More than half of the guys in John’s dinner group didn’t join by signing up online, as some people do. They’re guys he simply met and invited. (In some cases, it took a few tries.)
“They’ll joke around, like, oh yeah, this guy tried to get me for six months before I finally joined a group,” John says. But even when it’s a joke, there’s also some truth to that.
After leading a dinner group for more than five years, John’s found that a personal invite is more effective than expecting people to sign up online. For someone who’s new to dinner groups, the idea of registering online is easy to put off — or to forget about completely. And more importantly, a personal invite can be much less intimidating.
“A lot of times, people don’t feel comfortable signing up — they don’t know who they’re going to meet, and just having the ability to know a face before you go in can be really beneficial,” he says.
For someone like John – an extrovert who jokes that persistency is one of his gifts — inviting someone to dinner group comes naturally. But even if you don’t share those traits, inviting someone is usually easier than we make it out to be.
Here are a few steps to do just that.
1). Strike Up a Conversation
“A lot of times you see people sitting by themselves at church, or who don’t seem to know as many people,” says John. “You can see it in their face, or they’re not talking to anyone.”
John says instead of asking that person if they’re new, simply introduce yourself and get to know them.
“I always think that’s the best step,” he says. “Getting to know them, asking them where they’re from, how long they’ve been going to Hoboken Grace, and then casually asking, ‘Are you in a dinner group?’ ”
2). Extend an Invite
When John first meets people, he often mentions that he leads a dinner group, and how beneficial that community has been in his own life. It’s a great way to meet people, he says.
Oftentimes, he’ll invite people to check out his group. But he also tells them there are groups that meet nearly every day of the week. It’s a way to let someone know they’re invited, but also gives them the opportunity to explore any group they want.
When someone expresses interest in your group, get their number, John says. That way you can follow up with a text — which people are typically more responsive to than email.
3). Don’t Be Afraid to Try Again
Don’t be discouraged if someone turns down your invite, John says.
“What I try to do is engage them every time I see them — just say hi to them. I don’t try to push dinner groups, but maybe I’ll ask them about it a couple weeks later.”
In the meantime, build a relationship with them. Ask if they’ve gotten to know other people, and invite them to a connection event or another outing.
“Several of my guys in my dinner group I was asking for over a year,” says John. “And then finally it fell into place where it worked for them.”
4). Don’t Underestimate How God Can Use You
“You never know who God puts in your path,” John says.
That proved true on a recent Sunday morning, when he started talking to someone he’d met once before. Midway through their conversation, John brought up dinner groups again.
“He was like, ‘You know, I’d actually be really interested.’” John says. He’d recently moved to the area with his girlfriend, but they broke up not long after. He didn’t know many other people, he told John.
John invited him to his dinner group, and the first night he came, he told the group he was there because of a conversation he’d had with his mom that weekend. She knew he was having trouble adjusting and suggested getting involved at church.
It was the next morning that John brought up dinner groups and extended an invitation.
“That had nothing to do with me,” says John. “I just happened to be there, because God planned that. And that’s why I say you never know who you’re asking. … There are times when someone is going through something, or something’s going on, and you never know if maybe God’s been leading you to that person for a reason.”
5). Not Outgoing? That’s Okay, Too
If bringing people together isn’t your gift, find the person in your dinner group who’s a natural connector, John says. Encourage them to be the recruiter for your group. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the leader — it can be anyone.
Or, just try it and simply get to know someone.
“Sure, I’m on the Engagement Team, but even if I wasn’t on a team, I actually love standing out when people are coming out of church,” John says. “You’ll see so many people who are kind of gunning for the door, who are not really sure where to go. And you can be that person who says, “Hey, what’s up? What’s your name? My name’s John. How long have you been coming here?’”
6). Build a Group Where There’s Always Room for More
For John, dinner group isn’t just about Tuesday nights. He tries to build into his group throughout the week, whether that means sitting with them on Sunday mornings or inviting them out. It’s a mindset that encourages his group to grow closer together and ensures that everyone feels welcome.
It also encourages further growth. Two of the guys in John’s group are apprenticing to lead their own group — one of them was someone John spent months recruiting. They’re both great guys, with incredible gifts, says John. And once they have their own groups, they’ll be able to extend the invitation even further.
Interested in joining a dinner group? You’re definitely invited! Visit hobokengrace.com/dinnergroups or stop at a Connection Point on Sunday. Or, want to start your own group? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.