How Do I Get People to Take Part?

Jo and I sat talking under the trees at our annual church picnic. Children buzzed around trying to locate the 35 treasures that would make them winners of the scavenger hunt in progress.

As often happens, the conversation turned to our responsibilities on Sabbath morning. She worked with children and enjoyed their eagerness. I, in turn, spent my time and energy preparing a program for adults on Sabbath morning.

“I can hardly keep the children in their seats,” Jo laughed. “How do you ever get your people to take part? Don’t you get frustrated?”

That set me to thinking. What can adult leaders do to involve as many of those attending as possible in programs, class discussions, and times of sharing?

Let me share a story 

A mighty hunter in a faraway jungle killed a rogue elephant. As the village men helped drag the carcass toward the village, they chanted in unison, “We killed the elephant! We killed the elephant!”

“No,” the hunter cried out, “I killed the elephant!”

The men quietly let go of the ropes and started walking off. After a moment of stunned surprise, the hunter ran after them. “I'm sorry,” he panted. “Please come back, and this time we’ll all chant together, ‘We killed the elephant.’ ”

So they did. And the body of the dead elephant was brought to the village. Now, I ask you, did you put on a good program, have an interesting class, the last time you were in charge? Or was it a team effort? Were the blessings of involvement spread to all around?

A lament I hear often is “I can’t get those present on Sabbath morning to take part. Almost everyone sits there so somber and still. They want me to do everything. My church family doesn’t seem to want to be bothered. What else can I do but do everything myself?”

Let me share some helpful suggestions I've gleaned.

  1. Be a people person. Radiate warmth and enthusiasm as you speak. Smile. Speak slowly and have plenty of eye contact. Call people by name. Imagine that you are all family.
  2. Know why you are sharing and asking them to share—always have a goal. Are your programs lifechanging, soul winning, children centered, and active? What are you asking the members to do when they leave at the end of the service?
  3. Make taking part as easy and nonthreatening as possible. In other words, make sure that what you’re asking someone to do is easy and won’t embarrass them. Be extremely careful about putting anyone on the spot. You’re planning for inspiration and enjoyment— not humiliation.
  4. Be comfortable with silence and ready to fill in. One of the first concepts we learn as a child is courtesy. Wait for others; don’t go first. As a leader, be ready to start first when sharing and asking for feedback. Have fill-in material ready to make the inevitable waiting more comfortable.
  5. If yours is a multicultural church, ask people to share in their original language. Someone can translate what was said in English if you desire. Often those who speak only English forget or have no knowledge of another’s yearning to praise God in the language he knows best. Whenever possible, arrange for the singing of a verse or two and a prayer in other languages. Don’t forget sign language.
  6. Invite. Don’t put friends or strangers on the spot unless you know they will feel comfortable in and blessed by taking part. This also means that you will allow for spontaneity and won’t expect the programs to be perfect.
  7. Give confidence to those taking part by being upfront with them if they are hesitant. I’ve found that having more than one superintendent is a joy. A mission story or outreach could be reported in interview format—it takes less time and can be more directed.
  8. Have a variety of programs. People appreciate surprises and tire easily of sameness and predictability. Small groups enable people to get involved with minimum fear and pressure.
  9. Know whom you’re talking about. You can’t share God’s love if you don’t know God and don’t feel his love.

Ginger Church
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists