The 3 times to delete a person from your group’s ministry list

As you lead your Bible study group, you’ll face what others have in the past: increasing numbers of people on your group’s role (ministry list). You may even consider deleting inactive people from your ministry list to boost the percent of attendance of those in your group. Please don’t.

You might ask, “Is it ever OK to delete a person from my group’s ministry list?” The answer is yes. There are three times when you should delete a person from your group’s list:

  1. Delete a person when they die. It’s safe to say they won’t be coming back to your group meeting. When a person dies, remove them from your role. They’re on a new role now.
  2. Delete a person when they ask you to. On occasion, people make a decision to leave a Bible study group and they want no further contact from the group leader or group members. If someone requests they be removed from your ministry list, do it. You can let them know how sorry you are they are leaving, but don’t keep them on the role when they’ve asked to be removed.
  3. Delete a person when they become a member of another church. When one of your group members becomes a member of another church, it’s time to delete them from your ministry list. Your mission is accomplished! You became their shepherd-teacher at some point in the past, and now they have a new church and a new group to belong to. They are now another group leader’s responsibility.

Never delete a person from your group’s ministry list because of their low attendance. Over the years, well-meaning group leaders asked me to delete people from their roles because of inactivity. My response: never! Instead of deleting people because they aren’t coming, we should see that as a reason to reach out to them, check on them, and invite them back into the group.

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5 ways to make sure people show up to your Bible study group

We all want people to come to our Bible study group, but are there things you can do to strongly encourage people to actually attend? I believe there are several ways to help people decide to come to your Bible study group, so here are 5 ways to encourage attendance:

  1. Give them an assignment – If people have a job to do, they are more likely to show up weekly. Place someone in charge of nametags, announcements, prayer time, assisting the group leader by leading a portion of the study, planning fellowships, and anything else you can think of. One group leader that I knew had 42 different things he asked people to do, and his group’s attendance was always one of the highest among all of our adult groups.
  2. Pose a controversial question – Some time before the group’s Bible study, email the members and use your group’s Personal Study Guide (PSG) to call attention to a section of it (a statement by the author, a question posed in the curriculum, a quote, or an activity in the curriculum). Use that to pose a controversial question. Stir the pot. Help your group members think critically. Promise to address the question  or comment during the Bible study. They’ll have to show up to find out the answer and to hear everyone else’s responses.
  3. Preview the next session – movie theaters have learned the value of making us sit through 25 minutes of “coming attractions.” They know that to get us to come back in the future, they need to pique our interest in the present. At the end of each Bible study, spend a minute previewing the next study, encouraging your group members to study in advance and to come prepared to engage in next week’s Bible study.
  4. Teach with excellence – One of the quickest ways to drive people away from your group is to get into a teaching rut. If your group members can predict what is going to take place each week, it’s time for you to shake things up. Learn to incorporate new teaching techniques each week (there are 8 different learning approaches). The variety will spice things up, and your group members will appreciate the new ways they’ll be engaged in each Bible study.
  5. Reach out to them – it’s a mathematical fact that about 50% of your group’s members will not be in attendance each week. Normally groups average an attendance of 50% of their enrollment. So every week the group leader and the care group leaders have an important job to do – they must contact every absent member and discover if there is a ministry opportunity. Sometimes sickness will keep people out of Bible study. Travel will as well. But sometimes you will discover another reason someone has missed, and you’ll discover an opportunity to minister to the person and/or their family.

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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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Attendance and Enrollment – Joined at the Hip

If you are a Bible study group leader, I know you want to see more people attend your group. If you lead your church’s Sunday School ministry (insert the name you call it here!), I know you are concerned about reaching new people and seeing all your groups grow.

If you want to see individual group attendance grow, or you want an increase in your overall Sunday School attendance, you must consider the relationship between attendance and enrollment.  In almost any church, Sunday School attendance is approximately 50% of enrollment.  The same principle works for groups.  A group that has 24 people enrolled will almost surely have 10-12 people in attendance on any given Sunday.  If you want to increase weekly attendance, increase enrollment.

