I experienced a college ministry fairly recently that illustrates aspects that can make any visitor feel particularly awkward. (This one took place during the semester, not Christmas break.)
In this particular Sunday morning, there were three elements working together for a “perfect storm” of awkwardness. But the sad fact is that at least one or two showed up in plenty of visits to college ministries during my yearlong trip.
1. No conversation. Absolutely no one spoke to me during the entire twelve minutes or so before we started. (Full disclosure: the minister did say “excuse me” after he bumped into me.) Literally no one gave a Hello – while I came in to the building (twice), wandered around, filled out a nametag, and sat down (all by myself).
Meanwhile, everybody else seemed to know each other and be chatting it up.
2. Tiny group. I recognize this one isn’t something that can be immediately changed, and sometimes ministries aim for small and intimate.
We just have to remember that when our group is small (whether on purpose or not), the size of the group affects the dynamics for visitors; some will find it harder to fit. Of course, that just means small groups have to work particularly hard at welcoming those who come (see #1) and having “all hands on deck” (see #3). A small size may even make those things easier!
3. Late Start. In this case, there were about twelve excruciating minutes between the time I entered the room and the time we started. (Yes, even after lots of college ministry visits I still get self-conscious and shy.)
Nine of those minutes came after the start time listed on the web site. Seeing the small group, I had delayed delayed delayed entering (just as many other visitors might do), eventually entering with only 3 minutes before the official start time. But I was ambushed by the late start.
Some college ministries include the “late start” on purpose to allow for fellowship time. But if so, then it’s important for the core group of students to make every effort to be there “early” to take advantage of it…
…and to welcome visitors. Twelve minutes can be tough.