My friend and colleague Wayne Poling wrote a book many years ago titled Conducting Potential Sunday School Leader Training. The book is now out of print, but I managed to find a copy through Amazon. I was thrilled when the book arrived last week (it was in good shape).
Mondays on the blog are all about sharing a paragraph or two from a book on Christian education. Even though Wayne’s book is out of print, it contains great ideas for conducting ongoing potential worker training – something many churches have forgotten to do regularly.
Here is what Wayne has to say about the importance of engaging potential workers and turning them into regular ongoing volunteer leaders:
Invariably churches that consistently do effective Sunday School work train and equip their Sunday School leaders. No better place to begin can be found than with persons who have not yet determined where they would like to work in Sunday School. No better training can be offered than to help persons select an area in which they would most enjoy serving in Sunday School and then to equip them for service…Recall a trip during which you stayed in an unfamiliar house. Do you remember feeling insecure as you walked across a dark room in the middle of the night? You did not know what was ahead of you or what you might run into. Many new Sunday School workers feel that way. They suddenly find themselves tossed into a new place of service. Like waking up in the middle of the night, they do not know what to expect or where they are going. Prior to beginning their service, potential Sunday School workers need to be enlightened on what to expect in each area of Sunday School work. Instead of walking in fear, potential workers can walk in confidence, because they know what is expected of them.
Potential worker training gives people a chance to be trained from 4 weeks up to as many as one quarter. The potential worker gets to observe a real classroom and work with a designated leader/mentor. The result of potential worker training is normally a reduction in turnover and a more satisfied and prepared group leader.
Ask yourself some important questions:
Does my church have potential worker training?
Could I be the one to lead this kind of training for my church?
Am I willing to serve as a mentor/leader to someone who is considering becoming a group leader?
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Assimilating people into your Bible study group is one of the most important functions a group has. Dr. Thom Rainer’s research has demonstrated that people who only attend worship have a dropout rate of 83% in five years. However, if they get plugged into a Bible study group, make friends, and use their gifts in ministering to others, the converse is true.
To get us thinking about how to do a better job at assimilating people into our Bible study groups, use the ABC acronym to remember three important tasks:
Ask – Stop asking people to fill out information cards when they visit your group. Instead, fill out the information for them. Change your ask! Instead of asking the guest to fill out an information card, ask if you can enroll them on your group’s ministry roll. Explain they are not joining the church or committing any other way. Your goal is to get their key information recorded so that ministry to the person(s) can begin.
Bond – I like to do my own golf club repair. I frequently change out grips, and just last year I added extensions to each club in my bag. I select a bonding agent, attach the extension, and wha-la…when the bonding agent dries the new piece cannot be removed from the club – it’s on tight. Take that illustration and apply it to the guests who attend your Bible study. How can you help them bond to people in your group? Do you have assigned greeters whose job it is to make new people feel welcome? Do they sit with the guest? Do your greeters introduce guests to others in your group? Are your people wearing inexpensive stick-on nametags? All these things strengthen the bonding process.
Cultivate – This is an agrarian term, and it makes me think of a garden. The soil must be cultivated; the produce must be cultivated. That requires a level of ongoing energy and attention. To fail to cultivate invites disaster. If I fail to cultivate relationships with potential new members of my group, I invite disaster of a different type. The average guest is taking up to 18 months to join a church (that’s according to the book Membership Matters)! That means as a group leader, I must take a long-term approach and be sure to cultivate a relationship with each guest, even when I don’t see them for a while. They may be visiting other churches, and that’s OK. I just need to remind myself and my group members to reach out again and again and cultivate a relationship with the potential group member.
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Today’s blog post is an interview with my friend John McClendon. John is a Christian education leader, and the Executive Director of BACE, the Baptist Association of Christian Educators. This organization may be one you should consider joining.
John, introduce yourself to my audience. Tell us where you serve, and a little bit about your backstory in church ministry.
I have served on church staff for 39 years in various roles – Student minister, Worship leader, and for the past 26 years with a focus on the work of the Minister of Education. 13 of those 26 years were at LifeWay where I focused on the training of church leaders and leaders within LifeWay.
My first ministry position was while attending Samford University. I am grateful that a small church in Decatur, AL was willing to take a chance on a 18 year old college student and patiently invest in me. And I must emphasize that word “patiently”!
In 2000 I left a very fruitful ministry at First Baptist Tillman’s Corner, Mobile, AL to come to LifeWay to help equip church leaders around the country. This experience transformed my life because I knew God had called me to not only help the local church in which I served, but to help equip leaders in churches around our country.
It was that passion that actually led me away from LifeWay in 2012. I left to begin a ministry that would help connect churches to leaders that could train their leaders. Over time this ministry led to an invitation to become the Executive Director of the Baptist Association of Christian Educators (BACE).
God had another plan as well. Upon leaving LifeWay, Northside Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, TN approached me about also serving as their Discipleship Pastor. So, I get the best of two worlds. I get to help leaders around the county connect while serving in the local church.
What is the goal of BACE? What are you trying to accomplish?
The vision of BACE is to support the work of leaders who equip the church to make disciples. BACE strives to provide opportunities for members to encourage, network, discover, and learn from one another as they join together to build and grow up the body of Christ, His church.
The conference is open to any church leader although the target are those who are responsible for scope of work that might be described as Education Ministry. Conference attendance also includes membership in the organization which includes several benefits including direct access to other members, access to all conference content following the conference, and opportunities to help younger leaders grow and develop.
Where is this year’s BACE meeting being held? What’s the theme?
The meeting is being held at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, March 30-31. There are also pre-event activities on March 29.
