By Ken Braddy
For many years I’ve worked on my golf game. I’ve taken lessons, invested in new clubs, tried different types of golf balls, and worked on my putting.
My golf game changed for the better when I began spending time working on shots from the fringe, the area around the edge of the putting green.
No matter how much I practiced and prepared for a round of golf, my approach shots to the greens almost always seemed to end up on the fringe rather than on the putting surface.
The fringe isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. After all, the green is close by and I’m not too far away from the hole. Skilled players and professional golfers know how to make specialty shots from the fringe to move the ball onto the putting surface.
What does golf and hitting shots from the fringe have to do with Bible study? Plenty, actually!
Your church, like my church, has people on the “fringe” during the holidays. You can spot them quickly – they look a little lost when they come into your building. They often arrive early and sit down without talking to anyone.
Sometimes you’ll find them pouring over your worship bulletin before the service begins.
And sometimes you’ll find that fringe people are actually church members who haven’t attended in a while, but have come back for a special service at Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Like an errant golf ball on the fringe is close to the goal (the hole), these fringe members and guests are close to the real goal, too—being in a group.
Group leaders probably have people on the fringe of their group. There are certainly people on the fringe of your church. Like the golf ball on the fringe, they’re close. They’re present for worship, but perhaps don’t associate with a Bible study group.
Maybe you have a different kind of fringe person altogether – they have come to your group, but over time they’ve slipped away, and now they are distant and inactive. They are still in some proximity to your group, but they aren’t “on the green.”
4 Ways to Reach “Fringe Folks”
Just like golf balls, people end up on the fringe. Here are some ways to move them closer to the goal of group involvement.
1. Assign someone from the group to reach out to the person on the fringe.
If the fringe person is a former regular attender, he/she knows at least one or two people in the group and will be closer to them than anyone else. Ask those people to reach out to the fringe person, without being obnoxiously obvious!
You might suggest they start with a simple invitation to have coffee or dinner to catch up. During the time together, the wayward couple can be encouraged to get back in the swing of things and rejoin the group for Bible study.
2. Invite folks on the fringe to holiday parties.
For people on the fringe, it’s much easier to slide back into group life through a fun event than it is to simply show up for Bible study. Fun fellowships can be ways to help folks on the fringe feel less awkward about plugging back in.
If your group is having fun, make certain to invite each fringe member of your group, plus any folks who are guests to your church who are on the fringe.
You’d be surprised how many people are lonely and waiting for an invitation to connect with others in a fun, safe way.
3. Be persistent.
Don’t expect immediate results when you try to bring wandering group members back into the fold.
Take a long-term approach, and be thankful if one or two return quickly. That normally won’t be the case, so you have to be persistent in your ongoing outreach to them.
Remember what a friend once told me about persistence: “A steady drop wears out the rock.”
4. Make a home visit.
Hard to do? Yes. Uncomfortable to do? Certainly.
But a short in-home visit to folks on the fringe could be just the thing they need to get them reconnected to your group.
When you start a new Bible study, take them a copy of the Bible study materials the week prior and invite them to attend. Explain that you value their presence in your group.
Do the same thing for that fringe couple who has been attending worship but has not yet dared to take a chance and visit a Bible study group. A short “porch visit” can be just the thing to communicate, “We value you and want you here with us.”
As a general rule, folks on the fringe aren’t going to take the initiative to connect or reconnect themselves to your group.
That’s your responsibility as a group leader. Lead well, and get your entire group involved in reclaiming those folks on the fringe.
KEN BRADDY (@kenbraddy) is the director of Sunday School at LifeWay and disciples a group of adults at his church in Shelbyville, Tennessee. He is the author of several books, including Breathing Life Into Sunday School. He blogs regularly about Sunday school and groups at kenbraddy.com.