Group ministry leaders Bruce Raley and Rick Howerton and their panel of experts share insights and ideas for building and strengthening the Bible study groups in your church.
“Groups are for making disciples, not just making friends. Friendship is a bi-product of becoming disciples together.”
Many groups have as their starting point and goal to become friends. While this is important, if this is where the bar is set, this is what the outcome will be and becoming friends will be the only outcome. On the other hand, if the goal and starting point of the group is to become mature disciples together, when all is said and done, those in the group will become mature disciples as well as lifelong friends. — Rick Howerton
“The most powerful person of persuasion in the church is the pastor. The most powerful place of persuasion in the church is the pulpit.”
Want your Sunday School to become a church priority? Your pastor is the key. The pastor’s involvement, coupled with words of affirmation and encouragement from the pulpit are some of the greatest helps to an effective Bible study ministry. — Bruce Raley
By Boyd Pelley
Pastors are generally not numbers people. Small group pastors especially are more oriented to shepherding than accounting. If this is you, then measuring seems tedious, time consuming and not something you are wired for. You are more interested in reaching, discipling and serving people. I challenge you to think about measuring through that lens. Here are three reasons to measure group life:
1. You want to reach lost groups.
Lost groups are groups that don’t meet anymore or when they do less than half of them bother to show up. These are groups that are wandering around the open country separated from the vision, values and strategy you are providing as their shepherd. Like the shepherd in Luke 15 you need to count to identify which groups have lost their way.
2. You want to build groups where disciples are made.
When you go to lost or struggling groups, you have an unbelievable chance to pick them up and carry them back to the vision and goal of Christian life together. They likely wandered off course because of conflict, poor leadership, disagreements or other relational problems. When these things happen, people stop coming, groups stop meeting. If you measure and spot these trends in groups early on, you have a chance to go to them, learn what is going on, and help people grow in their walk with Jesus.
I saw this most plainly with a small group working through curriculum on parenting. Half the group home schooled their kids, the other half were in public schools. Exaggerating just a little bit, the home schoolers didn’t believe you loved God and your family (Deuteronomy 6) if you didn’t home school. The public schoolers didn’t believe you were committed to the great commission (Matthew 28) and being salt and light (Matthew 5:16) unless you were in public schools. Conflict arose and people stopped coming. Because we measured we spotted this in a few weeks. When we heard the story, we brought everyone together and opened up Romans 15:7 on accepting one another and John 17 about unity in the body. The reconciliation that happened that night was unbelievable. Disciples of Jesus were being made in ways that only community can provide.
3. You need to steward your time to serve people most effectively.
You can’t do everything and be everywhere at the same time. It’s easy as a small group pastor to hang out with your healthy groups and encourage them. In fact, if you measure you can quickly spot the groups that have 80 percent or more attending every time they meet. This tells you something is happening in this group that people love. They don’t want to miss. They will even plan their vacation around when their group gets together. These are the groups where new leaders are being formed. You want to stay close to them. But you also need to invest time in the groups that are in critical growth seasons.
It has often been said that the best times for coaching in small group ministry are when a group: 1. begins, 2. goes through a stormy season, or 3. needs to reproduce to stay healthy. By developing a system to measure when a group is in any of these three seasons, you can focus your time and energy where it will count the most.
If your primary reason for measuring group life is to brag about how many groups you have and how many people are in your group, then you’ve missed the whole point of measuring. The character this perspective of measuring builds is exactly opposite of the humble, faithful Christ-follower we are all trying to become and make. Good shepherds measure not to brag but to reach lost groups, make disciples, and be found faithful stewards.
Boyd Pelley is co-founder and CEO of Churchteams.com. This software for groups and church management was developed the last half of his 18 years on church staff as a discipleship and family pastor. He and his wife Pam have been married for 28 years and have two children.