The Connection Between Attendance and Enrollment

I’ve led Sunday School ministries in the past. If my Sunday School averaged 200 people per week and I wanted to set a goal of averaging 240 people, I’d need to enroll at least 80 new people.  80 new people would give the Sunday School an increase of about 40 people (remember, attendance is normally 50% of enrollment).  On a group level, if a Bible study group was averaging 15 people and wanted to have an average attendance of 30 by this time next year, the group would need to enroll 30 new people to have an actual increase of 15 people. These 15 new people, added to the current 15 group members, would give the group its 30 person total.

Pray for God’s blessing and be wise in the way you lead your Sunday School or your Bible study group. Don’t feel bad about setting enrollment goals…after all, numbers represent people (there’s a whole book of the Bible called “Numbers”!).  And remember, one way to increase your attendance is to increase your enrollment.

Simply enrolling someone won’t necessarily increase your attendance, though!  Once a person is enrolled in a group, they must become the target of ministry.  Love them, support them, encourage them, contact them, and get them involved.  Do those things, and you’ll see attendance rise.

Increase Sunday School Attendance by Increasing Enrollment

If you want to see your overall Sunday School attendance increase, consider the relationship between it and enrollment.  In almost any church, Sunday School attendance is approximately 50% of enrollment.  The same principle works for Sunday School classes.  A class that has 24 people enrolled will almost surely have 10-14 people in attendance on any given Sunday.  If you want to increase weekly attendance, increase enrollment.

If my Sunday School was averaging 200 people per week, and I wanted to set a goal of averaging 240 people in one year, I’d need to enroll at least 80 new people.  80 new enrollees would give the Sunday School an increase of about 40 people.  On a class level, if a class was averaging 10 people and wanted to have an average attendance of 15 in one year, the class members should enroll 10 new people to have an increase of 5.

Now, back to the 80 person example.  Those 80 people will come from all age groups, right?  So how many preschoolers, children, students, and adults should you enroll to achieve your 80 person goal?  The answer lies in your current attendance patterns.

Every church has a pattern of attendance in their Sunday School.  Gather your Sunday School attendance records for several years, and select about 24 random dates.  Determine your average attendance, and then determine your average attendance in your preschool, children, student, and adult classes.  Now divide the average attendance in each age group by your total average attendance, and you’ll get each age division’s percent of total attendance.

Let’s say that you do all the above and determine that on a typical Sunday, your preschool attendance is 15% of your total attendance, children are 20% of your total attendance, students are 10% of your total attendance, and adults are 55% of your total attendance.  These figures won’t change much over time unless something very dramatic happens in your church.

Now, let’s go back to the 80 new enrollees you need to increase attendance by 40.  15% of those new enrollees should be preschoolers (12), 20% should be children (16), 8 will be students (10%), and 44 will be adults (55%).  Now you can set enrollment goals for each age division and follow up each month to see how you’re doing on meeting your enrollment goals.

One final word of encouragement:  in the example above, you’d only have to enroll 1 new preschooler each month in order to achieve your enrollment goal for that area of ministry.  You’d have to enroll 1.3 children each month, .67 students per month, and 3.67 adults per month!  When you break enrollment goals down, you’ll discover how manageable enrollment goals actually are!  80 new enrollees may seem daunting, but remember the saying, “It’s a sinch by the inch, it’s hard by the yard.”

Don’t think that the secret to Sunday School growth lies in a numbers game.  There is a God factor that is bigger than all that.  Pray for God’s blessing and be wise in the way you lead your Sunday School or your Sunday School class.  But don’t feel bad about setting enrollment goals…after all, numbers represent people.  And remember, one way to increase your average attendance is to increase your total enrollment.   Simply enrolling someone won’t necessarily increase your attendance, though!  Once a person is enrolled in your Sunday School or a Sunday School class, they become the object of ministry.  Love them, support them, encourage them, contact them, and get them involved.  Do those things, and you’ll see attendance rise and you become responsible for those whom God sends to your church.