Ken Braddy

Encouraging and equipping Sunday School teachers and leaders of small groups

Is your Sunday School healthy? 5 questions that can lead to a diagnosis

Each year millions of people turn to their primary care physicians with a complaint about a pain. They doctor-563428_960_720look to their doctor to provide a sound diagnosis. An examination is performed, a diagnosis is reached, and treatment is begun.

Are there ways to diagnose whether or not you have a healthy Sunday School? I believe the answer is yes. Here are some diagnostic questions that will give you an indication as to whether or not your church’s Sunday School is in good shape:

  1. Is there a lack of growth? Healthy things grow – that’s a fact of life. A healthy Sunday School will grow and reach new people. Look at your average attendance for the past 5 years and see if there is a trend. There’s no such thing as a Sunday School that has reached a plateau. Sunday School is either growing or declining; it’s thriving or it’s dying – those are the only two options.
  2. Is there a lack of guests? Sunday School is supposed to be an open group ministry of the church. New people should to be able to easily determine the right group to attend. How many visitors does your Sunday School have each week? Chart that out, too, just like you would the overall growth of the Sunday School. If you starve something, it will eventually die. Sunday Schools are starved when groups are not fed a steady stream of prospective members. Groups need one prospect for every group member in attendance. A group of 15 people needs a pool of 15 prospects it is regularly reaching out to in an effort to draw them into the life of the group.
  3. Is there a lack of funds? Important ministries of the church receive funding. It doesn’t take long to determine what ministries of the church are important – simply follow the money trail. My guess is your church spends money on the student ministry, kids’ ministry, senior adult ministry, and the worship ministry to a greater degree than the Sunday School ministry. I hope I’m wrong about that, but experience shows that too many churches don’t adequately fund their Sunday School ministry, so it lacks training dollars, money for new classroom equipment, and perhaps it doesn’t even have enough money to adequately furnish group leaders and members with the curriculum they need. People spend money on what’s important. Just look at your church’s budget for Sunday School and compare that to other ministries it supports. I sure hope I’m wrong on this one.
  4. Is there a lack of evangelism.? Unhealthy Sunday Schools turn inward and focus on educating the members. Healthy Sunday Schools keep their attention turned outward and continue to reach people who are far from God. Is your Sunday School keeping the baptismal waters stirred? In all age groups? Is there an emphasis on using each Bible study session to tie it to the gospel, or has the Sunday School settled for having “history lessons” taught in its groups? The focus of groups will be either outward or inward.
  5. Is there a lack of new groups? New groups are an indication of the health of your church’s Sunday School. It is an accepted fact that established groups who have been together for longer than 24 months have most likely reached their maximum size. Plus, those groups make it hard for new people to connect because of deeply entrenched relationships among the group members. If your church isn’t starting new groups, it won’t stay healthy for very long. A lack of new groups is a good indicator that your Sunday School is not healthy.

Based on these 5 diagnostic questions, how would you say your Sunday School is doing? Is it healthy or not? If you have a concern, why not speak to your pastor – there’s no doubt he wants your church to have a healthy groups ministry and would be open to new ways to increase its health and vibrancy.

 

 

Teacher – Creating Conversational Community

Today’s blog post is an excerpt from a relatively new book on the Sunday School/groups scene. It’s title Teacher - CCCtells it all: Teacher: Creating Conversational Community.

The portion I’ve chosen to focus on today is from page 30 of the book. In this section, authors Francis, Braddy, and Kelley call attention to the importance of stories in our Bible studies. I hope that stories are a part of your group’s Bible study experience. Here is what the authors have to say:

Stories. It’s how God wired our brains. He likes stories so much He wrote one! We call it the Bible. It’s made up of hundreds of stories. But they are ultimately just part of One Story. It’s a story of redemption. Its hero is the Word. The Word who thought up the world and spoke it into being…

Stories are crucial to the teaching ministries of Jesus and Paul. The Lord taught in parables (short stories that were memorable and focused on  a single truth. Paul was excellent at creating word pictures using illustrations from everyday life such as boxing, running, farming, soldiering, and more.

As a teacher, look for stories to share from your own life. Group leaders should practice a level of vulnerability. The people in the group need to see that you don’t have it all together. A good teacher will also know his or her group members well enough to call on them to share their own stories. Stories can be powerful tools the Lord uses to shape hearts and open minds.

The next time you teach, what stories will you include? Something from your past? Your present? A current event? Something else? Stories are powerful and they capture people’s imaginations. Try making storytelling a part of your group’s Bible study experience.

