How to answer tricky questions in your Bible study group, Part 1

“Have you stopped beating your wife?”

“Have you been able to stop kicking your dog?”

These questions are designed to put a person on the spot – no matter how the person answers, they appear guilty! Sometimes we ask questions like these for fun – just to put a friend on the spot. But it’s not so fun when you are asked a tricky question as you’re leading your Bible study group. What do you do then?

Over the next two days I am going to share 8 ways to deal with tricky questions. I want to break the topic of answering tricky questions into two general categories of questions, then give you four ways to deal with them. Here goes!

Answering Tricky but Innocent Questions

This is the first category of tricky questions. These kind of tricky questions are not asked to trip you up. They are not posed in order to intentionally get the study off track. They occur when someone in your group asks an awkward question at an inopportune time. Here are four ways to deal with these types of innocent, but tricky, questions:

  • ADMIT – Learn to use three powerful little words: “I don’t know.” It’s OK to admit that you don’t have an immediate response for the person. Use this when you really don’t care to address the question. You’ll earn people’s trust and respect by not simply making up an answer – because everyone knows when we do that.
  • AFFIRM – Say something to the person who’s asked the question like, “That’s a good question,” or “You’ve helped me see this in a different way.” Affirm their question, but you don’t necessarily stop to address it. Move on. Keep the lesson on track. Affirm the person by saying, “You’ve given me something to ponder.”
  • ASK – This is where it gets fun! Turn the tables, as Jesus did (Luke 20) and simply say, “Now that’s an interesting question – how would you answer it?” 9 times out of 10 the person is eager to share their insight. They asked you, but now you’ve asked them.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE – This is a cousin to the first solution above, Admit. The difference here is that you admit your lack of knowledge and you commit to do further study. You simply acknowledge that you don’t have an answer, but you also promise to do some further study and get back to the person and/or the group.

In tomorrow’s blog post, I’ll give you part 2 of this series and show you how to deal with the other kind of question you’ll be asked: the malevolent question. These types of questions have a bite, and they are asked by a not-so-well-meaning person in your group. Jesus had to deal with these all the time, and I’ll show you where, plus how He dealt with them.

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What’s the right group size?

Just before Christmas, I wrote a post and challenged you to suggest topics you wanted me to address in the coming weeks. Well, you responded! Today’s post is an answer to Randy Lamon’s question about group size. Here is what Randy asked:

Ken,

Effective group size is a topic that would help me. My fastest growing classes are the ones that are larger in size, however, they tend to be the same classes where people “hide” and won’t get involved in ministry that needs to be done. Is there a size class that maximizes growth and ministry involvement?

Randy, thanks for submitting that question! It’s one that affects all of us who lead a groups ministry. I, too, had a similar experience when leading the groups ministries of the two churches I served. Big groups tended to be like “black holes,” drawing in guests and members alike! I begin a new role as Minister of Education at a church here in the Nashville area this coming Sunday, and no doubt I’m going to run into several groups that are too large, so your question is timely! I’m doing this part-time, and I’m still keeping my day job.  🙂

Over the past year, I’ve read about 20 books on discipleship. I have a strong opinion about group size, and I do not favor large groups. Here is my reasoning on this, and then I’ll answer the part of your question about the group size that maximizes ministry involvement.

  • Jesus didn’t develop disciples in large groups – The example we see in Scripture is that of Jesus limiting the size of his “class” to 12. He even had a smaller group of 3 he met with. Every author on the topic of discipleship says the same thing: bigger groups are not what we find in Scripture. As Jim Putman says, “We want the results of Jesus without using the methods of Jesus.”
  • Larger groups limit leader development – So imagine if you were a member of a 50 person class. A teacher would likely have a microphone and a podium. He might even use PowerPoint or some other presentation software. He would likely be a very good expositor. The trouble is, though, that very few people in this group of 50 would dare step up and teach the group in his absence. That doesn’t foster leader development, and most church’s leadership pipelines are fairly empty. Big groups hinder the starting of new groups and the development of apprentice teachers.
  • Larger groups create hideouts – Randy already addressed this problem, and I bet you’ve seen it, too. Large classes are places for people to hide out. It’s really hard to get people to step up and step out of the group to serve in other ministries that need workers.
  • Larger groups open up the back door of the church – Granted this may not take place in every large group, but unless the group has an amazing administrator who organizes the group into smaller care groups, people are going to fall through the cracks. They’ll get sick and no one will know to follow up. A death in the family will take place and the group won’t reach out because it didn’t know. Now all of a sudden people start to disengage, angry that needs were not met.

So now, if larger groups aren’t all that beneficial to the process of making disciples, what’s the right size? You may or may not agree with me on this, but my conviction is that of others whom I would consider to be groups experts. My good friends David Francis and Rick Howerton (one a Sunday School guy, one a small groups guy) said in their book Countdown, that the optimal number of people in a Bible study group is 12, plus or minus 4.

