Friday’s Hot Links – July 21, 2017

What a great week on the blog! So many of you are tweeting and referring to daily posts you found meaningful – thanks for that. It’s helping others to find the blog and get signed up.

I’ve pulled together some blog posts from trusted sources you might want to take a look at over the weekend. I hope you’ll find them helpful as you continue to lead a group, or your church’s Bible study ministry.

Shoulder to shoulder,

Ken Braddy

Blog Posts You Might Like:

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9 sure-fire ways to shrink your Bible study group

If you want to shrink your group, here are 9 tried-and-true things you can do to run people off. Tired of big groups filled with people who have lots of questions and needs? No problem! Just do some of the following things and you can shrink your group in no time:

#9- 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! Begin preparing your next Bible study the day after you meet together and complete your most recent one. If your group meets weekly (Sunday), starting your prep on Monday gives you almost a full week to read, study, find extra lesson helps, tie the biblical text to current events, and discover an object lesson or two you can use to illustrate a truth (or truths) from the Scripture passage you’re studying.

#8- 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 (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” letters. It made us feel unimportant, unwanted, and not a priority to the groups we visited.

#7 – 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 or answer questions. 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. Thank them for attending your group, but don’t put them on the spot.

#6 – Forget about having a greeter – A group’s greeter can serve as a vital link to a guest. The greeter can initially welcome the guest, collect information, and introduce the guest to group members to help jumpstart the formation of relationships.

#5 – Keep cramming people into your “cozy” meeting place – Adults need about 12-15 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 bigger quarters, or 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 the majority of the speaking – I hate to be the bearer of bad news, so don’t kill the messenger:  people don’t love the sound of your voice as much as you think they do! One way to run people off is to do most of the talking – all the time. Christian educators have affirmed that learning takes place more readily when people are engaged in active learning activities and discussion. Try moving beyond a monologue and try using a “groupalogue” on occasion (which occurs when 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 the long haul. Large group should consider forming Care Groups so that every member and guest are cared for by other members of the group.

#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 prospective 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.

 

Surprise, surprise! It’s what your group wants from you

If variety is truly the spice of life, too many small group Bible studies are pretty bland.  Whether on a church campus or in a home, group leaders tend to revert back to their favorite teaching method or methods.  It’s time to spice things up a bit and become less predictable.  Did you know that when God communicated with people, He often did so in surprising ways?

Hebrews 1:1 tells us that God communicated with man “in different times and in different ways” (HCSB).  Some of those ways proved to be surprising to the person or audience. Think about Moses suddenly hearing God’s voice through a burning bush, or the surprise when Balaam’s donkey spoke!  Shepherds were surprised to hear angels singing and proclaiming the birth of the Savior, and who could have predicted that a hand would appear and write on the wall during a banquet?

God has a way of communicating with man that is often very surprising.  As a group leader, you can copy this aspect of God’s communication style.  Your group Bible study members won’t mind a bit if you change things up, do something delightfully different, and keep them wondering what you’ve got up your sleeve.

If you’re in the mood to surprise your Bible study group this week, try one of these ideas:

1.  Surprise them by changing the order of things.  Most groups have an identifiable pattern when they meet. Change the order in which you fellowship, pray, and study.  You can begin by jumping into the Bible study, and end with a time if fellowship.  Save announcements until the end of the session, or don’t make them at all…simply hand out a sheet of paper on which you’ve listed them.  As someone once said, “If your group members know what’s going to happen, it’s time to throw out your playbook.”

2.  Surprise them by teaching in a different way.  If you tend to be a discussion-oriented group, intentionally deliver a well-crafted lecture.  If you tend to speak a lot as the group leader, introduce some visual aids or object lessons to help your visual learners connect with the lesson.  Break the group into smaller groups, watch a video clip, or try using a musical element in the lesson (play a song from your phone, iPad, or other device and have group members read the lyrics while the song is being played) – make sure it relates to your Bible study.  The goal is to get out of your rut and appeal to the different learning styles of your group members.  When you hear a small, quiet voice that says, “Your group members won’t like it,” simply ignore that voice and do it anyway. You’ll be surprised how much people will appreciate a little variety in the way you lead them through a Bible study.