5 ways to start your Bible study on time

The church I attend changed its schedule this month, and now the LIFE Group I teach begins at 8:45AM, watchnot 10:45AM. If you lead a group that meets on Sundays around that same time, you may have adjusted your start time because of all the stragglers. Here are a few ways that you can encourage your group members to arrive on time:

  1. Send a reminder email to your group the day before. A short “Hey, I’m looking forward to meeting with you tomorrow” email allows you to remind the group that you plan to start promptly at your group’s designated start time.
  2. Make sure you aren’t the one who is late. As the leader of the group, you must arrive 15-20 minutes early to check the room arrangement, set out any items the group members are supposed to use during the study, set up A/V equipment, and other important things. Set a good example for your people by being the one who is never late.
  3. Start on time. This may be the most important thing you can do as a group leader. Do not start late, waiting for the late-arrivers to get there. That is disrespectful to the ones who got up and were on time. Don’t reward bad behavior! Starting on time means that some of your group members are going to miss out on the group’s prayer time, or the start of your Bible study, whichever comes first. That’s too bad for them, but their late arrival is not a good reason to rob the rest of the group of valuable time. Starting on time will train the people to come on time. If you start late, you’ll simply train them to come late. And by the way, never use the phrase, “We’ll start in just a couple more minutes to give people time to get here.” People make it to work on time all week long – I promise, they can make it to your Bible study group if they want to.
  4. Implement a “latecomer jar.” I’m recommending this one a little tongue-in-cheek, but imagine the fun you could have with your group if you asked latecomers to drop a dollar into the jar (not guests)! In time you could use the money to buy donuts for the group, or flowers for someone who is in bereavement. It’s like having a swear jar for people who won’t get up and get moving on time.
  5. Use the phrase, “On time is late.” As you have normal conversations with your group members, get into the habit of occasionally using the phrase, “On time is late. Early is on time.” It’s a phrase I’ve tried to instill in my kids, both of whom are Millennials. If you plan to arrive “on time,” things happen and invariably you arrive late. But if you plan to arrive early, 9 out of 10 times you’re going to be there, well, early. That means you are there for the start of the meeting. Early is on time.

Teaching Tip: 5 things rookie teachers need to do

Today’s blog post is a teaching tip (like every Monday), but this one is for newer group leaders. If you arerookie_mistakes_race_management_advice a rookie teacher, here are 5 things I’d like you to consider doing to get off to a good start as a group leader:

  1. Prepare a little every day. You’ve heard the expression, “It’s a cinch by the inch; it’s hard by the yard.” That principle applies to teaching, so as a rookie teacher, don’t wait until the last minute to prepare your group’s Bible study. If you teach on Sunday, look ahead that afternoon to your next week’s study by briefly scanning the title, Scripture passage, and main point. Prepare a little bit each day (even 30 minutes) and you’ll find that by the end of the week, you are well-prepared to lead your group’s study.
  2. Don’t be too hard on yourself. As a rookie teacher, take it easy on yourself as you evaluate your group experience. Things may not always go as planned, and you may question your effectiveness. We all did this at one time or another as rookie teachers. Many of us would have quit, but we gave ourselves some grace. You do the same, and hang in there.
  3. Continue to grow in your relationship with God. Don’t allow your study time to take the place of daily devotional time. The two are very different. One is about communication, the other is about preparation.
  4. Don’t feel like you have to cover everything you studied or prepared. Rookie teachers need to know “when to say when.” Your group members have no idea exactly what you have studied or prepared for the group’s Bible study – only you do. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to cover all the points in your Bible study – you don’t. When you sense your group has reached its limit, end the study. Save something for next time – or not. Just don’t feel like you are married to your teaching plan.
  5. Involve your group members. As a rookie teacher, don’t feel like you have to do all the talking. It’s best that you don’t. Please believe the admonition that, “Teaching isn’t telling; learning isn’t listening.” Avoid the pitfalls of being “that teacher” who loves to listen to his own voice. Your group members need time to talk and discuss, and to do activities related to your Bible study. Active learning is better learning, so don’t feel like you have to deliver a 45 minute lecture each week. You don’t! And your group members don’t want you to.

 

Friday’s Hot Links: Aug. 19, 2016

I trust you’ve had another good week. While you’ve been working, I’ve been gathering some articles and Hot links 3podcasts that you may want to read or listen to over the weekend. I believe any of these have the potential to help you as a Bible study leader, or as a leader of your church’s groups ministry.

