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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Be positive and encouraging, even if it hurts

Today’s teaching tip will apply to teachers of any age group. As you lead your group members in Bible study, be sure to always remain positive and encouraging. There are enough negative influences in our lives today, and a Bible study isn’t a place for condescending attitudes, snarky remarks, or rolls of the eyes! As the group’s leader, set the pace and always look for the positive in the things your group members say and do. Here are a few phrases you can use to keep things positive:

  • “You’ve asked a great question that I haven’t thought about until now.”
  • “What a unique way of looking at this Bible story! Thank you for helping us to see it from your perspective.”
  • “That’s a great insight.”
  • “That’s a super sharp observation – I can’t believe I didn’t see that!”
  • “Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the group. You’ve given us something new and exciting to think about.”
  • “Thanks for sharing.”
  • “I really like what you just said.”
  • “That’s a great way to look at this Bible text.”
  • “I wish I’d thought of that.”
  • “I think you’d make a great group leader!”

And the list goes on! No matter who speaks up in the group, always find something you can affirm in the words they spoke. Be an encourager, not someone who inadvertently discourages group members from sharing their thoughts.


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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.

Friday Hot Links – July 7, 2017

Welcome aboard to another 80 new blog subscribers! I’m thankful you found the blog and decided to follow it.

Fridays are for giving you some links to trusted content from friends and colleagues. I hope you’ll have time this weekend to read through a few posts.

Shoulder to shoulder,

Ken Braddy


Blog Posts You Might Like 


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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. 

3 ways to encourage your group to pray

Jesus spent time in prayer, talking to his Heavenly Father. 2 Chronicles 7:14 reminds us that God hears our prayers and desires to forgive and heal us. Our role? Cultivate a humble attitude, pray, and earnestly seek God. How can you as a Bible study leader help your group members cultivate their prayer lives? Here are 3 suggestions:

1. Set aside adequate time for prayer when you meet. If you want to encourage your group to pray, then make the time. Don’t rush into your Bible study too quickly, but instead give group members time to open up and express their needs (or do this at the end of your study – whatever is the normal practice for your group). On a side note, this is a good reason to keep the size of your group to 12 members, plus or minus 4. A Sunday School group of 25+ adults is fun to teach and it can be an exciting place because of the sheer number of people present. But it can be an intimidating place to many people who are bashful about expressing a need and showing vulnerability in front of people they may not know well. Smaller groups can develop intimacy and a trust level that encourages prayer requests to be shared.

2. Take time to celebrate answered prayers. Every Bible study group, whether on the church campus, in a home, at a restaurant, or in the workplace, needs to stop and celebrate how God has answered the prayers of group members. It’s one thing to make the time to share and pray, it’s something else entirely to look back and encourage one another by the way God has answered the prayers of your group members. The fact that God is active, listening, and answering prayers will fuel the prayer life of your Bible study group. Some members will realize for the first time that God cares about them.

3. Practice praying in pairs, triads, or quads. We’ve all been in a Bible study group in which group members share prayer needs with the entire group. Consider placing people in pairs or triads or quads to pray for one another and watch the change that happens relationally between members of your group. People forge new relationships when you pray this way, and they tend to organically follow up with the people with whom they pray.


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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)