Most groups and group leaders want their groups to reach new people for Bible study. My wife and I have been visiting a local church, and we have found their groups to be very inviting and open to new people belonging to their Bible study fellowships (this church calls them LIFE Groups). If your goal is to grow your group, watch out for 10 things that can shrink it.
#10 – Prepare at the last minute – If you wait until the day before your group meets to study and prepare, you’re waiting much too late! Just recently I sat in a Bible study group and heard the leader say, “I got up at 4:30AM this morning to make sure I prepared something for you today.” When is a good time to begin prepping for your group’s next study? I’d say immediately after your last Bible study! If your group meets weekly, that gives you almost a full week to read, study, find extra lesson helps, tie the study to current events, decide on an object lesson, and more session-enhancing add-ons.
#9 – Don’t be in a rush to follow up with guests – In the not too distant past, my wife and I searched for a new church after a job relocation. Almost no group leaders reached out to us during out 10-month quest (we visited a half-dozen churches or more). We received no email follow-ups, no notes of encouragement to visit the group again, and almost no “thank you for visiting our group” postcards or letters. It made us feel unimportant, unwanted, and not a priority to the groups we visited. And we weren’t.
#8 – Ask guests to pray or respond to questions – There’s nothing quite like putting a guest on the spot and calling on them to pray, answer questions, or to tell the group about themselves. Although you may think you’re doing the guest a favor, don’t. Let them decide when and how much they want to speak up. The fear of public speaking is still people’s #1 fear.
#7 – Don’t provide group members with a PSG – If you want to set the bar low, just teach whatever you want in whatever order you want. If you decide, though, to provide a PSG (personal study guide) you can promote the next study, ask group members to read ahead in advance, and greatly enhance the group’s experience and future interactions. PSGs are based on a publisher’s scope and sequence for a particular product (the topics being studied and the order in which they are studied). This leads to balanced studies over time, provides more variety, and encourages healthy Bible study.
#6 – Forget about having a greeter – A group’s greeter can serve as a vital link to a guest. The greeter should welcome the guest, collect information from the guest, and introduce the guest to group members to help jumpstart the formation of relationships. Or you could do it yourself as the leader of the group, in addition to all your other responsibilities (I’m being facetious, of course!).
#5 – Keep cramming people into your meeting place – Adults need 15 square feet of space each. If your meeting place is over 80% full, it’s too full to maintain growth over the long haul. It’s time to move to a bigger place, or better yet, start a new group. If people feel like there’s no room for them, or if they can’t sit where they’d like, chances are they’ll eventually quit coming.
#4 – Do most of the speaking – Guess what? People don’t love the sound of your voice as much as you do! One way to run people off is to do all the talking if you are the group leader. The best group leaders have learned that learning takes place when people talk to each other. Try moving beyond a monologue and try using a “groupalogue,” which helps group members talk and share with one another. Dr. Howard Hendricks once said, “Christian education today is entirely too passive.” I tend to agree with him.
#3 – Don’t worry about ministering to people – If you think that your role as group leader revolves around your teaching ministry, think again. Your group needs a shepherd, too, not just a teacher! When you invest your time and energy into the lives of people, you end up making a great investment. When people believe you genuinely care for them, they’ll be more likely to hang in there with you over time.
#2 – Have sporadic fellowships, or none at all – Group members need time together outside of the normal Bible study time. If you think that your Bible study group should be all about the teaching, you’re half right. Fellowship time outside of the group’s normal meeting helps deepen bonds of friendship, and it gives potential new group members a chance to try out the group before they commit to join it.
#1 – Fail to give people jobs to do – If people have no real stake in the leadership of the group, it’s easier for them to unplug and leave the group. If, however, they are responsible for things like greeting, fellowships, prayer, and ministry projects, you’ll probably see a higher level of attendance and commitment over time.