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.


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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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.

Pick a number, any number? 4 reasons to focus on Bible study attendance

Let’s say you have just enough time and energy to focus on one number that is important to your church. Would you pick worship attendance or your Bible study/Sunday School attendance? Arguments could be made for both, but if I were doing the picking, I’d focus on the second one, Bible study attendance. 

Now, before I go further, let me say that I believe tracking worship attendance is important. It’s the largest gathering of the week for most churches. Right behind it is the attendance level of the church’s Bible study ministry – it’s the second largest gathering of the church each week. I would not focus so heavily on worship attendance that I don’t track and care about the Bible study attendance of my congregation. So why would I focus on the Bible study numbers? I can think of four good reasons:

  1. Bible study is where relationships are formed and the church becomes “sticky” – If you want to close the back door of the church, Bible study groups are where that takes place. When people join groups, they build relationships. Relationships become the glue that holds a congregation together. A worship service may be only as sticky as the worship style or the charisma of the pastor. If there’s a change in either, people often walk away. It’s harder to walk away from your friends in a Bible study group.
  2. Your future leaders are going to come out of adult groups – If your adult groups are growing, the pool of potential workers for preschool, kid, and student groups also grows. You’re not going to let non-members teach preschool, kid, or student Bible study groups. Those leaders are going to come straight out of  your adult groups.
  3. If people unplug from a Bible study group, they’re probably gone for good – People can stop attending worship for any number of reasons. If they choose to unplug from their Bible study group, chances are good that they are saying goodbye to key relationships and will not be back. It’s more difficult to leave a group than to leave a worship service. If people are leaving their groups, look out – you may have bigger problems than you think.
  4. The gap between worship attendance and Sunday School/Bible study attendance is highly revealing – “Mind the gap” they say in England as you step off of a commuter train. The gap between the train and platform can trip you up if you aren’t careful. It’s good to “mind the gap” between worship and Bible study attendance – it can reveal whether or not you’ve got a serious problem in either venue. In churches I’ve served as an education/discipleship pastor, we’ve had a very small gap between worship attendance and Bible study attendance. In some churches, though, the gap is very wide – as much as 30-40% wide – and that tells me there’s a problem somewhere.


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Good group leaders focus on relationships

Mondays on the blog are for featuring an excerpt from a book on group ministry or church leadership. Today I’ve chosen to feature a snippet from the book 3 Roles For Guiding Groups. In this excerpt, the authors focus on the idea that group leaders need relationships with the people they lead:

In the role of shepherd, you will of course want to develop relationships with all the members of the group. Sheep don’t have great eyesight, but they do have great hearing, and they learn to listen for the voice of their shepherd. If several flocks were placed in a pen overnight, all each shepherd had to do in the morning was call for his sheep and they’d follow him out! The relationship with the shepherd was the key. Sheep know the voice of their shepherd because of their close relationship. If your group is a small one, relating to each member will be easier to do. In a kids class, each worker doubles up as a care group leader, dividing the ministry list equally. For a larger group, you will need a larger team of care group leaders. For example, in a small co-ed group with, say, no more than 14 people, you could enlist one male to stay in touch with 7 guys and one female care group leader to touch base regularly with 7 gals…In Eastern culture sheep were led, not driven, and the people in your group will come to appreciate your role as shepherd as you provide an example for them to follow, gently and patiently leading them to care for one another.

I hope you have organized your group so that people receive care. If not, consider organizing your group as soon as possible. People often disconnect from a group or a church when they feel undervalued or overlooked. Don’t let people slip through the cracks in your group! Be a good shepherd-teacher and make sure each one of your sheep receives the care they deserve.

Tuesday Teaching Tip: Use Advanced Organizers

Before I jump into today’s teaching tip, I’d like to wish you a safe and happy July 4 holiday today. I am thankful to the men and women of our armed services who have dedicated their lives to protecting our freedom. I am especially grateful to the families of the men and women who have died in the service of their country. For those of us who are from non-military families, we just cannot fully understand the depth of loss you’ve experienced and the sacrifice you have made on our behalf. Thank you!

Advanced Organizers

An advanced organizer is a tool that teachers often use to help group members connect present learning with things they have learned in the past. It serves to link content and concepts so that people can more easily understand and retain information presented by the teacher. Advanced organizers are often most effective when the teaching is done in an expository manner.

What an advanced organizer isn’t:

  • Not a review of the last lesson
  • Not a structure for the current lesson

Why use an advanced organizer?

  1. To direct group member’s attention to the current Bible study
  2. To highlight relationships among the ideas that will be presented
  3. To remind group members of the information they previously learned and how it links to the current study

How to use an advanced organizer in your Bible study group

  • Introduce the main idea or ideas that you will cover in the current lesson (tell them what you are going to tell them)
  • Connect the current lesson to the most recent one the group has completed (tell them what you’ve told them)
  • Teach the current lesson, and review the new information group members learned (tell them what you told them)