Why does it seem like every Sunday school class, small group, or Bible study I attend or lead begins with more people than it ends with? We have a genuine attrition problem with it comes to group studies, and the reasons for it are legion. Nevertheless, consider these few to analyze why people have stopped coming to your Bible study.
You aren’t prepared. For some potential group members, if it’s clear after just one week that you didn’t have your game face on, they aren’t going to waste their time. This reason is easy to remedy: email your group and apologize for your lack of preparation and demonstrate your readiness for the coming week. You can’t force them to come, but a little humility and repentance go a long way in helping lure a group member back to the study.
You’re not studying the Bible. Sheep follow a shepherd. If you promised a Bible study but are providing a social hour in which gabbing has replaced learning and application, you’re entertaining rather than shepherding. Has share time replaced study time? If so, don’t be surprised when the sheep fail to show.
Life happens. With two children under two, a small group that met until 8 p.m. about 30 minutes from our house led to a terrible night every seven nights. These and other life events often prevent people from consistently attending the group. You can be the best leader and still have poor attendance because life happens. The key to recovering from this is to spread a little liberty and grace to these people so they are inspired to return when life doesn’t happen quite so much.
People are people. Humans are not exactly known for keeping commitments and following through well. Though the level of one’s resolve may vary by one’s personality, the ability to keep commitments and endure to the end is something we have to develop as we mature in Christ. By virtue of the fact that you’re willing to lead a group, you’ve made a commitment to attend something that everyone else can opt out of on a whim with little or no guilt. It’s human nature, and you’ll be a better, more secure leader when you recognize that people are people.
What’s clear to me is that when it comes to group attendance, I should work very hard as a group leader to control the things I can, and work very hard to trust God with the things I can’t. In the end, God is in charge of who comes when, and my group experience isn’t defined by that anyway. I’m making disciples regardless of who comes, and that’s what it’s all about.
Rob Tims has been married to Holly for nearly 15 years. They have four children: Trey (10), Jonathan (9), Abby (1), and Luke (born April 10). He has served in the local church for 20 years as a children’s pastor, student pastor, and senior pastor. He currently serves on a team at LifeWay Christian Resources that develops customized Bible studies for groups and teaches two classes for Liberty University School of Divinity Online. He is the author of the book Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt.