When it comes to group Bible study, could smaller be better?

Monday’s posts are always excerpts taken from great books on group ministry. Today’s excerpt comes from a classic book called The Growth Spiral by Andy Anderson. I’ve chosen a section of his book that reminds us of the reason why smaller groups are better groups. Here is what Anderson has to say about why your group and my group should be smaller:

The Sunday School is not merely a teaching organization. It is also a ministering organization. How can we minister to the people enrolled in our Sunday School and reach all of the prospects if this is not done through the small teaching unit? Obviously, we have no other organization or method to do this. Small Sunday School classes give us an opportunity to minister…In that small unit, they ministered to one another. They prayed for one another. She was able to share her hurt with her classmates, and their encouragement carried her through. Ministry is the key to Sunday School. We need to concentrate on the small teaching unit concept.

I’ve taught a group of adults weekly for the past five years. I can attest that smaller groups are places where a deeper level of ministry can take place. I love Anderson’s emphasis on smaller. If churches would grasp this concept, along with the concept of Newer (starting new groups), many would see their Sunday Schools turn around and grow again. Newer and Smaller are two concepts we’ve overlooked in our quest to be seeker-sensitive, culturally relevant, and all things to all people. Perhaps the solution has been in front of us all along: smaller groups that teach God’s Word and minister to the group members as they in turn minister to people in the community. Hmmmm.

If your Bible study group is a large one, would you prayerfully consider leading your big group to become one or two more smaller groups so that you can more effectively minister to people?


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Friday’s Hot Links – November 10, 2017

Over the past week, WordPress reported to me that another 100 blog followers have signed up to receive daily posts from this blog. Welcome aboard to all of you who are new to the site! I’m glad to have you as a part of this online family of group leaders. My goal is to encourage and inform you about group leadership in the local church.

Here are some links to trusted content from friends and colleagues. I hope you’ll enjoy reading some of these over the weekend.

May the Lord continue to bless you and  your church, and especially your Bible teaching ministry and all those who lead and belong to a group.

Serving you,

Ken Braddy

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Teachers: God’s Shepherds for Groups

Last year I had the honor of co-authoring a fourth book with LifeWay Sunday School Director, David Francis. The book is about to become available, and is titled Shepherd: Creating Caring Community. It’s a part of the 3 Roles For Guiding Groups series published by LifeWay.

In the first book, David and I emphasized three key roles for all group leaders: Teacher, Shepherd, and Leader. Because of the success of that first book, people asked if we could drill down and say even more about those three roles.

So over the last 3 years, we’ve taken a deeper dive into the roles of Teacher, Shepherd, and Leader. Now we’re at the end of that journey, and the “Shepherd” book is about to be released to the public. It’s the last one in the series, and it focuses on the role of shepherd, a key role for all group leaders.

In chapter 2, I introduce the idea that shepherds show care before, during, and after a group Bible study. I share some practical ways group leaders can more deeply show their care before the Bible study, during it, and even afterwards:

To get the full effect, consider picking up a copy of the book later this month! Mark the following landing page and check back every few days until you see this new book posted:  lifeway.com/davidfrancis.


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4 questions guests have about your Bible study group

Unless you’ve been a guest in a Bible study group lately, you’ve probably forgotten what it’s like to be an outsider. It’s not fun.

Today people are visiting your church’s worship service long before they attempt to visit a Bible study group. Guests have all kinds of questions about what takes place in our groups. Although we know what happens, they do not. Unanswered questions lead to anxiety. Anxiety is a barrier to visiting a group. Not visiting a group leads to lower attendance. Lower attendance in groups leads to people falling away from active membership because they aren’t fully assimilated.

