Friday’s Hot Links – August 18, 2017

WordPress reported to me that another 83 people signed up to be a part of our blog community this past week. That’s several thousand people who are now receiving daily posts and encouragement to help them in their ministry as group leaders. Welcome aboard to all you newbies!

Friday’s hot links are links to other friends and colleagues around the web who have content I trust. I hope you’ll enjoy reading some of their blog posts about groups, leadership, and life this weekend.

Thank you for following this blog!

Shoulder to shoulder,

Ken Braddy

 

Posts you might like:

Podcasts you might like:

 

Bigger isn’t always better

“How big is too big?” I recently led a workshop for a group of pastors and Bible study leaders in which a pastor asked that question about the best size of a Bible study group. “What is the optimal size for a Bible study group?” asked another attendee. My answer was “It depends.” It depends on a few factors, but generally, bigger groups aren’t better groups. While teaching a large group of adults (30, 50, 65+ people) can be a fun experience, it’s probably not the best option. Here are 4 reasons why bigger groups aren’t necessarily better groups.

Bigger isn’t always better!
  1. Bigger groups provide camouflage. Large groups give people a place to hide out and remain on the fringe. People can attend and maintain anonymity. It’s better for them if they get to know people and are known by people. Dr. Thom Rainer’s research has indicated that 80% of new first-year members will drop out of church if they don’t find a group, make friends, and find something to do.
  2. Bigger groups make it harder to find new leaders. One of the greatest fears people have is of public speaking – that’s a fact. It takes a special Bible study leader to stand in front of a group of 50+ adults and teach the group. Many group members will say to themselves, “I could never do that.” But if the group was smaller in size, say 12-16 people, that feels like something that is doable. One way that churches grow is to start new groups, and a culture of very big groups can actually work against this important goal because you can’t start new groups without new leaders.
  3. Bigger groups must be highly organized.  If a big group is going to be effective (and it can be – but those are rare) it must be highly organized to care for people. There must be a strong care group system in which people are placed into smaller groups for ongoing care and ministry. Care group leaders must be trained on how to properly care for people and how to follow up with absentees each week. A group with an average attendance of 50 people will have that many or more people who are absent (attendance is almost always 40-50% of enrollment). That’s a lot of people who need ongoing follow-up each week.
  4. Disciples usually aren’t made in big batches. If you look at Jesus’ ministry, He made disciples in two primary groups: a group of 12 and a group of 3. Making disciples requires you have a relationship with the disciplee, and that’s just about impossible in a mega-group. If I am going to make disciples as I’m commanded to do in The Great Commission, I’m going to need to be able to relate to my group members on a personal level.

So what’s the optimal group size? In my opinion, it’s somewhere between 12 to 16 people. Rick Howerton and David Francis maintain that 12 plus or minus 4 people is about the right size for a group. I agree. Sunday School (insert the name your church calls this Bible teaching ministry) is best when groups of disciples gather to study, serve, pray, and know one another. In my experience, this happens best when a group is smaller rather than bigger.

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The 5 hats group leaders must wear

Bible study leaders are some of the busiest people in their churches. They normally have their teaching Stack of hatsposition plus something else (or somethings…many wear multiple hats and serve in multiple ways). As teachers lead a Bible study group, they also have at least 5 other essential hats, or roles, they must master:

1.  Analyst – Group leaders must regularly analyze the effectiveness of their teaching. As leaders guide their groups to study the Bible, they would be wise to set aside time to reflect on the way group members react to the Bible studies they craft. Savvy leaders will analyze and identify things that went well in a study, and things that could be improved upon.

2. Catalyst – Group leaders are typically the catalysts for launching new groups. They can either support this important (essential!) task by encouraging their group members to branch out (“franchise” the current group and start another one), or they can selfishly hold onto group members, saying things to church staff like, “Don’t split my group” and “Don’t ruin our fellowship by dividing us.” Catalytic group leaders understand they should hold onto group members with a very loose grip. The group belongs to the Lord.

3. Apologist – Group leaders must be proficient in their ability to explain and defend their theological beliefs. The word “apologist” has its roots in a Greek word meaning “to speak in defense.” When group members have questions, leaders should be able to explain the Bible’s teaching on a variety of subjects and “defend” (explain) doctrine. This is not to say that group leaders must have all the answers to everyone’s questions – that normally doesn’t happen! But they should be able to curate information and respond to people’s questions related to theological matters even if they have to say, “I don’t know the answer to your question – but I’ll find an answer.”