3.  Surprise them by changing your group’s location.  If you are an on-campus Sunday School group, meet off-campus or in a different classroom, or just go outside if the weather is nice.  If you are a home group, meet in a place where you’ve never held a Bible study, like a Panera Bread, an office, or the backyard of a friend’s house the group doesn’t know.  A change of venue can excite your group members and build anticipation for your Bible study session.

Don’t be afraid of trying something new to surprise your group this week.  A small surprise can help you capture your group members’ interest, redirect their focus, and help you teach God’s Word more effectively.  Don’t be predictable…be surprising!  God would.  It’s time to shake things up!

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5 ways to drive your point home

Tuesday’s teaching tip is from the book Talk Like Ted. It is a compilation of the techniques used by the most effective TED Talk presenters. Today’s tip is about how to create what the author calls a “holy smokes” moment (p.148) – one where the audience’s jaw drops. He says you can create that moment in 5 different ways:

  1. Props and Demos – We’ve known for a long time that people like to see a good object lesson. Church is no different. The people in our groups are drawn to the use of props or a clever demonstration of some kind by the person doing the presenting. Jesus was a master at using the props available to him: a little child, a field white unto harvest, coins dropped into the temple treasury by a widow, a coin in a fish’s mouth, and a withered fig tree – these are just a few of the objects Christ used to make his point when teaching. What’s the last prop you used?
  2. Unexpected and shocking statistics – “In 1972 there were 300,000 people in jail. Today, there are over 2.3 million. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.” This kind of shocking statistic can catch the attention of your audience.
  3. Pictures, Images, and Videos – It’s not an accident that LifeWay’s major curriculum lines have Leader Packs chocked full of visually engaging posters, maps, and timelines. TED Talk presenters who are known for capturing the imaginations of the audience always find a way to use something visual to create that great “aha” moment.
  4. Memorable Headlines – These are short soundbites that are repeatable, tweetable, and memorable. “We will get wooly mammoths back,” said one TED Talk presenter. If you want to see some of the best quotes from TED Talk presenters, go to TED.com/quotes to read more than 2000 great quotes that captured people’s attention.
  5. Personal Stories – Jesus told short stories that had a single point – parables. TED Talk presenters, at least the best ones, all incorporate a personal story into their 20 minute routine. “Great communicators are great storytellers” says the author of Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallo (p.155).

Which of the 5 ways TED Talk presenters capture their audience members’ attention will you use the next time you teach?

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Spiritual leaders guard their speech

Mondays on the blog are about sharing an insight from a book on Sunday School, small groups, or general leadership. Today I have chosen to share a paragraph from the book Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby. In this excerpt, the authors caution those of us who lead to be careful about the way we use (or accidentally misuse) our speech. It’s a great warning about the influence we have with our words:

Leaders should realize that even when they say things casually, their people may take them seriously. Such was the case with David. David was camped outside Bethlehem with his men while a Philistine garrison occupied Bethlehem. In an unguarded moment, David remarked wistfully, “If only someone would bring me water to drink from the well at the city gate of Bethlehem!” (2 Sam. 23:15). Immediately, three of his loyal men set out for the well. David’s friends fought their way through a contingent of Philistine soldiers until they reached the coveted water. When they returned with their prize, David was appalled at what he had done. By his selfish wish, three of his most loyal soldiers endangered their lives for something unnecessary. In that instance David was careless with his influence.

Those of us who lead groups have a stewardship of influence. Part of our influence comes through the way we use our words. Let’s agree to be extra careful and measure the words we say, especially when we say them in front of those we lead. David didn’t mean to endanger his men, but a few careless words almost proved disastrous.

In a day and age in which people casually place words in social media for the world to see, let’s be known as people who lead spiritually and carefully weigh the words we choose to use. As we craft responses to send by email, or as we engage in conversation, may the words of our mouths be pleasing to the Lord.

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Friday’s Hot Links – July 14, 2017

Happy Friday! The year is about half over, football season is around six weeks away, and that means back-to-school time is, too. Time is flying by!

