David Francis, LifeWay’s former Director of Sunday School and Discipleship, shared the difference between open and closed groups in his book Great Expectations – Planting Seeds for Sunday School Growth. The book focused on the best practices of open groups (the other alternative is to provide closed Bible study groups); Sunday School has always functioned best by providing open groups. At the end of this post you’ll find a link to a free PDF copy of the book.
If your Sunday School is going to be full of healthy open groups, here are some things David said you’ll need to know:
1. Open groups expect new people every week – Think about your Sunday School class. Are there extra Personal Study Guides that can be given to a guest on their first Sunday? Are there enough chairs in the classroom? I’ve visited Sunday School classes as I have traveled and trained group leaders, and in most cases the answer was no. They had just enough study guides and chairs for “the home crowd.” The group was not expecting new persons to be present.
2. Open groups have leaders who arrive early – If you have an open group, the group leader must be the first person to arrive each Sunday. Newcomers tend to arrive early, and no one should ever beat the group leader to the place where the group has its Bible study! My wife and I visited a Sunday School class in the not too distant past, and the teacher was one one of the last people to arrive. We initiated conversations with couples around us, exchanged pleasantries, but everyone was keenly aware their leader was AWOL. He finally did arrive, scrambled to get things in order, but the message had already been sent…he wasn’t expecting a new couple to be in his classroom that day.
3. Open groups don’t have “throwaway Sundays” – This is a term that David used in the book. A throwaway Sunday is one where the teacher and/or class leaders just don’t “hit on all cylinders.” They say something like, “Oh, well…we’ll do better next week.” The challenge is that most guests won’t come back if they have a poor experience. As David noted in the book, “Every week may be somebody’s first week. If it’s not a good week, they may never come back for a second week…” One of the authors that I began reading years ago said, “Local churches must take a hard look at their performance and dedicate themselves to excellence in all they do. In today’s marketplace, people are critical and unforgiving. They have high expectations, and they give an organization only one chance to impress” (The Frog in the Kettle, p. 44 )
This just barely scratches the surface of what open groups should be like. For more on this topic, pick up a free copy of David Francis’ book, Great Expectations, in PDF format. There’s no cost, no obligation, and no trick! It’s really free. Click here to jump to the PDF download of the book.