As always, thanks for subscribing to the blog! I’d like to welcome my new friends from Mobile, Alabama, who have signed up to receive my blog posts after being in one or more of my workshops at the South Regional Sunday School Conference last weekend!

Shoulder to shoulder,

Ken

 

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Podcasts you might want to listen to:

Reaching folks on the fringe

For many years I’ve worked on my golf game. I have taken lessons, invested in new clubs, tried different fringetypes of balls, and worked on my putting and short game. No matter how much I try to prepare for a round of golf, shots always seem to end up on the fringe of a green rather than on the putting surface.

The fringe isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. After all, the green is close and visible. I’m not too far away from the hole. But hitting a ball from the fringe requires some extra finesse. The guy in the image to the right has switched over and is using his driver to hit the ball. Why? Because the sole of the driver won’t get hung up in the taller grass behind the ball. There are other shots you can play from the fringe, but they require some practice.

Folks on the Fringe

As a group leader, you probably have people on the fringe of your group. There are certainly people on the fringe of your church. Like the golf ball on the fringe, they’re close. They are present for worship, but perhaps do not associate with a Bible study group. Maybe you have a different kind of fringe person altogether – they have come to your group, but over time they’ve slipped away, and now they are distant and inactive. They are still in some proximity to your group, but they aren’t “on the green.”

4 Ways to Reach Fringe Folks

Just like golf balls, people end up on the fringe.

  1. Assign a person or couple from the group to reach out to them. Normally the fringe person knows one or two people in the group and are closer to them than anyone else. Ask those people to reach out, without being obnoxiously obvious!
  2. Invite folks on the fringe to every group party you have. For someone on the fringe, it’s much easier to slide back into group life through a fun event than it is to simply show up for Bible study. Fun fellowships can be ways to help folks on the fringe feel less awkward about plugging back in.
  3. Be persistent. Don’t expect immediate results when you try to bring wandering group members back into the fold. Take a long-term approach, and be thankful if one or two return quickly. That normally won’t be the case, so you have to be persistent in your ongoing outreach to them. Be like the persistent widow in Scripture!
  4. Make a home visit. Hard? Yes. Uncomfortable to do? Certainly! But a short in-home visit to folks on the fringe could be just the thing they need to get reconnected to your group. When you start a new Bible study, take them a copy of the Bible study materials the week prior and invite them to attend. Let them know you aren’t dropping by to judge them. Explain that you miss them and want to serve them any way possible.

As a general rule, folks on the fringe are not going to take the initiative to reconnect themselves to your group. That’s your responsibility as a group leader. Lead well, and get your entire group involved in reclaiming those folks on the fringe.

Book Excerpt: I-6: A Six-Lane Strategy Toward an Inviting Sunday School

Today’s blog post is an excerpt from the book I:6 – A Six Lane Strategy Toward an Inviting Sunday I-6School. In this section of the book, author David Francis urges groups to consider the importance of wearing a certain item that will make a big difference for the group members and the guests who are present:

If you’ve read any of my previous books, you might be saying, ‘Are you going to hit that name tag thing again?’ Absolutely! There may be nothing more important for a class to create an inviting environment than a conscious and consistent effort to wear nametags. it is the rare retail establishment does not require its associates to display at least their first names. Some have fancy engraved name badges. I happen to be sitting in a Panera Bread restaurant as I type this, and the employees make their own hand printed tags. At Home Depot the name is written in permanent ink right on the associate’s orange apron.

I have been a first-time guest in a lot of different Sunday School classes, and I promise you that the ones that wear nametags are much more friendly and inviting, regardless of their size. And the friendly classes we have visited would be even friendlier if they would just do this one little thing. Vickie and I visited a very large class at First Baptist Church Coford in Knoxville, TN., one Sunday. When we left, Vickie said, ‘I would join that class.’ You’ve probably guessed almost everyone was wearing a nametag! The class had many other positive dynamics, too, but the nameags helped more than they know.

As an experiment, when I launched my new Sunday School class almost 3 years ago, I decided to have the group members wear nametags based on David’s urging. Every week I place a stick-on nametag on each chair in my room. I place markers around the room, and over time my group members have been conditioned to automatically write their name on their nametag. When we we have guests, it makes a huge difference. When less active group members are present, it helps them know our names (and it helps us remember their names, too!). I can’t say enough good things about the practice of wearing nametags. If your group doesn’t do this, perhaps you could implement this by the next time you meet?

 

Why you can’t afford not to have ongoing training for group leaders

Police. Firefighters. Lawyers. Teachers. Realtors. Electricians. The guy making your sandwich at Subway. What do they have in common? Their jobs require ongoing training and coaching. If you think about it, there is almost no job on the planet that does not require an employee to go through regular, ongoing training.