The theme this year is INDISPENSABLE: BECOMING AND MVP IN DISCIPLEMAKING. The focus is on developing skills that will help leaders raise the value of discipleship in their churches by helping them sharpen their skills, develop their strategies, and learning how to better work with the pastor and church in guiding the process of disciplemaking.
What’s the cost to attend the BACE meeting?
The cost is $139. This includes the conference, materials, Thursday lunch and dinner, and Friday morning breakfast. Lodging is available on campus at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Where can I go for more information about this year’s meeting?
What are the benefits if I decide to join BACE and become a participating member?
The main benefit is the discount on the conference which is included in the price of registration. Membership helps us underwrite the conference cost. Here are additional benefits your receive:
• Regular email updates on news from the field of discipleship and church education.
• Annual conference discounts including your spouse or pastor attending with you for free.
• Opportunities to connect with, learn from, and support other leaders through the BACE membership database.
• Your own personal profile in the BACE membership database.
• Access to BACE conference resources following the annual conference.
• Helps offset the cost for students to become involved in BACE at a deeply discounted price.
• Helps underwrite the Graduate Award and Distinguished Leader Award in Christian Education.
• Helps sustain the administrative costs for operating the BACE organization.
• PLUS, you have direct access to over 500 members who support the work of leading the church to make disciples, many of whom will become lifelong friends!
What is the cost to become a member of BACE?
If you don’t attend the conference BACE membership is $55 annually.
What else would you like us to know about BACE?
Change has certainly affected the Christian education landscape over the past several years. Even the term, Christian education, has taken on different meanings and is expressed in different ways. Staff members responsible for this area of work might be called by different titles – Minister of Education; Discipleship Pastor; Small Groups Pastor; Adult Pastor; Young Adult Pastor; etc. – but we still all focus on a common goal: building and growing up the body of Christ, His church!
Today, BACE stands poised to support the next generation of Christian educators, no matter how that ministry is expressed or described.
It’s good to keep your group members just slightly off balance. By that I mean it’s good when they cannot predict exactly what will take place in your Bible study group week after week. A simple way to communicate that something will be different is to simply rearrange your meeting space. Making a small change or two in the way your room is arranged can build anticipation on the part of your group members. They’ll wonder what’s going to be different during your Bible study.
If your group meets in rows, rearrange the room into several half-circles. When people can see each other’s faces, it will enhance communication.
Reorient the room toward a different focal wall. If your group members are accustomed to facing a particular focal wall each week, face the chairs toward a different wall. Use wall-size Post-It Notes to create a temporary marker board on the new focal wall. Even a small change like this can signal that something is going to be different during your Bible study.
Bring in tables. I am not a fan of tables in the room all the time (they take up too much space and reduce the number of people who can actually be in the room). But from time to time, bring in round tables, or create a large “U” using rectangular tables.
Do any of the above in reverse! If your group is normally around tables, remove them and arrange the room in half-circles or groups of 5-6 in smaller circles. If your group meets in circles, put them in rows one week.
In baseball, we’d call this “throwing a curve ball.” The idea is to do something unexpected. Be slightly unpredictable. Keep your people slightly off balance.
Equipping group leaders has always been a passion of mine. When I began full-time ministry in 1992, I was on staff at a mission church. We had a small Sunday School of 44 people on opening Sunday of the launch; 10 years later when I transitioned to my second church, there were over 2444 men, women, boys, and girls who were members of this once small Sunday School. God did a great work. We partnered with Him and worked hard. One of the things I committed to do from the very start was to equip group leaders. For 18 years (the time I served two churches) I held weekly leadership meetings. The age-graded staff members did the same. Attendance was in the low 90% range week-after-week. Equipping took place weekly, but we also held annual training events. We also scheduled additional times of training as conferences came through the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. My two churches became “equipping machines.”
But times have changed since 1992. The position I once held on church staff, Minister of Education, has morphed. Many churches have deleted the position and are now paying the price. Other churches have simply renamed it (Discipleship Pastor, Grow Pastor, Family Pastor) and have kept it generally the same as it was when I was a full-time church staff leader. I hear it all over the country as I travel and train: most churches have no plan for training and equipping their group leaders.
Then along came the new book Designed to Lead. It is a passionate appeal for leadership development. It is a cry for excellence to be done in our churches. It is written by two men who believe that the mandate to equip God’s people to lead has been abandoned in too many churches today. Here is what the authors have to say:
Most churches merely exist to keep running their programs and services. They are not developing leaders intentionally and consistently. When leaders emerge from some churches, it is often by accident…For leaders to be developed consistently and intentionally, churches must possess conviction, culture, and constructs…Conviction is a God-initiated passion that fuels a leader and a church. Conviction is at the center of the framework because without conviction to develop others, leadership development will not occur. Developing leaders must be a burning passion, a non-negotiable part of the vision of the church and her leaders, or it will never become a reality…Once the church leaders share this conviction, this ambition must become part of the very culture of the church itself. Culture is the shared beliefs and values that drive the behavior of a group of people…Wise leaders implement constructs to help unlock the full potential of a church that seeks to be a center for developing leaders. By constructs, we mean the systems, processes, and programs developed to help develop leaders…
If your church isn’t intentionally creating a culture where equipping is valued, you’re in trouble. If your church isn’t a place where there is a conviction that God’s people should be equipped, watch out. If you’re in a place where there are no constructs in place to provide a framework and system for training and equipping leaders, it’s time to do something different.
Where to start?
Talk with your pastor about this.
Share this blog post.
Buy the book Designed to Lead and read it with other leaders from your church.
Pray for a new vision and passion to equip God’s people for works of service.
Continue reading this blog and other sites and books that will help you lead at a higher level.