Within the last year, my wife and I have launched a home Bible study group through our church’s Life Group ministry. This isn’t our first time to launch a group—far from it. This time, however, I noticed several things about the process that I thought might make a great “Don’t, Dos” post for anyone either considering starting a group or in the process of starting a group. Here are 6 “Don’t, Do” lessons that we discovered in the process of launching our current group.
- Don’t: Assume Everyone You Ask Will Show Up. I know, I know. “Of course,” you might say. “Of course, everyone I invite won’t show up.” Even those who may have told you they will come, don’t count on it. Our group was not launched out of another group, so my wife and I actually had to recruit un-grouped couples—which adds another degree of difficulty. Even though I knew not everyone I invited would show up (not even those that said they would), I was still caught a little off guard the first night. Retrospectively, I realize that I was a little too careful about trying to get it just right. I invited 12 and felt confident about having 8 the first night. Do: Land on an ideal number and invite more than double the ideal number. For me, that means inviting 9 couples. For singles, I think you can bend that rule a little bit, but the basic ideology doesn’t change.
- Don’t: Take the Bible study portion of the experience lightly. This is critical. Even as someone who produces small group Bible studies on a daily basis, I realize that I approached my decision the wrong way. No question I chose a great Bible study. It was foundational for believers with content rightfully rooted in Scripture. It had application both for the individuals in the group and their families. The problem with my decision was that it was what I wanted to do. In the end, I realized, it was perhaps a little more bent on the academic and a little less bent on any kind of application to the lives of the group members. I knew all along the study I wanted to launch with. I was so sure, in fact, that I never really listened to the hearts of the people I was recruiting. Do: Just pay attention to what people are revealing to you about their spiritual needs. A great place to begin is with a historical figure like Joseph, or a Book of the Bible like Ephesians.
- Don’t: Be unintentional about when to launch and how much lead time to build in. We launched in the spring. I had been in several encouraging conversations about our need for new groups and families looking for a Life Group. We did some wise things, set a date, and began the process of inviting families that had no group home. In our excitement, we failed to look at the calendar. Most of us have astutely concluded that the best times to launch groups are January and September. This doesn’t mean that all other launch points are out of play; it’s just that they’re not quite as natural and may require additional planning. We launched a couple of weeks before spring break and about the time spring sports were ramping up with summer just around the corner. We made it through this season, but it took some hustling to keep our momentum. Do: Plan at least 6 weeks from your first small-group meeting and take measures to know the rhythms of your church and the families as their lives intersect with school and community. Know the calendar. Simply planning helps avoid poor launch times.
- Don’t: Conclude that your winsome personality will be enough. I caution against relying on the sheer force of personality for recruiting and beginning a Bible study group in your home. For starters, it’s not a great idea because, ultimately, this isn’t about you. It’s about Jesus Christ and how His death and resurrection plays out in the lives of believers. It’s important to remember that. But it also positions you, as the leader, as the emotional center of the group. While your energy and enthusiasm are supremely important, being the emotional center can be a drain on you down the road. An alternative approach would be focusing on potential group members themselves. Do: As you are engaging individuals and couples in pre-group encounters, be sure to listen for needs and articulate how you think this group will meet those needs and provide valuable community and disciple-making discussion.
- Don’t: Be flippant about the schedule. People like to know what to expect. As a group leader, it’s your responsibility to be sure the group has a direction, a focus, and something akin to a destination. Far too many groups enter into a, “So what do we want to study next?” conversation at or around the same time the current study is wrapping up. This shows a lack of commitment and doesn’t instill a great deal of confidence in the group leader as someone who is serious about disciple-making. I like to stay two studies ahead of our current Bible study experience. Pay attention to prayer needs for future Bible study experiences. I’ve learned to create a schedule and keep it in front of the group. Do: Create a 3-month schedule with built-in group outings, weeks off that may be due to travel or holidays, and discussion topics. If you’re using one of our studies, the Table of Contents makes this real easy. Review this every week. It creates a sense of expectation while also demonstrating your commitment to the group.
- Don’t: Create false expectations early in the group life. Leading up to our first meeting, I was making all these great plans with food and fellowship. One of the primary shows of hospitality that I had planned was a full meal. In fact, in my heart I thought a full meal might be one of those things that my wife and I offered every single group meeting. By no means should this be discouraged, and I realize that many groups make this a normal part of the group time. That being said, be very sure about any expectations that you might be setting. For instance, the full-meal-plus-Bible-study approach is the same thing you might be complaining about a few months later when group members are still at your house 3 hours later. Do: Keep the Bible study central to the group time so everyone knows why they are there. Make water and light snacks available early on in the group, but have the flexibility for a special occasion down the road.
This list is by no means exhaustive. When you’re starting a group, give good, devoted time to the who, how, what, and why. Our group is going great. We’re not immune to the same challenges anybody faces with busy schedules, personal lives, children, and activities, but we remain engaged with the gospel.