“The natural intertia of any group is to turn inward” said my friend, colleague, co-author, and respected Christian educator David Francis. David is LifeWay’s Director of Sunday School, and that statement appeared in a recent book he authored. I’ve seen that first-hand. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s just a natural thing that happens to almost all Bible study groups. People come together, study, pray, and “do life together,” and they grow close. That’s a good thing. But experience has taught us that once a group passes the two-year-old mark, it is likely to experience what I’ll call “the terrible twos.” If you’ve raised kids, you know those years can be particularly challenging. In a similar way, Bible study groups experience their own challenges when they turn two. The biggest challenge they face is to remain open to new people. A terrible thing happens when a group, once founded to reach new people, gets satisfied with the status quo. Relationships among group members are good. Teaching is good. The passion to reach others and to see newcomers grafted into the life of the group can wane. What can a group do to thrive during and after “the terrible twos”? How can groups that were once well-intentioned get back on track and be open to new people again?
5 things your group can do to cope with “the terrible twos”
- Wear nametags. David Francis has said this for years. I’ve echoed his advice. I have provided them in my own Bible study group that I lead weekly. When guests show up, it’s such a relief for everyone – members and guests – not to feel the pressure of forgetting someone’s name after they’ve been introduced. We’ve all done that! Inexpensive stick-on nametags help newer group members learn people’s names quickly. And it eliminates that awkward moment when you look into a guests eyes and go blank on their name.
- Break your group into smaller groups during the teaching. To help newer group members get to know others, regularly divide your Bible study group into smaller triads or quads. People will build relationships, hear each others’ stories, and will connect faster than if you approach the study as a large group. Helping people build relationships is a key factor in whether or not your group will be known as a place for newcomers, or as a clique.
- Schedule regular fellowships. Everyone’s busy, but a key to keeping your group open to new people is to provide times when the group can come together outside the normal Bible study time. Movies, sporting events, day trips, barbecues, and just about anything else you can think of can become opportunities for relationship-building. New people need the chance to connect with the members of the group who’ve been there for a while. Most guests won’t self-initiate relationships; be sure to help them by giving them times to hang out with your long-time group members.
- Gently remind your group that you’re supposed to be an open group. If the tendency of groups is to turn inward, it takes real leadership to make sure that the group never loses sight of its purpose: to reach new people. I recently asked my group members about changing to a different Bible study curriculum. One man in the group, Randall, spoke up with words of wisdom. He reminded us that if we switched to something that is too wordy, too boring, or too challenging for newcomers, we could turn them off and never see them again; he asked us to keep in mind that whatever we decide must be done with our objective in mind: to reach people for Bible study. We don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to share the gospel or to invite a guest to consider becoming a member of our church family.
- Start new groups. New groups tend to grow faster and reach more people for Christ than do older, established groups. While it is hard to say goodbye to group members who launch out and start new groups, it’s the right thing to do. After all, we’ll have all of eternity to spend together! Release those group members who are entrepreneurial in spirit and help them start new groups that will reach new people. Connecting new people in new groups is a way to make sure “the terrible twos” aren’t so terrible for your group.