4. Strategist – Group leaders have an important role to play in the overall work of their group. Someone has to decide what the group is going to be about – what it will study, where it will meet, how it will serve, when it will convene, and much more. Group leaders should be strategic thinkers who take limited people resources and maximize them for the largest Kingdom impact possible. None of us have unlimited time, and strategists seek to help their group members grow, serve, and relate to one another in strategic ways.

5. Futurist – Seeing a better future for the group is a big responsibility for group leaders. Future-thinking group leaders know when it’s time to start planning for a larger place to meet to keep the group growing (or when the timing is right to start a new group). They also see opportunities to help group members grow spiritually, empowering them to continue maturing and becoming more like Christ. Group leaders who are futurists see the next leader of the group, and take steps to groom that person as an apprentice leader who will one day take over the group and provide “next generation” leadership.

Group leaders wear multiple hats. The job of a group leader goes way beyond simply preparing and teaching a Bible study lesson! Which one of these  5 “hats” do you need to start wearing more often?

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Build a better Bible study in just 30 minutes a day

The task of preparing to teach a Bible study each week might seem like a daunting task. Preparation is the key to leading a great Bible study each week. Here are what a few experts have to say about the importance of your preparation:

“No matter how wonderful the Bible study curriculum, there is no appropriate shortcut for prayerful thorough Bible study before teaching.” – Teaching That Transforms, p.159

“Good teaching can overcome weaknesses in curriculum materials, but great materials cannot overcome weak teaching. It’s you, the leader, who really makes the difference” (Teaching Adults, p.70)

I shared the following preparation plan with my new friends at the Desert Pines training event in Show Low, Arizona last Saturday. Here is a plan for spending just 30 minutes a day preparing to guide your group’s Bible study. By the time you lead your group to encounter the Bible, you’ll have spent 3.5 hours preparing. Does that sound better than finding almost 4 hours in one sitting? For most of us, “it’s a cinch by the inch,” and we eat the elephant one bite at a time. Perhaps breaking down your preparation into manageable “bites” will help you do an even better job preparing to lead your group’s Bible study.

Here is a simple schedule that can keep your preparation on track by carving out just 30 minutes a day to do the following essential tasks: 

Monday

  • Read core lesson passage in several translations
  • Jot down key words, people, places that need further exploration

Tuesday

  • Consult Bible study resources (Bible dictionary, atlas, concordance, etc) to research key words, people, and places identified on Monday

Wednesday

  • Ask questions of the text: Attitude to adjust? Promise to claim? Priority to change? Lesson to learn? Command to obey? Truth to believe? Sin to confess? Example to follow?

Thursday

  • Consult and/or develop/adapt your teaching outline (1-3 points)

Friday

  • Consult and/or develop your group plan (allow for learner involvement/active learning/learning preferences of group members)

Saturday

  • Review and refine your group teaching plan
  • Gather resources
  • Get a good night’s sleep!

Sunday

  • Guide the Bible study (this is not a part of the 30 minutes!)
  • Evaluate – Ask yourself, “What went well in today’s study? What should I do differently next week?”
  • Review the next week’s Bible study (core passage, theme, and central truths…nothing heavy duty – just get an idea where the study is heading before you begin your preparation in earnest on Monday.

The reason your group may not be making disciples is simple

Today’s post, like all posts on Mondays, comes from a book that I recommend you place in your personal library. Discipleship  That Fits, by Alex Absalom, is one such book. He has a simple definition of discipleship that I like, and he has some great thoughts about what discipleship really looks like, or should look like, in your church and in. your Bible study group. He also tackles an important subject: why the Western church may not be making disciples like it should. As group leaders, you and I have the ability to change this! Here is what Alex Absalom has to say. See if his words fit your church and your Bible study group:

Discipleship is helping people to trust and follow Jesus…So often we in the church focus the vast bulk of our discipleship (and evangelistic) energies on the transfer of information. And while there certainly is an undending depth to what we believe, an overemphasis on information transfer is not the most effective way to disciple others – and definitely is not the predominant biblical pattern…discipleship is imitation…Discipleship is primarily about imitation over information…Good discipleship is a balance of relationships, experiences, and information. Regrettably, the Western church has the tendency to emphasize information downloading over relational discipleship. Instead, relationships should be the highest priority (pp. 19-26).

Alex’s main point is that we tend to think we are making disciples because we are transferring information to them through our Bible studies. Like he said, the Bible contains rich truths that need to be understood by Jesus’ disciples. But if that’s all we do to produce disciples, it will fall short. Relationships are required to make disciples. 

