You’ve heard of the dreaded “back door,” I bet? It’s a way of referring to the people who leave our Bible study groups over the course of time. Churches have a back door, but that back door is simply the sum total of the back doors of all the groups in its Bible teaching ministry. If you want to close the church’s back door, simply close the back doors of groups.
In my experience, there are 4 ways that groups can make a difference and help people “stick.” As a group leader, I want the people in my group to be present weekly, and I certainly don’t want any of them leaving my group or the church! There are a few circumstances beyond my control, of course. I can’t help it when people take on a new job and have to relocate. Neither can I help it when someone retires and moves away to be closer to children and grandchildren. I can’t help it if someone gets mad at someone or something else in the church. But there are at least 4 things I can do to make sure that the back door of my group is not opened very wide.
- Good teaching. I never want to drive anyone out of my group because I do not teach the Word of God effectively. To teach the Bible well, I first have to be well-prepared. I also have to be well-rested. And I need to keep in mind the needs of my group members and the ways they prefer to learn – I need to teach creatively, using the 8 learning approaches consistently over time. Poor teaching has probably driven more people out of groups and out the back door of the church as much as anything else.
- Good fellowship. I used to think that good teaching is enough to hold people in groups. Over the years I’ve come to understand something different – that good teaching, while it is important, may not be as important as people finding friends and getting connected to others in their Bible study group. That pains me, in a way, because I have the spiritual gift of teaching. I love to study and prepare and guide a group’s Bible study. But I’ve had to admit that if I’m going to close the back door of my group, my teaching isn’t enough to do it. I have to structure time in my group’s Bible study for prayer, sharing of needs, and conversations. Plus I have to intentionally schedule time outside the group’s normal meeting time for fellowships like lunches, day trips, and other fun activities that strengthen and grow relationships.
- Good ministry. It’s corny but true: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Groups that see people leave in larger numbers often struggle to minister to people prior to their departure. A crisis in someone’s life wasn’t addressed by the group, a need went unmet, and the person felt as though they were insignificant to the group. When that happens, the back door swings wide open. To close it, you have to think of Sunday school (or home groups) beyond the meeting time of the Bible study – it’s really a 24/7 ministry that means you’re always “on” – and if people have needs, you stop what you’re doing and meet those needs.
- Good administration. Closely related to number 3 above is the need to be a good administrator. By that I mean that you have to administrate your group’s role – what I like to call a ministry role. It’s a list of the members and prospects of your group. I need to make sure that I’m budgeting time and energy to reaching out to people who are absent (that tends to be about 1/2 my group role each week…yours, too, most likely!), and those who are legitimate prospects to become active members of my group.
Closing the back door starts at the group level. If we can close the back door in each group, the church’s back door will also close. Remember, the church’s back door is nothing more than the sum of the back doors of all its Bible study groups.