Here are 4 questions that are on the minds of the guests who may actually take a chance and darken the door to your group’s Bible study:

  1. Will I be asked to read out loud? The answer should be “no.” Never ask a guest to read out loud. You can ask for volunteers to read specific verses or portions of Scripture, but don’t put a guest on the spot. They may be unfamiliar with the Bible, and they may struggle with some of those hard-to-pronounce names. Just try asking a guest to read a verse with the name Mephibosheth in it and see what happens.
  2. Will someone ask me to pray in front of the group? This answer should be “no,” too. Like #1 above, don’t put a guest on the spot. You’d be surprised how many people are uncomfortable praying out loud and in front of others. The fear of public speaking is one of the highest ranking fears people have.
  3. Will I learn things that will help me day-to-day?  Make sure that you connect the Bible to life and demonstrate how the Bible speaks to life today. Explain the history and background of the people and places mentioned in the Bible study to help people know the context, but don’t stop there. Leave time in the Bible study to help people see how to live out the Scriptures.
  4. Since I already attend worship, why should I go to a Bible study group? Some guests will mistakenly think that attending worship is all they need to do. Help them see the value of investing another hour of their time in a Bible study group with a group of their peers. Dr. Thom Rainer’s research has demonstrated that people who only attend worship have a high attrition rate; in fact, if a person only attends worship, about 85% of them cannot be found in five years! Belonging to a group matters – a lot!

Tuesday Teaching Tip: How to Effectively Use Storytelling

When you are studying a narrative Bible passage, try storytelling. Storytelling provides a way to explore many facets of a Bible study. In storytelling, you’re trying to get your group members to react to a story in ways they wouldn’t in a traditional Bible study setting. Here’s how to effectively use storytelling in your group:

  • Tell a story from Scripture. You can do this from memory, or you can read it word-for-word from the Bible.
  • Ask group members to group up in pairs and share what they believed to be the main points from the story.
  • Debrief the story by asking group members:
    • To describe their reactions to the story.
    • With which characters did they most closely identify? Why?
    • What do they consider to be the main point of the story?
    • If they could write a different ending to the story, what would it be?
    • To identify how the story relates to us today.
    • To retell the story in their own words.


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Why learning preferences should be important to group leaders

Mondays on the blog are excerpts taken from books on Christian education, learning theory, discipleship,7-kinds-of-smart and others that relate to you and your ministry as a group leader. I’ve chosen the book 7 Kinds of Smart for today’s excerpt. It’s become one of my go-to resources when I lead conferences and try to help group leaders understand how people learn.

The book is based on the pioneering work of Howard Gardner and his “multiple intelligences” theory. People are smart – just in different ways. An individual may prefer to learn one way, while the person next to him prefers to learn in a different way.

Developed over the past fifteen years by psychologist Howard Gardner, the theory of multiple intelligences challenges old beliefs about what it means to be smart. Gardner believes that our culture has focused too much attention on verbal and logical thinking – the abilities typically associated on an intelligence test – and neglected other ways of knowing. He suggests there are at least seven intelligences worthy of being taken seriously as important modes of thought (p.9).

To summarize the seven intelligences (the ways people prefer to learn), they are:

  1. Linguistic intelligence – the intelligence of words. This is the intelligence of the storyteller, journalist, poet, and lawyer. People who are particularly smart in this area can argue, persuade, entertain, or instruct effectively through the spoken word.
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence – the intelligence of numbers and logic. This is the intelligence of scientists, accountants, and computer programmers. These people are able to reason, sequence, see cause-and-effect, find numerical patterns, and create hypotheses.
  3. Spatial intelligence – this intelligence involves thinking in pictures and images. It is the ability to perceive, transform, and recreated different aspects of the visual-spatial world. It’s the playground of architects, photographers, artists, pilots, and mechanical engineers.
  4. Musical intelligence – people with this intelligence appreciate and understand rhythms and melodies. It’s the intelligence of a Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms. Yet musical intelligence resides in the mind of any individual who has a good ear, can sing a tune, or keep time to music.
  5. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence – persons with this intelligence are talented at controlling their body movements and can handle objects skillfully. Athletes, craftsmen, mechanics, and surgeons possess a great measure of this kind of thinking.
  6. Interpersonal intelligence – this is the ability to understand and work with people. People with this intelligence are responsive to people’s temperaments, intentions, and desires. These people are able to get inside the skin of someone else and see their point of view. They make wonderful networkers, teachers, and negotiators.
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence – this is the intelligence of the inner self. Persons with this intelligence are able to access their own feelings, and they can discriminate between many different kinds of inner emotional states. They can enjoy meditation and contemplation, deep soul-searching, and can be very self-disciplined. Counselors, theologians, and self-employed business people often have this intelligence.

