Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18
Imagine a person looking for a new church. They are new in town, lonely and want to connect. After an online search for local churches, perhaps they google the church website and then visit. They want to find out more.
The church proclaims "We love people!" and the person is certainly in need of tangible love.
The person would like to find out more about the church and at the service, someone briefly mentioned that small groups were starting and that it was a great way to connect. It sounded interesting, but many other things were mentioned quickly in the same announcement time.
Wanting to learn more, the searching person looks at the bulletin, the online newsletter, and the website, looking for more information for the details on how to make a connection.
The bulletin had a very fancy graphic that said "Be sure to join our small groups!"
The website had a new landing page under "Small Group Ministries" that had testimonies of people who loved their small groups.
The social media links said pretty much the same things—encouragements to be part of groups, but no connecting details.
The person received a generic note from the pastor telling the person how happy he was that they visited and various other friendly sentiments.
Why none of these communications was loving
Not one of them communicated anything SPECIFIC about how to connect with a small group. They all gave tantalizing bits of information about the small group ministry at the church, but the underlying message was that if you were already part of the group and knew how to connect the small groups were great.
If you didn't know—you could call the church office—but chances are you wouldn't get a real person to talk to and you many not want to leave a message and your contact information with strangers.
You might try emailing the church—but many churches don't answer their emails promptly, if at all.
Why this happens
No one at any church intends to be unloving in their church communications. But it is so easy without thinking to assume that "everybody knows……" about small groups or any other ministry of the church that has gone on for years.
But visitors don't know and if you don't give clear information and detailed information in every channel and/or links to that information every time you mention an event, people will not know what is going on. No one can read your mind; no one knows the good intentions you have to involve people in any ministry if you don't clearly communicate it.
Specific advice on how to create loving communications about small groups or other ministries
Be sure you know all the details. Sometimes church communicators don't have all the information they need to communicate about an event to visitors and regular members. Be sure you get and then pass on the following information:
Time and dates of the events: as well as starting time, be sure you always include duration. Does the event last 1 hour? 2 hours? Whatever it is, be clear.
Location: "At the Johnson's house" or a similar description doesn't count—who are these people, is a question newcomers will ask. Always give a specific address and if the host has a specific role in the church clarify that. For example, at Pastor David's house, who is pastor of Single Adults.
Target audience if that is important: if an event or group is for singles, seniors, married couples or any other specific group, be sure you state it. If it is open to all adults, be clear.
Clarify child care situations: If you charge, what about a single mom who may not be able to afford your fee? If you charge by the child (one church charged $5 a child) that might be great for the host who had one child, but that effectively made the small group cost-prohibitive for the blended family with 4 kids. Consider making child care free and paying for it out of your Missions or Outreach budget—this could be one of the kindest things you might do for a family who really needs to be part of a small group, but who couldn't afford $20 a night for small group child care or a single mom who couldn't come if there was any fee. (Both of these true situations—one turned out well, the other did not.)
Anything else that might be important: do people need a workbook? To they have to pay for it? Is homework expected? Think through and ask yourself if there is anything that would cause someone embarrassment or awkwardness if they first found out about it at the group.
Benefits of attending: sometimes we forget to list the great benefits of church events and ministries because we think they are self-evident—but they aren't or more people would probably attend. Will people learn more of God's Word, our only true guide for life and eternity? Will they meet people who will be fellow travelers in their journey of faith? Will they find people they can pray for and with; encourage and build up? We sometimes become complacent about the tremendous privilege and joy we have of being able to take part in church activities without fear—remind your audience of that.
Clearly communicate where to go or who to contact for more information: In all print communications, have your website and the specific place on it listed for more information. Social media are almost useless here because it is an ever-flowing stream, not something that has specific facts, schedules, and locations. In print, social media and web communications be sure to have contact information—phone, text, email, social media interaction links and most important of all—be sure someone constantly monitors them and responds immediately.
Loving in "action and truth"
As the Apostle John reminded us—it is so easy to say we love people, but to truly love them, we must combine our sentiments with "action and truth."
To do that in your church communications requires detailed, often tedious work as the sections above illustrate—but it is important to do it for our communications to reflect the patient love of our Lord Jesus.