If that is true, then here are a few implications for our Bible study groups (I shared these with a group of church leaders in Arizona this past weekend when I was out there to provide a day of training):

  1. Groups must become smaller –  I cannot have a relationship with every member of my group if I’m teaching a “pastor’s class” or another class that is large in size, say 40+ in attendance (that’s like teaching a small church!). 
  2. Groups must become more interactive – Group members must be allowed opportunities to talk and wrestle with the biblical text. A smaller group is a more conducive environment for conversations than a large “master teacher” class. As I hear people in my group share stories of struggles and victories, and as they ask questions of both me and the biblical text, I will know how to serve them and disciple them into people who look and act like Christ.

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Friday Hot Links – August 11, 2017

Welcome to all the new subscribers who climbed on board the blog this week. Almost another 100 people decided to become part of our online community of group leaders!

On Fridays I like to give you some links to “hot-off-the-press” articles from friends and colleagues around the web. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them over the weekend, and I also pray that you’ll discover new insights in them to make you a better leader.

Shoulder to shoulder,

Ken Braddy

Blog posts you might like:

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6 things to do if your group has flatlined

It was almost 5 years ago that my wife and I launched a new LIFE Group (Sunday School class) at our church. At one point, we weren’t sure that our fledgling group was going to make it (we had anywhere between 3 to 5 people who attended it regularly). There was a time that our group “flatlined.” It needed to be shocked back to life.

Thankfully, things have changed (more on that later) but there are plenty of small groups and Sunday School classes that are in a similar situation to where we were a few years ago. Groups that once had a pulse have lost their way. Decline has set it. What do you do if your group isn’t growing? Having lived through it, I’ve realized there are at least 6 things you can do:

  1. Consider the size of the place you meet.  The growth of groups can be limited by the space itself.  The 80/20 Rule states that groups have difficulty growing when the place they meet is over 80% full.  There may be a few empty seats, but the crowded nature of the room gives the impression that there isn’t room for anyone else. If your group has stopped growing, could it be because you need a larger place to meet? My group has changed meeting locations three times, and we’ve continued to grow each time we made a change. I don’t want to move the group any more, though. Our next move is going to be to “split the class” or “franchise” the group and start another one. The answer isn’t to always move to bigger quarters indefinitely.
  2. Evaluate the place where your group meets.  If your group meets on a church campus, can people find your classroom? Is the signage clearly visible? Is there adequate lighting? Do you have the equipment and supplies you need to lead an effective Bible study?  Is it in a good location (for instance, young adult groups should meet close to their kids’ classes). If your group meets off campus, is the location difficult to find, is there excellent childcare, and is there adequate parking?  Is there something limiting your growth because of the place where your group meets?
  3. Examine yourself. This is a hard one.  It could be your style of leading the Bible study, or your leadership of the group that isn’t effective. If this is the case, then make adjustments.  It could be time to step aside and let another person lead the group Bible study.  Perhaps you should assume a different leadership role in the group and continue to help it grow. Talk with your pastor or staff leader and ask for their help in evaluating your leadership.
  4. Ask your group members.  They will have their own ideas and could give you valuable insights as to what they see as the main reasons for the lack of growth.  Ask them to share openly and honestly. Sometimes others see things we do not.
  5. Don’t give up.  No one said leading a group was going to be easy.  If it was, everyone could do it.  The answer to your dilemma may be to reinvest your time and energy into the group.  Be aggressive in looking for new group members in your church’s worship services, and ask your church staff for a list of people who’ve visited the church recently. Have your group members brainstorm people they know who would fit your group, but are not attending church anywhere. Reclaim absent members. There’s a lot you can do!
  6. Pray.  You know that God wants your group to reach new people.  When Jesus looked out onto a field that was white for harvest, He told his disciples to pray that His Father would send out more workers into the field.  Prayer was Jesus’ answer for reaching people with the gospel.  Prayer should still be our first response to the great need to reach people for Christ, Bible study, and church membership.  If your group isn’t growing, take the situation to God in prayer and ask Him to help you continue to reach new people through your Bible study group.

I am thankful to be able to report that our Bible study group is averaging 18 people each week. There were times when attendance was very anemic, and Tammy and I were concerned that it wasn’t going to make it. But the Lord provided new people, we remained faithful to prepare well each week, expected new group members, had regular fellowships, and the hard work has paid off.

If your group isn’t growing, hang in there and see if one of these 6 things might be the key to turning things around.

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