I agree. Anywhere between 8 to 16 people is a good size. At this size, people can be discipled. They can be discipled in a way similar to the way Jesus discipled his group. People can be known. People can be developed. People can be encouraged and trained to do ministry. People are missed and followed up with at this size.

I’ve taught a group for the past 5 years that has hovered around 14-16 people in attendance each week. At times I wished we’d grown to be 30 people, but then I realized that I wouldn’t be doing New Testament discipleship. I’m glad we’ve been a smaller to medium sized group. We know when people are absent. People have stepped up to serve. People have intentionally sought out others to build relationships. I couldn’t be happier!

So my final answer is: a group of 12, plus or minus 4.

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Tuesday’s Teaching Tip: 6 Safe Ways to Use Humor

I recently led a group of employees to read the book Talk Like TED. It’s a summary of the nine best practices of the top TED Talk presenters. I’d highly recommend the book to anyone who speaks in front of groups. It will help you in the workplace, and it will help you as you lead your Bible study group.

One of the common characteristics of the best presenters is their use of humor (chapter #6). But they aren’t acting like stand-up comics. In fact, just the opposite. They’ve learned that telling jokes often backfires.

So if laughter is good, how is a presenter supposed to create a bond between himself and his audience without taking the chance that a joke falls short? There’s nothing worse than telling a joke you think is funny, only to hear the “cricket-cricket” when you pause after telling the punchline.

It’s important that you use some humor, because people warm up to you and your ideas faster than without it. The human brain loves laughter and humor. How can you make your presentations more engaging without being too “canned”?

Here are 6 ways to include humor in your Bible studies without taking a big risk personally:

  1. Show a cartoon
  2. Tell a short story
  3. Read a quote (Mark Twain is great to quote!)
  4. Display a photo
  5. Show a short video clip
  6. Make an observation

Remember, if something makes you laugh, it will probably make others laugh, too.

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Would you attend a single-gender group?

Today’s post, like those on Mondays, is taken from a book on Sunday School, small groups, or another book on church leadership. The thought for today comes from the book Transformational Class by David Francis. Click here to get the free ebook.

Would you organize your Bible study groups according to gender? David has some thoughts and experience to share with us:

There’s an emerging trend that merits consideration in the people-grouping conversation. After decades in which coed classes dominated the scene in Sunday morning classes and weekday small groups, single gender classes are making a comeback.

And not just among adults! One of the most consistently effective student ministries I know of has organized all its classes – both middle and high schoolers – for girls and boys. In fact, because of tremendous growth coupled with lack of space, this thriving student ministry new meets in a school building…tables are arranged by grade and gender and facilitated by a teacher of the same gender.

What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of aligning your Bible study groups around the gender of the participants?

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10 Common Factors in Fast-growing Sunday School Churches

The information I’m about to share can change your church and your Bible teaching ministry. If you read this post, you’ll be informed and accountable, so proceed with caution!

The ten common factors in fast-growing Sunday School churches are derived from a survey of churches in the state of Georgia. The research was conducted by the Georgia Baptist Convention and published in the book Key Strategies for Healthy Sunday Schools. 

Without any further delay (and without any elaboration on my part as to the details of each of these 10 factors), here are the top 10 factors in fast-growing Sunday Schools. How does your church stack up? Could the absence of one or more of these be the reason why your Sunday School is stagnated?

The church I presently attend is only doing 5 of these ten factors, which accounts for the stagnation we’ve experienced. A church that I’m currently working with, however, is now doing 8 of the 10 factors, and is realizing growth year-over-year.

#1: 98% of these churches provide ongoing training for their Sunday School leaders.

#2: 96% of  these churches believe that the pastor’s support of the Sunday School is important or very important to the health of their church.

#3: 96% of these churches are overcoming space limitations.

#4: 91% of these churches practice “open enrollment.”

#5: 85% of these churches are using an evangelistic training process or method.

#6: 83% of these churches are creating new Bible study classes.

#7: 80% of these churches have a weekly visitation ministry.

#8: 78% of these churches have a prospect list.

#9: 78% of these churches have high standards for their leaders.

#10: 78% of these churches intentionally organize the Sunday School for growth.

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6 Reasons why a Personal Study Guide Enhances People’s Spiritual Growth

Today’s blog post is practically a guest blog post by my friend and colleague, Richard Edfeldt. Richard is one of LifeWay’s Church Partners, a group of dedicated professionals who visit many churches each week. In the course of a Church Partner’s week, he will keep a pulse on trends, recommend curriculum, provide impromptu counseling on education and other church-related matters, and provide training when needed. Richard and his fellow Church Partners are terrific experts, and invaluable to the churches to whom they relate.

