brand here) box, another bring a projector to project on the wall of my spare room and watchign the guys (and pastor) duke it out in the game.

    How about a potluck? (Food works well- pizza and movies, dessert and coffee, progressive dinner, wine tasting party, etc) How about a book of the month club? Cookie baking party for upcoming bake sale, or to take to shut ins, for christmas cookie exchanges, or making college student care packages?

    Bowling night/league, church softball team, church volleyball team or attending your favorite Nationals game, minor league team, car washing/youth fundraiser, ice skating, camping trip, or other sports or outdoor activity?

    How about just hanging around after church to chat (ok with tired kids and adults, maybe Sunday isnt the best day). What works best for you as a busy mom? When is it easiest for you to do somethign with the kids (before nap time, after?) How about if you have exta hands like youth, college kids, singles, retireees, or other parents to be an extra set of eyes, ears or hands to help with the kids?

    Oh and Pastor and his family can be involved (or not) in whatever they choose….


  18. Stand up and shout – do your research before you take pot shots.

    The only small groups that we are opposed to are the ones that usurp the God-given authority to the pastor to teach the word. A “small group” as we are using it here is for the purpose of Scripture study and prayer. These are not small groups that Mollie is speaking of.

    Also, check the context before you go throwing Bible verses around casually. Do you know the context for “2 or 3?” That passage has nothing to do with small group theory. It is Jesus giving the church the authority to excommunicate. Go look it up.

    If you don’t get it, let me know and I will explain it for you.


  19. As someone newly Lutheran (6y) -My experience has been that no one has the time nor inclination to get to know people. The few minutes each week that you see them at church is just enough to smile and say hi. After inviting vaious people to dinner (and nothing coming of it) and trying to organize get outings or get togethers, I have given up. I have no idea how to foster friendships there.

  20. About a year after we joined our congregation my normally shy wife was frustrated with not having meet all the women in the congregation so she started a group for stay at home moms. They get together once a month and let the kids mess up each other’s homes.

    Figuring she was on a role she started a monthly ladies night out. In response, I started a monthly men’s night out. The women are winning – they meet monthly and we’ve met twice in four years …

  21. I think the diffuclty is with the new members. The old members already have their friends and functions. Just help incorpoarte the new members with the existing members. Get them involved! They’ll find friends and activities to help out.

    I really like the idea of assigning mentors our groups of mentors to help new members. What are the committees that they can serve on? Who do they call? Who is the Trustee, their elder? Who do they talk to if they want to be a greeter, handyman, or make treets after the service. What if they want to use the church facilities for an event? Ideally, get a church leader to get to know and save-a-seat for the new member for the various activities. If you are new, the hardest part is walking in and seeing nothing but strange faces. A friend waiving at you makes all the difference. Maybe the friendship won’t take-off, but hopefully the new member will find long lasting friends in their involvment.

  22. Do like the Knights of Columbus do. Have open bar night with the Wheel of Fortune, Pot of Gold and Bingo. LOL 🙂 That’s what us Lutherans can look forward to since they want us back into the RCC fold.

  23. Invite folks to dinner. Choose a couple of newcomers, maybe a couple of singles, some old timers. Do it once a month. You don’t need to play games (unless you want to), just listen and talk. You get to know them, and they get to know each other. A wise pastor has said, “When you put your feet under my table, you become family.”

  24. One of our pastors always came to our kick off dinner which was held in our gym/family center, not members homes like the rest throughout the year. It was once a year. If you really think it is necessary he come, make it easy for him to come and don’t expect him to come to all of them. Since we had two pastors, it meant each only had to schedule it once every two years. Since we had about 20 families participating, we hired a sitter and a teen to watch the kids in a toddler Sunday school room.

  25. I knew a pastor that before each and every Bible study especially the one after church would come up with creative ways to randomly mix the people up at the tables. You never knew who you would be sitting with and each because he would vary his ways of doing it, it was hard to predict how he would mix people up. Even spouse’s could not hide behind each other. It was weird at first, but people got to like it and started unique conversations and discussions that would never have occurred.

  26. Let me get some clarification from you guys. Are you saying that if a small group of people gets together to study God’s word and have fellowship without a pastor to do the teaching, that this is a bad thing? Are you saying that if a small group not only studies the word without a pastor present, but also praises God through song and prayer, that this is a bad thing? I am having trouble determining exactly how you define the small groups that are seen in as a negative in the church. (serious question–not sarcasm).

  27. Mollie,
    I have seen lots of great suggestions posted. Being a “new member” at one time, I was that person that you are trying to connect to. I must say that the very first suggestion for dinner at a member’s house with 6-8 guests was by far what broke the mold for my husband and I. It provides a relaxed setting for people to get to know each other beyond the church doors. Moreover, it encourages friendship with fellow lutherans. In addition to the dinner idea, have a girls night out or in, organize a walking group and simply meet for a stroll, anything that allows for conversation in a comfortable and maybe informal setting.

