I never thought I’d be writing a blog post about this topic. Through the years I’ve experienced success in launching new Bible study groups and seeing the churches I served grow (and in one church growth was incredible and exponential), but my wife and I recently launched a new ongoing Bible study group at our church (called a LIFE Group at our church) and until recently, the group hadn’t grown as much as I’d like. I realize that developing community and growing spiritually are important factors, too, and that numerical growth isn’t the only thing to look for. But I do want my group to grow and reach out to people who are unconnected.
At one point, we weren’t sure that our fledgling group was going to make it. Thankfully, things have changed (more on that at the end) but there are plenty of small groups and Sunday School classes that are in a similar situation to where we were this past year. What do you do if your group isn’t growing? Having lived through it, I’ve realized there are seven options:
- Consider the size of the place you meet. 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 are empty seats, but the impression is 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 to move to larger quarters…and we’ve continued to grow each time we made a change!
- Evaluate the place where your group meets. If your group meets on a church campus, is there clear signage? Is there adequate lighting? Do you have the equipment and supplies you need to lead an effective Bible study? 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?
- Enhance your group’s Bible study. To provide the very best experience for your group members so they keep coming time and time again, consider adding some affordable resources to your Bible study arsenal. LifeWay produces commentaries that go along with its ongoing Bible studies, and a magazine resource called Biblical Illustrator that explains people, places, and events found in Scripture (it, too, is offered in conjunction with ongoing Bible studies like Explore The Bible and Bible Studies For Life). Leader packs provide visuals like posters and maps, plus a DVD ROM with even more helps for group leaders. Upgrade your preparation to enhance your group’s Bible study experience and help them engage in great studies every time you meet. If you do a great job leading the Bible study, group members will be encouraged to invite friends.
- Evaluate yourself. This is a hard one. It could be your style of leading the Bible study or your leadership of the group isn’t being 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 and reach new people by taking on a different function.
- Ask your group members. They will have their own ideas and could give you valuable input as to what they see as the main reasons for the lack of growth. Ask them to share openly and honestly.
- Don’t give up. No one said starting a new group was going to be easy. If it was, everyone could start a new group. Truth is, most churches are not starting near enough new groups to keep up with the people they lose every year. Guests will tend to “stick” better in a newer group that isn’t as old and established as other ones. The answer to your dilemma may be to reinvest your time and energy into the group and simply keep going. Go back to your original prospects, 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 dropped off the radar of other groups and go reclaim them (if the other groups aren’t actively pursuing them!).
- Pray. You know that God wants your group to reach new people, especially the unconnected people who live in your community. 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 several months last year that 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 7 things might be the key to turning things around.
-A version of this post is appearing in Bible Studies For Life leader guides this spring