As the percentage of the population receiving COVID-19 vaccinations continues to rise, church leaders are seeing an increase in the number of people attending on-campus groups and weekend worship services. We are in the dawn of a new post-pandemic era for the church.
Pastors expect that by the end of summer 2021, the majority of their people will be back to meeting in groups (see the Lifeway Research survey results to the right). Church leaders I’ve spoken with in the past week have all indicated that members are returning, and that formerly unconnected individuals and families are joining their congregations even now. The race to normalcy is on.
As people begin returning to our churches, restarting groups is a major priority. While your church may have already restarted groups, there are many more that are just now considering how to go about the arduous task of restarting Bible study groups in person. Even if your church’s groups are meeting again, there are three things we should do as we hit the reset button on Bible study groups.
- Encourage your absentees to try other groups. National leaders are predicting that churches may see up to a 30% reduction in people who return to the church after the pandemic subsides. Time will tell (and I believe it will be less than that). Whatever the percentage may be, we will always have a group of people in our congregations who withdraw from group participation for various reasons (a lifestyle change is the most pervasive reason that people unplug from the church). The second most frequent reason people leave is because their Bible study group ends. As people begin warming up to the idea of returning to groups post-pandemic, don’t forget to encourage your absentees to try other groups. They may need permission to attend a group different than the one they belonged to before the pandemic began. Embarrassment over being gone for most of last year could keep people from returning, but suggest they try another group or two as they re-enter church, and you will likely see them more apt to give it a go.
- Start new groups. A pre-pandemic reason that Bible study ministries were struggling to attract new members is because new groups were not started often enough. New groups are fertile ground for relationships to grow, and that is exactly what new people need – human connections to the church. Remember that programs do not connect people – people connect people. You severely diminish the possibility that a new person or couple will “stick” by sending them to an older, established group. Too many times those new people cannot break into the circle of friends, and they leave the group, and sometimes the church, feeling as disconnected as before.
- Schedule a “no-guilt” Sunday (or month-long) restart. Some of your people may feel reticent about coming back after being gone for so long (there are a lot of church members who have not been back with their group in over a year now). Declaring a “guilt-free” Sunday (telling your people that everyone is making a particular Sunday a “restart” Sunday – no questions asked) can be helpful in encouraging people to come back when everyone else does. You might even decide to say something like, “We’re making August our ‘back to Sunday School’ month – come back any Sunday that fits your family’s schedule.”