I love my full-time role at LifeWay Christian Resources. I also love my part-time role at a church here in the Nashville area. Over the past year-and-a-half, I’ve worked with the pastor, staff, and teachers to (1) start a second Sunday School hour and (2) start new groups (3) lift up the importance of Sunday School through the new member’s class and other venues. If the trend line holds, the Sunday School will have doubled by this August/September! Starting new groups and providing room for them to grow is the fastest way to add new life to your church’s Sunday School. All too often, churches do not strategically start new groups annually, and as a consequence, the Sunday School stalls out over time. Here’s a brief excerpt from my new book, Breathing Life Into Sunday School, where I address the imperative of starting new Bible study groups:
I love the community in which I live! It’s grown exponentially over the last eight years. New people have moved into my neighborhood, and many new businesses have moved into my city as a result of the growth. These businesses have one thing in common: their parent companies started small and they expanded. And there was a method to their madness… franchising…I first heard this concept of franchising applied to Sunday school at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. Friend and colleague Allan Taylor addressed a gathering of Sunday school leaders, and challenged churches to franchise their groups. We’ve learned over the years that most groups don’t like hearing the terms “split, divide, or birth a new group.” The latest term, franchising, is a much friendlier term that everyone understands.
Growth has taken place in countless businesses because they built new buildings, trained new teams, and opened their doors to customers they’d never reached before through the strategy of franchising. Effective churches have discovered the benefits of franchising groups…Many churches haven’t started a new group in years…those Sunday schools are in decline. Those are the ones that need life breathed into them. “Ideas abound about how a Sunday School, a church, or the larger Kingdom of God grows. All of those theories can be reduced to this most basic principle: Start new units. New preaching/teaching points. New missions. New churches. New ministry teams. New small groups. New discipleship groups. New Sunday School classes.”
The authors of Comeback Churches emphasized the importance of starting new groups in their book. They cited research that centered on more than 300 churches that were once stagnant and in decline. Those churches found new life and vitality in part by starting new groups. “Comeback churches made it a priority to start new groups. The ones that utilized Sunday school started new classes and carved out more space for them to meet. In some cases, they built. But in every case, comeback leaders found a way to connect more people in biblical community. If you want to breathe life into your Sunday school, you must start new groups. You must franchise. Starting new groups is not only a good idea, it’s essential. Starting new groups and franchising existing ones do good things for your church:
- New groups reach underserved people. Every church’s Bible teaching ministry has gaps. There are some people who simply don’t have a great place to attend a Bible study. Look around your congregation and community to see what kinds of people wouldn’t have a place if they came to your church to study the Bible in a group. New groups provide a place for the underserved.
- New groups enlarge the church. It’s a fact that new groups will reach, on average, 10 new people. If you wanted to grow your church’s Sunday school by 30 people this year, you’d need to start 3 new groups, plus maybe one or two more to cover the “churn” that takes place each year (churn is the number of people who move off, leave the church, die, etc.).
- New groups encourage people to use their spiritual gifts. New groups provide fresh soil in which leaders can be planted. Given a place to grow their leadership skills and use their spiritual gifts, they blossom. An apprentice teacher who teaches an adult group once or twice every six months will not fully develop as a teacher-leader until he or she has a group of their own to lead. New groups also give group members a place to serve and use their spiritual gifts.
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