“Do not forsake your own friend . . . .” Proverbs 27:10a
Every year the New Oxford American Dictionary chooses a new “word of the year.” The idea is to find a new word that, as the New Oxford researchers describe it, has “lasting potential as a word of cultural significance and use.” For 2009, the word of the year was “Unfriend.”
If you are one of the over 400 million Facebook users in the world, you already understand that the definition of the word “Unfriend” is “to remove someone as a friend from a social networking website.” In the world of social networking, someone who at one time awarded with you with “Friend” status can arbitrarily and without warning suddenly “Unfriend” you, leaving you unable to see his or her status updates, photos, and other information. Their act of “Unfriending” you now leaves you on the outside of their social networking circle.
In many ways, Sunday School classes are social networks with a spiritual purpose. New people arrive and are added to the class roll or ministry list. In doing so, they become your Friends - those whom you agree to inform, include, and involve in everything that is taking place through the
ministry of your class. Unfortunately, over time many people who were once “Friended” by a Sunday School class find themselves feeling “Unfriended” due to inattention, an uncomfortable incident, their own lack of involvement, or numerous other possibilities. From time to time, teachers even initiate the process by requesting to “clean up the roll” (Friend List) and asking if they can remove (Unfriend) those who have not attended in some time.
Despite the New Oxford Dictionary’s efforts, “Unfriend” should never enter the vocabulary of the evangelistic Sunday School. When a person is accepted to the Friend List, the effective Sunday School class will take seriously their responsibility to maintain an active Friend Status with that person. I want to share with you a few keys to making sure no one becomes Unfriended from your class.
- When Friends Attend . . . . Show Interest!
When friends come to class, notice them! Leaders should be in place early enough to greet them as they arrive. Make a personal connection with them by being interested in their family, their work, and their other activities. Consider using name tags as a means to help the members of your class get to know one another. No friends should be allowed to attend your group unnoticed.
- When Friends Are Absent . . . Investigate!
Every friend on your list who is absent should be contacted by another friend. If Sunday School classes are to be the vehicle for ministry care in your church, no absence should occur without someone knowing why. While most absences may be due to the normal demands of life, there will be occasions when a little investigation reveals a greater need. Many people who fall away from regular attendance will say they did so because when they were away, no one noticed.
- When Friends Have a Need . . . Get Involved!
Investigation will sometimes reveal a need in a friend’s life. It could be a need for a visit to a family member in the hospital, the delivery of a meal, help with transportation, or with assistance in their home. Sometimes it is appropriate for class members to work together to meet an urgent financial need. Other times, a need can be met simply through taking the time to listen to and pray with the friend who is struggling. Sunday School classes must do what they can to meet the needs of those on the Friend List. When someone has a need and feels ignored or neglected, they have become Unfriended.
- When Friends Have Yet to Be Added . . . Invite!
In the world of social media, friend requests are a routine occurrence. You can request for someone to join your Friend List. You can suggest a friend to someone else. You can even use common connection points to search for friends of whom you were previously unaware but who would potentially be a great addition to your list. It is easy to see the parallel to Sunday School. Just as most people love to receive friend requests online, they are also very likely to respond favorably to an invitation to attend Sunday School. Recent research indicates that more than 80% of unchurched people said they would come to church if they were invited.1 Send out those friend requests and find out where God is at work.
As long as participation in social media continues to grow , the act of “Unfriending” someone is sure to remain part of our networking system. It is one thing to be removed from a Facebook friend list and be denied the opportunity to know what someone had for dinner, what movie they are watching, or how their kids performed in last Saturday’s soccer game. It is quite another to “Unfriend” someone from our Sunday School classes and deny them a connection to fellowship, study, pray, and serve with others in the greatest pursuit of all . . . living life for Jesus. Do your part to make sure the friends in your class stay “friended” for life.
David Bond is a member of the Evangelism and Church Health Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. He enjoys playing golf and attending ball games with his friends, and helping churches maintain great friend lists in Sunday School. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
1The Unchurched Next Door, Thom Ranier, p. 25. Zondervan