4 ways to Close Your Group’s Back Door

You’ve heard of the dreaded “back door,” I bet? It’s a way of referring to the people who leave our Bible doorstudy groups over the course of time. Churches have a back door, but that back door is simply the sum total of the back doors of all the groups in its Bible teaching ministry. If you want to close the church’s back door, simply close the back doors of groups.

In my experience, there are 4 ways that groups can make a difference and help people “stick.” As a group leader, I want the people in my group to be present weekly, and I certainly don’t want any of them leaving my group or the church! There are a few circumstances beyond my control, of course. I can’t help it when people take on a new job and have to relocate. Neither can I help it when someone retires and moves away to be closer to children and grandchildren.

There are at least 4 things I can do to make sure that the back door of my group is shut tight:

  1. Good teaching. I never want to drive anyone out of my group because I do not teach the Word of God effectively. To teach the Bible well, I first have to be well-prepared. I also have to be well-rested. And I need to keep in mind the needs of my group members and the ways they prefer to learn – I need to teach creatively, using the 8 learning approaches consistently over time. Poor teaching has probably driven more people out of groups and out the back door of the church as much as anything else.
  2. Good fun. I used to think that good teaching is enough to hold people in groups. Over the years I’ve come to understand something different – that good teaching, while it is important, may not be as important as people finding friends and getting connected to others in their Bible study group. That pains me, in a way, because I have the spiritual gift of teaching. I love to study and prepare and guide a group’s Bible study. But I’ve had to admit that if I’m going to close the back door of my group, my teaching isn’t enough to do it. I have to structure time in my group’s Bible study for prayer, sharing of needs, and conversations. Plus I have to intentionally schedule time outside the group’s normal meeting time for fellowships like lunches, day trips, and other fun activities that strengthen and grow relationships.
  3. Good ministry. It’s corny but true: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Groups that see people leave in larger numbers often struggle to minister to people prior to their departure. A crisis in someone’s life wasn’t addressed by the group, a need went unmet, and the person felt as though they were insignificant to the group. When that happens, the back door swings wide open. To close it, you have to think of Sunday school (or small groups) beyond the meeting time of the Bible study – it’s really a 24/7 ministry that means you’re always “on” – and if people have needs, you stop what you’re doing and meet those needs.
  4. Good administration. Closely related to number 3 above is the need to be a good administrator. By that I mean that you have to administrate your group’s role – what I like to call a ministry role. It’s a list of the members and prospects of your group. I need to make sure that I’m budgeting time and energy to reaching out to people who are absent (that tends to be about 1/2 my group role each week…yours, too, most likely!), and those who are legitimate prospects to become active members of my group.

Closing the back door starts at the group level. If we can close the back door in each group, the church’s back door will also close. Remember, the church’s back door is nothing more than the sum of the back doors of all its Bible study groups.

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Almost 88% of vibrant churches have Sunday School

If you think this is Sunday School, think again!

The words “Sunday School” cause people to react in different ways.  Some people have fond memories of their experiences in Sunday School. They remember a favorite classroom, good friends, a beloved teacher, or asking Jesus to come into their life as Lord and Savior.  Other people may have different impressions about Sunday School.  They associate it with boring lessons, or something that “their parents’ church” does.  In some places, Sunday School has gotten a bad reputation, and that’s too bad.  Sunday School is a significant ministry that teaches God’s Word, assimilates people into the church, shares the gospel, provides foundational discipleship, and mobilizes people for ministry.  And the research proves it!  Have you given up on Sunday School?  Don’t.  Keep reading and learn what’s happening in vibrant churches.

David Francis, Director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources, conducted a survey of the 400 vibrant churches that were surveyed for the book, Simple Church.  He was able to gather data on 94% of the vibrant churches (a vibrant church was identified as one that had experienced at least 5% growth for 3 consecutive years).  He discovered that 87.5% of those vibrant churches conducted Sunday School adjacent to the worship service on the Sunday morning schedule.

Simple and complex churches utilize Sunday School as a strategy, but HOW they utilize Sunday School differs greatly.  Simple churches are using Sunday School strategically, but complex churches are simply putting on a program.  David Francis and Eric Geiger identified several characteristics of simple churches that utilize Sunday School strategically.  Click here to go to the article.

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Limiting your group’s age range – good or bad move?

