6 Reasons why a Personal Study Guide Enhances People’s Spiritual Growth

Today’s blog post is practically a guest blog post by my friend and colleague, Richard Edfeldt. Richard is one of LifeWay’s Church Partners, a group of dedicated professionals who visit many churches each week. In the course of a Church Partner’s week, he will keep a pulse on trends, recommend curriculum, provide impromptu counseling on education and other church-related matters, and provide training when needed. Richard and his fellow Church Partners are terrific experts, and invaluable to the churches to whom they relate.

Richard Edfeldt, LifeWay Church Partner

Richard compiled a document that pulls together a number of reasons why church leaders and group leaders should consider the value of Personal Study Guides (PSGs). Perhaps you know these as “Sunday School Quarterlies” or some other term. It’s the small book full of 13 Bible studies that most churches provide for their members and guests. When I saw Richard’s document, I asked permission to post it here on the blog. Without further ado, here are some reasons why PSGs are a valuable tool to help people grow as disciples, straight from Richard and the helpful document he compiled:

The largest research project ever conducted on effective discipleship practices revealed that healthy churches teach people to connect to God’s Word, both on an individual basis as well as in community. But that connection doesn’t just happen.  It requires an intentional plan and provision of resources.  It also requires a consistency of purpose.  Finally, it requires time in God’s Word.

So how can you help your members learn to connect to God’s Word?

By training them to use a Personal Study Guide!

Why Personal Study Guides are important to a person’s discipleship development:

  1. THEY REMOVE BARRIERS. When you hand someone a Personal Study Guide, you remove his/her biggest obstacle in connecting with the Bible – confidence.  Essentially, you equip long term members to become active participants and you tell guests, “We want you back. You belong here.

  2. THEY ARE A DISCIPLESHIP TOOL. Learning to connect to God’s Word doesn’t happen overnight. It takes intentionality and commitment. The Personal Study Guide provides guidance and commentary to help an individual understand what they’re reading in a format that is easy to follow. It also helps them develop a daily time in the Word and with God.

  3. THEY INCREASE A PERSON’S EXPOSURE TO THE WORD. Exposure to God’s Word transforms a disciple’s life.  Giving someone a Personal Study Guide communicates that personal Bible reading and study is essential for spiritual growth and it provides them with a practical guide to approach their person Bible study time.

  4. THEY CAN ADD TO DEEPER DISCUSSION.  The Personal Study Guide exposes an individual to questions that promote understanding and application throughout the week. Giving an individual time to digest the Scripture on their own helps lead them to deeper discussion when the group meets weekly.

  5. THEY CREATE A STRONGER COMMUNITY CONNECTION. Through repeated exposure to the Word and to deeper group discussion, Personal Study Guide also helps deepen the investment an individual makes to their group and to their church. As a result, the people in your groups become some of your most engaged church members.

  6. THEY DEVELOP LEADERS.  Every group has people who are already well equipped to lead, but may not believe it yet.  These guides demystify the process of preparing and leading the group conversation, giving the group member the confidence they need to take the next step toward becoming a group leader.

The PSGs that LifeWay produces, for example, cost approximately $2.75 each for 13 Bible studies. The PSGs are printed on high-quality paper, and in 4-colors so that the brilliance of some photos really shines through. At this price, a church can provide an individual with a PSG for just $.03 per day! There is no greater investment that a church could make than to provide its members and guests with Personal Study Guides.

Tomorrow’s post is also going to come straight from Richard’s document – this time he will show us 11 ways to encourage people to use Personal Study Guides in their quest to be fully devoted followers of Christ.

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Teaching Tip: Sit Down to Invite Conversation

Today’s teaching tip is for leaders of student and adult groups. We need to learn something from our counterparts who guide the Bible studies in preschool and kids’ groups. Those group leaders know how important it is to sit among their learners.

