6 things to do if your group has flatlined

It was almost 5 years ago that my wife and I launched a new LIFE Group (Sunday School class) at our church. At one point, we weren’t sure that our fledgling group was going to make it (we had anywhere between 3 to 5 people who attended it regularly). There was a time that our group “flatlined.” It needed to be shocked back to life.

Thankfully, things have changed (more on that later) but there are plenty of small groups and Sunday School classes that are in a similar situation to where we were a few years ago. Groups that once had a pulse have lost their way. Decline has set it. What do you do if your group isn’t growing? Having lived through it, I’ve realized there are at least 6 things you can do:

  1. Consider the size of the place you meet.  The growth of groups can be limited by the space itself.  The 80/20 Rule states that groups have difficulty growing when the place they meet is over 80% full.  There may be a few empty seats, but the crowded nature of the room gives the impression that there isn’t room for anyone else. If your group has stopped growing, could it be because you need a larger place to meet? My group has changed meeting locations three times, and we’ve continued to grow each time we made a change. I don’t want to move the group any more, though. Our next move is going to be to “split the class” or “franchise” the group and start another one. The answer isn’t to always move to bigger quarters indefinitely.
  2. Evaluate the place where your group meets.  If your group meets on a church campus, can people find your classroom? Is the signage clearly visible? Is there adequate lighting? Do you have the equipment and supplies you need to lead an effective Bible study?  Is it in a good location (for instance, young adult groups should meet close to their kids’ classes). If your group meets off campus, is the location difficult to find, is there excellent childcare, and is there adequate parking?  Is there something limiting your growth because of the place where your group meets?
  3. Examine yourself. This is a hard one.  It could be your style of leading the Bible study, or your leadership of the group that isn’t effective. If this is the case, then make adjustments.  It could be time to step aside and let another person lead the group Bible study.  Perhaps you should assume a different leadership role in the group and continue to help it grow. Talk with your pastor or staff leader and ask for their help in evaluating your leadership.
  4. Ask your group members.  They will have their own ideas and could give you valuable insights as to what they see as the main reasons for the lack of growth.  Ask them to share openly and honestly. Sometimes others see things we do not.
  5. Don’t give up.  No one said leading a group was going to be easy.  If it was, everyone could do it.  The answer to your dilemma may be to reinvest your time and energy into the group.  Be aggressive in looking for new group members in your church’s worship services, and ask your church staff for a list of people who’ve visited the church recently. Have your group members brainstorm people they know who would fit your group, but are not attending church anywhere. Reclaim absent members. There’s a lot you can do!
  6. Pray.  You know that God wants your group to reach new people.  When Jesus looked out onto a field that was white for harvest, He told his disciples to pray that His Father would send out more workers into the field.  Prayer was Jesus’ answer for reaching people with the gospel.  Prayer should still be our first response to the great need to reach people for Christ, Bible study, and church membership.  If your group isn’t growing, take the situation to God in prayer and ask Him to help you continue to reach new people through your Bible study group.

I am thankful to be able to report that our Bible study group is averaging 18 people each week. There were times when attendance was very anemic, and Tammy and I were concerned that it wasn’t going to make it. But the Lord provided new people, we remained faithful to prepare well each week, expected new group members, had regular fellowships, and the hard work has paid off.

If your group isn’t growing, hang in there and see if one of these 6 things might be the key to turning things around.

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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.