A few weeks ago I led a time of training for a group of adult teachers and class leaders. I made a comment about how much more effective a Sunday School is if it’s organized by age or life-stage grouping where the participants have no more than a decade of difference in their ages. Narrower than 10 years is even better if possible, but there was one lady in the group who seemed to disagree with the idea of assigning an age grouping to a class. “Why not just let ‘whosoever wills’ come to any group?” was her question.

I came across the following quote from Steve Parr of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Here is what Steve, a recognized expert in Sunday School and groups ministry, says about this issue of narrowly defining the class by an age range in his book Sunday School that Really Works:

“You will find it difficult to experience sustained growth if you organize based on those who are attending…The adult Sunday School functions best at reaching and assimilating new people when organized by life stage or more narrow age groupings. Do not be afraid of assigning an age grouping to each adult class. Remember that a class name does not communicate who the class is intended for. Include age targets with class names or name classes by life stage such as Parents of Preschoolers, College, and New Career…Your members may think that it makes sense for everyone to go where they are comfortable. The reality is that a commitment to reach the lost and to connect them to the congregation requires that we organize in a way that assists in reaching and assimilating them” (Sunday School That Really Works, p.106)

That’s almost exactly what I told my sister in Christ at the training event. I could tell that she, and possibly others, struggled to grasp this. But when we think like “missionaries” who are trying to reach the unreached, narrowly defined groups help both us and the unreached person know exactly which group contains people most like them.

Do the following:

  • Examine your church’s group options.
  • Identify groups that have a “multi-generation” approach.
  • Look for groups that have an age range for the members greater than 10 years.
  • Talk with your church staff leader about more narrowly defining your groups and adding new groups where you find “gaps” (if you have no group for single moms, perhaps you should consider starting a group for those people).

6 Ways to Roll Out the Welcome Wagon for your Guests

If your Bible study group is what we call an “open” group, then it is designed to reach new people. In fact, the group leader and the group’s members most likely are on the lookout for new people. If you want to make your guests feel welcome, do the following:

  1. Wear Name Tags – My friend David Francis harps on this, and I have, too. I’ve seen how important those inexpensive stick-on name tags are when guests come to my group’s study. Our group has had three new guest couples attend our Bible study in the past three weeks. Giving them a name tag to fill out and wear is a part of my church’s strategy for assimilating people into life at our church.
  2. Sit in a Circle – If your room is arranged in rows of chairs, consider sitting in a large circle. People are more likely to speak up and participate if they can see each other’s faces.
  3. Introduce Guests to Group Members – Take the initiative and introduce guests to people in your Bible study group. Some folks are pretty shy (both guests and group members), and they need a little push to start talking to one another.
  4. Make Sure your Meeting Place has Extra Chairs – There’s nothing more “neighborly” than having plenty of seating for guests…and if your meeting place is arranged in rows, please don’t make guests sit “up front.”
  5. Call Guests by Name During the Bible Study – wearing name tags will help you do this! Don’t put a guest on the spot, but do affirm any answer they provide. “John, that’s a great insight. Thank you for sharing that with our group.”
  6. Invite the Guest Back! – Don’t let a guest leave your Bible study group without asking them to please join you again the next time your group meets. Don’t assume they’ll come back. Instead, let them know how important they are to you and your group, and that you want them to return.

10 Ways to Get People Involved in your Bible Study Group

Assimilation. Involvement. Connection. That’s the name of the game when it comes to group ministry. disciplemaking-isDr. Thom Rainer has discovered that unless people get connected, make friends, and find something meaningful to do, they’ll drop out by the end of their first year at a rate of about 80%. Eighty percent!

I recently read the book Disciplemaking Is… by Earley and Dempsey. The authors recommend 10 ways to help people get involved in a Bible study group, and as a group leader myself, I like their thinking. Because Mondays on the blog are about passing along a book excerpt, here in their own words are Early and Dempsey:

The Christian leader must be committed…to spending time with other brothers and sisters and sharing life together. Further, the Christian leader also seeks to involve as many people as possible in the functions of the group. We seek to share the load and the responsibilities (see Exodus 18) of leading God’s people. Here are some different ways to involve people in the life of the group:

  1. Leading the icebreaker portion of the group.
  2. Leading the group’s prayer time.
  3. Recording and keeping track of the group’s prayer requests and sending email updates.
  4. Sending cards and letters to absentees.
  5. Planning the group’s refreshment schedule.
  6. Planning the group’s fun activities.
  7. Planning the group’s outreach efforts and activities.
  8. Hosting the group.
  9. Leading the group discussion.
  10. Praying about starting a new group in the future.