If you are an adult or student leader who typically stands in front of your Bible study group while you teach, you can change the dynamics of your group by simply placing a chair next to the area in which you teach. Taking a seat during a Bible study communicates several important things:

  1. You’re on their level – Truth be told, believers are on a spiritual growth journey – none of us “has arrived.” We strive to be spiritually mature, and when a teacher stands over his or her learners, it may inadvertently communicate that he is superior. Why are judges’ benches higher than all other furniture in a courtroom? Because elevation communicates superiority. Sitting down communicates that you’re one of the group. A peer. A fellow sojourner. Let your group know you identify with them, and take a seat from time to time.
  2. You want to have a conversation – When a group leader asks a discussion question and sits down, that simple act invites group members to participate in a conversation with their group leader. Sitting down says, “Let’s talk about it.”
  3. You want interaction – Group leaders who stand to teach create a more formal environment than those who occasionally sit down while group members respond to a question that has been posed. Some educators have suggested that, “When the presenter stands, it signals a strong differential between the roles of presenter and audience (who sit). Standing generally creates a much more formal atmosphere and means that the audience will not contribute to the discussion except to ask occasional questions.” Sitting can invite more interaction by creating a less formal way of teaching, and an environment in which learners are not intimidated by their teacher’s expertise.

Standing to teach can be made more effective if the group leader:

  • Sits on occasion (what we’ve just been thinking about)
  • Moves around the room (this helps keep learners engaged when the teacher physically moves around the room).
  • Has a large number of people in the group – if this is the case, sitting may not be effective because the teacher would not be able to be seen easily, nor would his or her voice project as well like it does when they stand to teach.

So if your room environment and teaching context allows for it, occasionally sit when you ask your group a discussion question and see if this doesn’t increase the involvement and responses of your group members.

Transformational Groups aren’t haphazardly studying God’s Word

Monday’s blog posts always come from an excerpt from a book on Sunday School, groups, or general leadership. Today’s featured book is Transformational Groups by Eric Geiger and Ed Stetzer. Because of the section I’ve selected, I’m running the risk of inciting a small riot! But I believe the authors are correct in their thinking, so here goes:

Our first disappointment was that over half of pastors surveyed said they have no visible strategy for their group life. As an indication of that, we asked an additional question: Who is responsible for selecting the curriculum for small groups? Two thirds of the pastors reported they let the group leaders decide. The “study what you want” approach is irresponsible unless there is clear training that equips group leaders for wise choices. Without that, the haphazard approach can be a bit terrifying…It works against a common direction and vision and creates a mismatched, helter-skelter kind of chaotic ethos within the church…Imagine if pastors…let Bob, the worship leader, pick whatever random song he likes…the musicians and choir could follow his lead or go do their own thing. The ushers could stroll down the aisle to collect the offering whenever the urge struck. This type of environment would be chaos, off-putting to any guest that came through and distracting for a member trying to participate and worship God with other believers…Yet according to the research, groups are often handled in this way…Small groups should receive similar care and attention as the worship service. – pp.8-9

If you’re a Bible study leader and you don’t like the curriculum choice made be the staff or pastor on your group’s behalf, please understand that there’s a bigger picture they are dealing with. Perhaps you don’t believe your group needs curriculum, other than the Bible – but also understand that imbalance frequently takes place when group leaders self-select and/or write their own studies. Curriculum created by Christian publishers provide a starting point for a group leader’s preparation, and allows plenty of room for group leaders to customize the content to their audience. It also saves the group leader a lot of time in preparation – time that can be spent ministering to group members and following up with guests and absentees.

For almost 20 years I led the education/discipleship ministries of two large churches. One set records for growth in Texas, which isn’t an easy thing to do! At no point did I allow group leaders to select curriculum, or write their own. We followed a curriculum plan and a Bible study series by a trusted Christian publisher (LifeWay). We trained weekly on how to present effective, engaging, and transformative Bible studies. It galvanized our efforts and was easy to explain to guests who wondered what their options were.

If you’re a pastor, education minister, Sunday School director, or someone else in charge of your church’s groups ministry, consider encouraging your group leaders to either (1) use a curriculum series like I once did or (2) train group leaders to effectively make wise choices if they are allowed to select Bible study materials, which would include all the genres of Scripture so your people have a balanced approach to studying the Bible over time.

I’d be interested to hear how your church goes about the selection of Bible studies for its groups!