  28. Sue Wilson,

    “Small group” is a term that goes beyond its literal meaning in the same way that “church growth” is a term that goes beyond its literal meaning. It refers to a particular approach or methodology that’s trending right now.

    The problem with the small group methodology is that it’s anti-sacramental by definition (the focus becomes small group discussions rather than Word and Sacrament ministries). It’s also anti-clerical — rather than conveying a proper understanding of the Office of the Keys, it elevates laypeople into leaders of small accountability groups — confusing or minimizing confession and absolution. It also puts laypeople with no formal education in Greek, Hebrew or Systematic Theology in the position of leading Bible Study groups.

    The problem is not “small groups” or gathering of Christians for fellowship, studying or strengthening in community. That’s a good thing. But that’s not what people are talking about when they worry about “small group” methodology.

  29. Mollie,
    [My thoughts are based on weekly meetings of accountability small groups, not on the idea of small groups replacing Sunday worship. I belong to a large church (2500 members) and I haven’t heard of any churches replacing worship with small groups. If worship replacement is what you are speaking of, then we would probably be much closer to agreement]

    Thanks for your reply to my question. But, I’m afraid I have to disagree with your fears because they negate the power of the Holy Spirit and His ministry. The God-given gift of faith is the basis of belief in Jesus Christ our Lord. For many centuries Christians have met and been led by Chrisitans who possessed none of the educational prerequisites that you list.
    I have a formal education in Greek, Hebrew, and Systematic Theology, and I have found that a good English translation of the Bible, [btw, if you check the NASB translation of Acts 2:40, you will find that it is possibly the only correct translation on the market AND more accurately reflects not only Peter’s meaning, but good doctrine as well], a knowledge of the people I am leading, and the simple gospel of sin and forgiveness are more effective than my college training.
    As far as “small group discussions” focusing away from Word and Sacrament–Word and Sacrament are part of our church worship on Sunday. Discussion is how Christians grow. They learn much more about their own lives and how they connect to God by discussing how the Bible affects their lives in a small group.

    Of course, any lay leader should be chosen by the Pastor who knows their faith basis, knowledge of Scripture, and how well they represent Lutheran doctrine. But I think that we need to diminish the idea that only an ordained, seminary educated person is elegible to be a qualified leader of Bible study and small group discussion.
    Again, thanks for your input. I appreciate it. For now, I guess we’ll just have to disagree, and ask which is the better path when we both get to “the booth”.
    Have a God-filled day!

  30. Sue,

    Your defense of accountability groups lacking in Scripture defense. You will begin to convince me if you use Scripture to defend your point that lay people are to be publicly teaching others in the church.

    The Bible uses the word “teacher” hundreds of times and nearly everyone of them is a reference to the apostles and pastors.

    The God-given role of pastors is to teach and of laity to hear. This is also the clear teaching of Luther in the Small Catechism Table of Duties.

    Also, the point is not about replacing worship. The point is that the things accomplished in small gorups are the things that God intends to be accomplished in the Divine Service.

    You use the word “acountability.” Can you show me in Scripture where I am accountable to you? The Scriptures are clear that we are to obey our parents and those in authority over us. Hebrews states that we are to obey our pastors (insofar as they are teaching the pure Gospel). If you want to go out for coffee and encourage a brother Christian that is certainly Scriptural but getting together in a public group for accountability and teaching without the God-given shepherd of the flock there cannot be supported by Scripture.


  31. TR
    Accountability in a small group doesn’t mean that a member is accountable (obligated) to anything that the group decides or that a member is under obligation to any other member.

    Accountability in the small groups I have attended means that there are Christian brothers and sisters there who remind you in times of personal anger or a desire for vengeance, etc., that Jesus is the Lord of life and we need to remain aware that our actions can and do reflect on how others think of the Lord. Accountability means that there is a group with whom to discuss our problems and how to handle them in the way Christ would.

    Perhaps there was a semantic confusion on my use of the word. Thanks for the point.
    As to the Scripture references, I will take your advice and see what I can find.
    Thanks for your input.

  32. As to the scriptural support of small groups led by laymen: Thousands were saved on Pentecost. Then they returned to their homes across Palestine and beyond. Does it really make sense to think that they all remained silent, without sharing the gospel with their neighbors, without gathering together to discuss how Jesus had already changed them, or why He had purchased them for God, until one of the apostles had time to travel to their various cities and towns to teach or to ordain?

  33. I find that people usually find and make their own social groups and forcing can be pretty fake. We do not necessarily need to socialize in church, we need to worship. If two, four, six or more people or couples decided they want to get together outside the church I don’t see that the church even needs to be involved. If you start organizing within the church, cliques develop quickly!!!! I know all this from evangelical background experience. I think families especially should work on their own families and make their own social dates.

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