One of the greatest benefits of this type of involvement in the group is that as they serve, people will begin to discover their spiritual gift(s) in a natural way. In addition, as we share out lives together, we also become aware that God has brought us together, not just to have fun and fellowship, but to labor in the harvest fields.

As you look at this list, what possibilities do you see to involve people in the life of your Bible study group? Let go of some of the tasks you’re doing yourself, get others involved, and watch God transform your group.

Following Up on First-Time Guests, part 1

My family and I spent the better part of last year searching for a new church home after moving to the Nashville area.  I was dismayed by the lack of follow-up when we visited churches.  Only a scarce few churches even bothered to contact us.  We filled out visitor cards in every worship service and class we attended, but follow-up with our family was almost non-existent.  Here are the first of six principles for following up on first-time guests (I’ll share three with you today, and three more next week).

Principle #1 – You can be too aggressive in your follow-up

  • Attenders at your church are on a “blind date” with your church – they don’t know what to expect and are often very anxious (if you’ve ever been on a blind date, you know what I’m talking about).
  • Don’t ask them to “marry” your church too fast – that will ruin the “courtship”
  • According to the book Membership Matters, the average family takes almost 18 months to join a church, so give people some space, but not too much space!  Make sure they know you are thankful for their visit and that you’d like them to consider joining your church

Principle #2 – Contact by church members is better than contact by church staff

  • A survey indicates that the impact of a home visit is reduced by approximately 50% when made by a church staff member rather than people from a Sunday School class!
  • Guests will assume that contact from staff is a part of their job description, but they really appreciate a call, e-mail, or home visit by one of their peers who is excited about the church (5 Handles for Getting A Grip on Your Sunday School, p. 10)

Principle #3 – The faster you make a visit, the more likely it is for a guest to connect with your church

  • A survey in the book 5 Handles for Getting a Grip on your Sunday School  demonstrated that:
    • If visited in the home within 36 hours, first-time guests return 85% of the time
    • If visited in the home within 72 hours, first-time guests return 60% of the time
    • If visited in the home 7 days after the initial visit, only 15% of first-time guests return the next week
  • Making a home visit may seem like a lot of trouble, a time-waster, and something from a by-gone era, but it can still be an effective way to reach people for Sunday School and church membership.

Next week I’ll share the final three principles in following up on first-time guests.  If you have some tips you’d like to share, write back and post them for all to see.  Thanks for following my blog!

87.5% of Vibrant Churches are Using Sunday School

The words “Sunday School” cause people to react in different ways.  Some people have fond memories of their experiences in Sunday School – a favorite classroom, a beloved teacher, a lesson that really made an impact on them.  Other people may have different ideas about Sunday School.  They may associate it with boring lessons, or something that “their parents’ church” does.  Sunday School has gotten a bad reputation in some circles, and that’s too bad, because Sunday School is the most powerful ministry for teaching God’s Word, assimilating people into the church, and for mobilizing people for ministry.  And the research proves it!  Have you given up on Sunday School?  Don’t.  Keep reading and learn what’s happening in vibrant churches.

David Francis, Director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources, conducted a survey of the 400 vibrant churches that were surveyed for the book, Simple Church.  He was able to gather data on 94% of the vibrant churches (a vibrant church was identified as one that had experienced at least 5% growth for 3 consecutive years).  He discovered that 87.5% of those vibrant churches conducted Sunday School adjacent to the worship service on the Sunday morning schedule.

Simple and complex churches utilize Sunday School as a strategy, but HOW they utilize Sunday School differs greatly.  Simple churches are using Sunday School strategically, but complex churches are simply putting on a program.  David Francis identified several characteristics of simple churches that utilize Sunday School strategically.  To read the full article, click here to go to the article!

The research doesn’t lie!  Almost 9 out of 10 vibrant churches have continued to discover the power of Sunday School to teach God’s Word to people of all ages, and to see those people becoming transformed followers of Christ.  Read David’s article above and share it with your church staff.