I’ve put together some posts for you to read and review over the weekend. These come from trusted sources and friends around the web. I hope you’ll enjoy them, and I trust that God will use them to minister to you in some way.

Thanks again for following this blog. It is my joy and privilege to provide daily thoughts and insights about group ministry. I appreciate the way you are passing along these posts in social media.

Shoulder to shoulder,

Ken Braddy

Blog Posts You Might Like:

  1. 4 questions groups should ask about prayer requests
  2. 5 consequences leaders face for not resting
  3. 5 sobering realities about evangelism in our churches
  4. 4 things to do when you’re having an off day/week/month
  5. Should family come before church?
  6. 6 key questions for Bible study

The real story of Vincenzo Ricardo – dead for one year before anyone noticed

I read about a man named Vincenzo “Vinnie” Ricardo, a resident of Hampton Bays, NY.  According to an Associated Press story on February 18, 2007, the 70-year-old died while watching television at his home. The sad part of the story is that he remained there for one year before anyone discovered his body.  He might have remained there even longer had pipes at his home not burst.

City workers discovered his mummified body still sitting on the couch, the TV still on.  Because of cold temperatures and dry conditions in the home,  his body was well-preserved, leaving his facial features and hair intact. Medical examiners said they had never seen anyone dead this long.  As it turns out, Mr. Ricardo was blind, and he was estranged from his family. Only one neighbor dropped in to read him his mail and pay his bills, but she quit stopping by when he continued to press her for more of her time.  Other neighbors never noticed that he had quit wandering in the streets with his cane. One neighbor said, “I didn’t really know him that well, but apparently nobody did.”

This story reinforces the need we all have for relationships.  It is so important to help people develop relationships in our Sunday Schools and small groups.  You may have Vincenzo Ricardos on your class roll…people who have gone missing.  Do you know why they are missing? Do you know their story? One of the great tasks given to the Sunday School is to help people build relationships with one another.  Dick Murray, in his book Strengthening The Adult Sunday School, said, “It is a myth that most adults attend Sunday School primarily to learn. People attend for fellowship and friends.”  That was a hard pill for me to swallow as a Minister of Education.  I thought people came to Sunday School because they wanted to learn God’s Word.  As it turns out, they are there to a large degree because of the need for relationships. Now that I teach a group weekly, I can testify that this is true.

Be savvy in the ways you help people develop relationships in your group.  Here are a few simple things you can do to help people get (and stay) connected:

1.  Wear name tags.  David Francis, in his book Invite I-6, said, “There may be nothing more important for a class to create an inviting environment than a conscious and consistent effort to wear nametags” (p.24).  In the group my wife and I just launched, we have practiced wearing name tags each Sunday. I’ve told our group members they’ll probably get tired of wearing the name tags each week, but it’s already helped us learn each other’s names, and it will help any guests who come to our class to learn the names of our group members. Name tags jumpstart relationships, and they are inexpensive!

2.  Have regular fellowships. Call them parties, call them get-togethers, they are the fun events that provide opportunities for relationships to grow. My wife and I have established Third Sunday Lunches and our Bible study group now has a regular monthly lunch date. We have taken day trips and gone on other fun outings.  This is just one facet of Sunday School, but it’s an important one. Are you having enough fun with your group? To quote David Francis again, “There may not be a better tactic for creating opportunities for invitation than department, class, or group parties.  Parties should be scheduled regularly” (Invite I-6, p. 36).

3.  Go after the people who are missing in action.  In almost every Bible study group there are people who are absent each time the group comes together for Bible study. In fact, it’s a fairly accepted fact that about 50% of the people enrolled in a group won’t attend on any given week. If a group has 20 people in attendance, there’s a good chance there are 20 more on the group’s ministry list who are absent – and they need follow-up. Someone must reach out to them and make sure their needs are being met. They need to hear “We missed you last week.” 

4. Set the example.  If you want your group members to grow in relationship to each other, set the example for them and take the initiative to get to know them.  Go to lunch with them.  Invite them into your home. Play matchmaker and connect them to each other. If growing relationships is a priority for you, the group leader, then it will become important to your group members.