What is the implication for groups and group leaders? Plenty! Each of the groups we lead have people in them with a variety of intelligences. They prefer to learn in ways we may not. As a teacher-leader, I cannot simply teach in a way or two that I prefer. I must use a variety of learning approaches to make sure I am communicating effectively with people in my group who learn differently than I do. They’re smart – just in ways that are different from me.

If my preferred way of learning is through the use of linguistic intelligence, I’ll tend to teach that way, too. I have to be sensitive to the people in my group who prefer learning through music, relationships, physical, visual, and other methods.


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3 ways to make disciples through Sunday School

I teach a Sunday school class at my church, and I’m asking myself the question, “Am I really making disciplesdisciples through my ministry as a teacher?” This question has haunted me lately. I don’t want to be “that guy” who teaches my group members lots of interesting facts and factoids so I can hear them “ooh” and “aahh” when I tell them something they’ve not previously heard. I want to be obedient to Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples.” How about you?

It is my observation that in some places, Sunday School has morphed into an information-dispensing ministry. While I know that people need information about the Bible, that cannot be the end game. The real goal of Sunday school is to make disciples. Disciples follow. Disciples sacrifice. Disciples obey. Disciples are committed. Disciples are unwavering. Disciples are life-long learners. Disciples lead. Disciples grow…sometimes beyond their teacher. Does this describe the average person in your group? In your Sunday school? If not, perhaps it’s time to re-think why your Sunday School, or your group, exists.

Robby Gallaty, pastor and author of Growing Up: How to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples, says in that book, “When the church becomes an end in itself, it ends. When Sunday school, as great as it is, becomes an end in itself, it ends. When small groups ministry becomes an end in itself, it ends. When the worship service becomes an end in itself, it ends. What we need is for discipleship to become the goal, and then the process never ends. The process is fluid. It is moving. It is active. It is a living thing. It must continue to go on. Every disciple must make disciples.” To make disciples through a Sunday school ministry, at least three things need to happen, probably more, but these are at least a starting point for creating disciples through your Sunday school ministry:

  1. Groups must get smaller – Discipleship happens when small groups of people come together. Jesus’ model seems to be two primary groups: (1) a group of 3 (often referred to as “His inner circle” of disciples), and (2) the twelve disciples. It is true He sometimes spoke to very large crowds (Sermon on the Mount, in the temple courtyards, etc), but his normal way to make disciples was to do so in small groups. This has the advantage of allowing the teacher to know his learners and what each one needs to grow and progress in becoming more Christ-like.
  2. Teachers must stop talking – Disciple-making teachers know that people they teach need to be allowed to talk, and encouraged to talk, at least as much as they do. For some teachers, this is counter-intuitive. Somewhere along the way, many teachers have adopted a mentality that says, “I’m the expert, and you’re not – so listen to what I have to say.” It’s true that teachers often study for many hours in preparation to teach their group members – and that is highly commendable and appropriate. But what is truly effective in a learning setting is when teachers becomes guides and lead their people to discuss deep truths, wrestle with things presented in Scripture, and challenge assumptions and actions. Ed Stetzer, VP at LifeWay and leader of LifeWay Research, has said that every Bible study should be a “groupalogue.” By that he meant that each person in a Bible study group should be allowed to talk, and even encouraged to talk. Without that, the class ends up being a place in which a monologue takes place weekly (the teacher simply becomes the talking head).
  3. Churches must answer the “why” question – Before discipleship can take place through the Sunday school, it is helpful and necessary for church leaders, group leaders, and group members to wrestle with the reason Sunday School exists in the first place. Fellowship, Bible study, ministry, and outreach are all part of what Sunday school seeks to accomplish, but they are not and end in themselves. The real goal of Sunday school should be to see disciples made – that’s really why Sunday School exists in the first place. We must constantly be on guard for “discipleship drift.”

Jim Putnam, in his book DiscipleShift: 5 Steps That Help Your Church To Make Disciples, says, “The vision is that the church’s primary mission is to create disciples who create other disciples, just as Jesus intended us to do. It’s helping people see that the church isn’t a social club, it’s not a hospital, it’s not a university, and it’s not a big show. The church is a community that is developing people who follow Jesus, are changed by Jesus, and then join Jesus on his mission.”

Help your church take Sunday school to a different level entirely as a place where discipleship occurs. It’s past time to make the main thing the main thing again.


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