When it comes to the world of church, I am constantly amazed at how few churches actually have a plan for training group leaders. The lack of training may be because a staff leader lacks vision and drive for making this happen. It could be that the church doesn’t have a history of this. And it might be that the budget has never been adjusted to make ongoing training possible. The lamest excuse I hear is, “If we had ongoing training, no one would come.” That’s just not true, and it gives people permission to be lazy. Why is it that we who hold the Word of God, the Bread of Life, and God’s personal message to mankind think that we’ve got our role as group leaders all figured out? Why do we believe we do not need to be trained, when every other industry around us knows differently? How much longer will we let this terrible trend go on? For the sake of the church, I hope not much longer.

This PowerPoint slide from one of my recent training conferences showGeorgia Baptist training surveys an alarming, yet enouraging trend discovered by the Georgia Baptist Convention. They surveyed approximately 2500 churches in their state, asking the question, “How frequently do you train your group leaders?” Then the growth of the church over a 4 year period was examined, and the results were placed into the table. The big takeaway? Churches that have ongoing training either quarterly or monthly grew at a rate of about 13-14%. That should be enough to make anyone in church leadership perk up. Could there have been other factors like pastoral leadership in the pulpit? Possibly. But the one factor we can put our finger on is the frequency at which training was planned and conducted. Churches with less frequent training (annually) grew at a much smaller rate (4.2%), and those churches that chose not to train at all actually declined by 2.1%. Training matters.

With all of this in mind, may I wrap up this post by reminding us all of the main reasons to budget, schedule, and execute ongoing training for group leaders?

  1. Group leaders often determine whether or not people get plugged into Bible study groups. Your assimilation process depends, in part, on guests having a good experience in the classroom. If your teachers are well-trained, they’ll do a better job teaching and guiding people in Bible study. Guests will be more likely to connect with your church.
  2. Turnover will be reduced. As the confidence and competence of group leaders rise, they will be less inclined to quit teaching. Competence breeds confidence. If you are a pastor or church staff leader, you’ll save valuable recruiting time to focus on other important aspects of ministry.
  3. Growth seems to be tied to it. Look at Georgia’s chart again. How would you like to experience consistent growth? If your church committed to ongoing training and you began to grow again, what could you do with the additional people and the higher level of tithes and offerings that will also come?
  4. Excellence won’t happen without it. Too many churches settle for mediocrity in their groups ministries. George Barna, in his book Frog In The Kettle, said, “Churches must take a hard look at everything they do. In today’s marketplace, people are critical and unforgiving and often give a church only one chance to impress. In this kind of environment, churches would be better off focusing on a few things with excellence rather than many things with mediocrity.”

 

Teaching Tip: Use an Outline to Help People Organize Their Thoughts

Tell them what you’re going to tell them.

Aristotle

Aristotle

Tell them.

Tell them what you told them.

Years ago I learned to use this kind of simple outline to help learners organize their thoughts around a Bible study lesson I was about to present. I discovered later that it was actually recommended for use by the philosopher Aristotle. Here’s how it can work for you and your Bible study group:

  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them. You can either do this verbally and explain the key points in your Bible study lesson, or you can write an outline of the lesson on a marker board if one is available where you meet. “Today’s lesson is about King Solomon and his wise words about finances. He said we should do three things: (1) know that money often disappears quickly (2) acknowledge that God’s Word makes us wise in the way we respond to money (3) ask God to provide for our daily needs and not a lot more.”  When you do something like this verbally, or by writing the outline on a board, you help people know where you’re going.
  • Tell them. This is the part of the Bible study where you simply lead the study. You’ve got a plan – just do it! Guide the study, ask questions, say important things. This is the heart of the Bible study.
  • Tell them what you told them. After you’ve completed the Bible study, do a quick review. Remind your group members of the major points of emphasis from the study. Encourage them to apply the study as you discussed during the lesson. Sometimes I do this step after the people have left the room and we’ve scattered (I send an email with a quick summary of the study and its main points).

 

Friday’s Hot Links

Pre-season football is starting, Bible study groups are starting back up for the Fall season, and we’ve Hot links 3logged another week – almost.

Here are some links to content around the web you may find helpful as you lead your group or your church’s overall group ministry.

Again, my thanks to each of you for following my blog. That goes for all my new friends at FBC Jackson, Mississippi! Around 80 of you have signed up for the blog this week – thanks for that!

Shoulder to shoulder,

Ken

 

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