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Friday’s Hot Links – July 21, 2017

What a great week on the blog! So many of you are tweeting and referring to daily posts you found meaningful – thanks for that. It’s helping others to find the blog and get signed up.

I’ve pulled together some blog posts from trusted sources you might want to take a look at over the weekend. I hope you’ll find them helpful as you continue to lead a group, or your church’s Bible study ministry.

Shoulder to shoulder,

Ken Braddy

Blog Posts You Might Like:

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9 sure-fire ways to shrink your Bible study group

If you want to shrink your group, here are 9 tried-and-true things you can do to run people off. Tired of big groups filled with people who have lots of questions and needs? No problem! Just do some of the following things and you can shrink your group in no time:

#9- Prepare at the last minute – If you wait until the day before your group meets to study and prepare, you’re waiting much too late! Begin preparing your next Bible study the day after you meet together and complete your most recent one. If your group meets weekly (Sunday), starting your prep on Monday gives you almost a full week to read, study, find extra lesson helps, tie the biblical text to current events, and discover an object lesson or two you can use to illustrate a truth (or truths) from the Scripture passage you’re studying.

#8- Don’t be in a rush to follow up with guests – In the not too distant past, my wife and I searched for a new church after a job relocation. Almost no group leaders reached out to us (we visited a half-dozen churches or more). We received no email follow-ups, no notes of encouragement to visit the group again, and almost no “thank you for visiting our group” letters. It made us feel unimportant, unwanted, and not a priority to the groups we visited.

#7 – Ask guests to pray or respond to questions – There’s nothing quite like putting a guest on the spot and calling on them to pray or answer questions. Although you may think you’re doing the guest a favor, don’t. Let them decide when and how much they want to speak up. Thank them for attending your group, but don’t put them on the spot.

#6 – Forget about having a greeter – A group’s greeter can serve as a vital link to a guest. The greeter can initially welcome the guest, collect information, and introduce the guest to group members to help jumpstart the formation of relationships.

#5 – Keep cramming people into your “cozy” meeting place – Adults need about 12-15 square feet of space each. If your meeting place is over 80% full, it’s too full to maintain growth over the long haul. It’s time to move to bigger quarters, or start a new group. If people feel like there’s no room for them, or if they can’t sit where they’d like, chances are they’ll eventually quit coming.

#4 – Do the majority of the speaking – I hate to be the bearer of bad news, so don’t kill the messenger:  people don’t love the sound of your voice as much as you think they do! One way to run people off is to do most of the talking – all the time. Christian educators have affirmed that learning takes place more readily when people are engaged in active learning activities and discussion. Try moving beyond a monologue and try using a “groupalogue” on occasion (which occurs when group members talk and share with one another). Dr. Howard Hendricks once said, “Christian education today is entirely too passive.” I tend to agree with him.

#3 – Don’t worry about ministering to people – If you think that your role as group leader revolves around your teaching ministry, think again. Your group needs a shepherd, too, not just a teacher! When you invest your time and energy into the lives of people, you end up making a great investment. When people believe you genuinely care for them, they’ll be more likely to hang in there with you over the long haul. Large group should consider forming Care Groups so that every member and guest are cared for by other members of the group.

#2 – Have sporadic fellowships, or none at all – Group members need time together outside of the normal Bible study time. If you think that your Bible study group should be all about the teaching, you’re half right. Fellowship time outside of the group’s normal meeting helps deepen bonds of friendship, and it gives prospective new group members a chance to try out the group before they commit to join it.

#1 – Fail to give people jobs to do – If people have no real stake in the leadership of the group, it’s easier for them to unplug and leave the group. If, however, they are responsible for things like greeting, fellowships, prayer, and ministry projects, you’ll probably see a higher level of attendance and commitment over time.

 

Surprise, surprise! It’s what your group wants from you

If variety is truly the spice of life, too many small group Bible studies are pretty bland.  Whether on a church campus or in a home, group leaders tend to revert back to their favorite teaching method or methods.  It’s time to spice things up a bit and become less predictable.  Did you know that when God communicated with people, He often did so in surprising ways?