Richard Edfeldt, LifeWay Church Partner

Richard compiled a document that pulls together a number of reasons why church leaders and group leaders should consider the value of Personal Study Guides (PSGs). Perhaps you know these as “Sunday School Quarterlies” or some other term. It’s the small book full of 13 Bible studies that most churches provide for their members and guests. When I saw Richard’s document, I asked permission to post it here on the blog. Without further ado, here are some reasons why PSGs are a valuable tool to help people grow as disciples, straight from Richard and the helpful document he compiled:

The largest research project ever conducted on effective discipleship practices revealed that healthy churches teach people to connect to God’s Word, both on an individual basis as well as in community. But that connection doesn’t just happen.  It requires an intentional plan and provision of resources.  It also requires a consistency of purpose.  Finally, it requires time in God’s Word.

So how can you help your members learn to connect to God’s Word?

By training them to use a Personal Study Guide!

Why Personal Study Guides are important to a person’s discipleship development:

  1. THEY REMOVE BARRIERS. When you hand someone a Personal Study Guide, you remove his/her biggest obstacle in connecting with the Bible – confidence.  Essentially, you equip long term members to become active participants and you tell guests, “We want you back. You belong here.

  2. THEY ARE A DISCIPLESHIP TOOL. Learning to connect to God’s Word doesn’t happen overnight. It takes intentionality and commitment. The Personal Study Guide provides guidance and commentary to help an individual understand what they’re reading in a format that is easy to follow. It also helps them develop a daily time in the Word and with God.

  3. THEY INCREASE A PERSON’S EXPOSURE TO THE WORD. Exposure to God’s Word transforms a disciple’s life.  Giving someone a Personal Study Guide communicates that personal Bible reading and study is essential for spiritual growth and it provides them with a practical guide to approach their person Bible study time.

  4. THEY CAN ADD TO DEEPER DISCUSSION.  The Personal Study Guide exposes an individual to questions that promote understanding and application throughout the week. Giving an individual time to digest the Scripture on their own helps lead them to deeper discussion when the group meets weekly.

  5. THEY CREATE A STRONGER COMMUNITY CONNECTION. Through repeated exposure to the Word and to deeper group discussion, Personal Study Guide also helps deepen the investment an individual makes to their group and to their church. As a result, the people in your groups become some of your most engaged church members.

  6. THEY DEVELOP LEADERS.  Every group has people who are already well equipped to lead, but may not believe it yet.  These guides demystify the process of preparing and leading the group conversation, giving the group member the confidence they need to take the next step toward becoming a group leader.

The PSGs that LifeWay produces, for example, cost approximately $2.75 each for 13 Bible studies. The PSGs are printed on high-quality paper, and in 4-colors so that the brilliance of some photos really shines through. At this price, a church can provide an individual with a PSG for just $.03 per day! There is no greater investment that a church could make than to provide its members and guests with Personal Study Guides.

Tomorrow’s post is also going to come straight from Richard’s document – this time he will show us 11 ways to encourage people to use Personal Study Guides in their quest to be fully devoted followers of Christ.

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3 unhealthy things that keep groups from growing

“Healthy things grow.” That’s what one pastor I served with told the congregation regularly. His expectation was that the worship service and the church’s Bible teaching ministry would both grow each year – if they were healthy places.

I teach a Bible study group weekly like many of you. I’ve watched my group grow steadily over the past 4 years. I also know of other groups that haven’t grown. What’s the difference?

Here are a few reasons why some groups struggle to grow:

  1. Not enough potential new group members – this may be one of the biggest culprits. Each group needs 1 prospective group member for each active group member. My Bible study group averages 16 in attendance. To be healthy, I need a prospect file (which can be electronic or a physical one) that contains 16 potential group members at all times. Every time my group has a party, spends time doing ministry, gets together for lunch or a movie, the potential members should be – must be – invited. Many groups have forgotten about this important part of group life: one prospect for every active group member. The solution? Begin a prospect file! Each of your group members knows at least 3 to 5 people not in a Bible study. Start there.
  2. The group has been together longer than 18 months – that’s my group – we’re four years old now, and every group that is older than 18 months will naturally begin to turn inward. It takes significant, strong leadership from the group leader to keep the focus on the people “not yet here.” The solution? Start a new group so that guests can more easily connect to the members of your group. The alternative is to have a serious “come to Jesus” talk with your group members about the lack of additions to your group, reminding them that the group exists to reach those who are not connected to a group yet. Keep the focus on the unconnected and the spiritually searching.
  3. The people in the group have too wide an age range – 10 years is the maximum age swing you want to have in your group. I realize people like “whosoever cometh” groups. Multi-gen groups do have advantages, but they also have a disadvantage that is hard to overcome: people forget the group’s target audience. My group is designed to reach Baby Boomers. We’re a group especially for empty nest adults. That’s who we are. That’s who we’re supposed to go after. I don’t have to focus on reaching young adult couples, singles, or senior adults. Our focus is tightly fixed on empty nest adults. It’s easy for my people to spot other empty nest couples in the worship service when they visit – and it’s easy to invite them to our group because of what Dr. Ken Hemphill has labeled “the homogeneity principle.” Like attracts like. The solution? Talk with your group about starting other groups by grouping your people into age clusters that are more tightly arranged, with a maximum age range of 10 years or less.