Hebrews 1:1 tells us that God communicated with man “in different times and in different ways” (HCSB).  Some of those ways proved to be surprising to the person or audience. Think about Moses suddenly hearing God’s voice through a burning bush, or the surprise when Balaam’s donkey spoke!  Shepherds were surprised to hear angels singing and proclaiming the birth of the Savior, and who could have predicted that a hand would appear and write on the wall during a banquet?

God has a way of communicating with man that is often very surprising.  As a group leader, you can copy this aspect of God’s communication style.  Your group Bible study members won’t mind a bit if you change things up, do something delightfully different, and keep them wondering what you’ve got up your sleeve.

If you’re in the mood to surprise your Bible study group this week, try one of these ideas:

1.  Surprise them by changing the order of things.  Most groups have an identifiable pattern when they meet. Change the order in which you fellowship, pray, and study.  You can begin by jumping into the Bible study, and end with a time if fellowship.  Save announcements until the end of the session, or don’t make them at all…simply hand out a sheet of paper on which you’ve listed them.  As someone once said, “If your group members know what’s going to happen, it’s time to throw out your playbook.”

2.  Surprise them by teaching in a different way.  If you tend to be a discussion-oriented group, intentionally deliver a well-crafted lecture.  If you tend to speak a lot as the group leader, introduce some visual aids or object lessons to help your visual learners connect with the lesson.  Break the group into smaller groups, watch a video clip, or try using a musical element in the lesson (play a song from your phone, iPad, or other device and have group members read the lyrics while the song is being played) – make sure it relates to your Bible study.  The goal is to get out of your rut and appeal to the different learning styles of your group members.  When you hear a small, quiet voice that says, “Your group members won’t like it,” simply ignore that voice and do it anyway. You’ll be surprised how much people will appreciate a little variety in the way you lead them through a Bible study.

3.  Surprise them by changing your group’s location.  If you are an on-campus Sunday School group, meet off-campus or in a different classroom, or just go outside if the weather is nice.  If you are a home group, meet in a place where you’ve never held a Bible study, like a Panera Bread, an office, or the backyard of a friend’s house the group doesn’t know.  A change of venue can excite your group members and build anticipation for your Bible study session.

Don’t be afraid of trying something new to surprise your group this week.  A small surprise can help you capture your group members’ interest, redirect their focus, and help you teach God’s Word more effectively.  Don’t be predictable…be surprising!  God would.  It’s time to shake things up!

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5 ways to drive your point home

Tuesday’s teaching tip is from the book Talk Like Ted. It is a compilation of the techniques used by the most effective TED Talk presenters. Today’s tip is about how to create what the author calls a “holy smokes” moment (p.148) – one where the audience’s jaw drops. He says you can create that moment in 5 different ways:

  1. Props and Demos – We’ve known for a long time that people like to see a good object lesson. Church is no different. The people in our groups are drawn to the use of props or a clever demonstration of some kind by the person doing the presenting. Jesus was a master at using the props available to him: a little child, a field white unto harvest, coins dropped into the temple treasury by a widow, a coin in a fish’s mouth, and a withered fig tree – these are just a few of the objects Christ used to make his point when teaching. What’s the last prop you used?
  2. Unexpected and shocking statistics – “In 1972 there were 300,000 people in jail. Today, there are over 2.3 million. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.” This kind of shocking statistic can catch the attention of your audience.
  3. Pictures, Images, and Videos – It’s not an accident that LifeWay’s major curriculum lines have Leader Packs chocked full of visually engaging posters, maps, and timelines. TED Talk presenters who are known for capturing the imaginations of the audience always find a way to use something visual to create that great “aha” moment.
  4. Memorable Headlines – These are short soundbites that are repeatable, tweetable, and memorable. “We will get wooly mammoths back,” said one TED Talk presenter. If you want to see some of the best quotes from TED Talk presenters, go to TED.com/quotes to read more than 2000 great quotes that captured people’s attention.
  5. Personal Stories – Jesus told short stories that had a single point – parables. TED Talk presenters, at least the best ones, all incorporate a personal story into their 20 minute routine. “Great communicators are great storytellers” says the author of Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallo (p.155).

Which of the 5 ways TED Talk presenters capture their audience members’ attention will you use the next time you teach?

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