“A Sunday school that really works is one where the lost are reached, lives are changed, and leaders are sent.” — Steve Parr in Sunday School That Really Works
Focus. Focus. Focus. A Sunday school without focus will be an ineffective Sunday school. Focus on reaching those far from God. Focus on teaching for life transformation. Focus on being missional. — Bruce Raley
“Micro-managers believe they can do everyone’s job better than anyone else. Servant leaders empower equals.”
Effective small group pastors recruit team members with gifts and abilities they are lacking, give those people the goals that need to be reached and the resources to accomplish those goals. That small group pastor then steps aside connecting for the sole purposes of encouragement and accountability. — Rick Howerton
Over the past years, church leaders have given various names to their Sunday morning Bible study ministry. Sunday School has been the universal name churches have used for decades. That name originated from a school for children that used the Bible as its textbook. That school met on Sunday; thus the name.
Many leaders have decided a name change has been needed. Some of the rational includes:
- the ministry is not focused only on children
- the ministry can meet on days other than Sunday
- a new name might provide a renewed emphasis on the ministry.
So other names have appeared. Connection groups, LIFE groups, small groups, fulfillment hour, Bible fellowship groups, and more.
The name of the Bible study ministry is important. It can shape the purpose and direction for the future. Use the following three considerations when deciding the name of the Sunday morning Bible study ministry:
1. The name impacts those inside more than those outside.
The unchurched of today are second and third generation unchurched. They have little knowledge of church and church ministry. Other than weddings and funerals, many unchurched have little direct contact with the church. Therefore, to choose a certain name for your Bible study ministry and expect that name to impact those outside the church is probably wishful thinking.
The reality is the name impacts those already inside the church by addressing the function or purpose. “Connection groups” indicate the purpose of connecting people to one another and to the Word. “LIFE” is an acrostic many churches use to describe the function of the groups (example: Learn, Involve, Fellowship, Evangelize). Small groups indicate the necessity of the groups being intentionally small so relationships can develop.
2. A name change can be confusing.
Some church leaders feel a new name will bring new enthusiasm and life within the ministry. That is entirely possible. “New” can be the leader’s best friend. Without a doubt, there is power in “new.” At the same time, if a church has a long history with a certain name, changing that name can bring about confusion and questioning. Some may think leaders are doing away with a ministry, when in reality, a change of name is all that is desired.
3. The name must be branded.
Simply giving a name to a ministry means very little unless that name is branded. In other words, people must know and understand the ministry when they hear the name. Most church members know Sunday School is a ministry of groups studying the Bible on Sunday mornings. Regardless of the title, church leaders must develop a diligent plan to insure people know the function and purpose when they hear the name.
Bruce Raley has served as Director of Church Education Ministry with Lifeway Christian Resources since May 2006. A native of Arkansas, he enjoys hunting, fishing, and traveling with Donna.
“Psychology is a theory, philosophy is an opinion. Biblical theology is Sovereign God revealing eternal truth.”
When a group meets it’s essential that the goal is to find out what God is saying. Psychology and philosophy are two disciplines that are often and accidently placed in the same category as biblical theology. Statements from the world of psychology often sound like wise counsel, and often are. Statements from the world of philosophy often sound transcendent. While psychology and philosophy are important to humanity, if anything stated from either of these disciplines contradicts the Words of God found in the Bible, ignore them. God’s truth always trumps humankind’s ponderings. — Rick Howerton
“Contrary to some critics, effective Sunday schools do not use archaic methods. No long-standing organization can survive two hundred years without methodological adaptation. The Sunday schools in evangelistic churches today are vibrant organizations used effectively to teach and reach thousands.” — Thom Rainer in Effective Evangelistic Churches
I occasionally hear leaders say they want the latest … the hottest … the coolest. Sunday school may not be any of those, but it can be highly effective. Leaders have learned to adapt and adjust Sunday school to meet the needs of today. — Bruce Raley
By Rick Howerton and Bruce Raley
Welcome to the new Groups Ministry: Conversations on Group Practices ministry site. We are thrilled to have this opportunity to connect with you on an ongoing basis. As you might imagine, we believe that Acts 2:42 –47 is a guide for church life as well as group life. It reads:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.”
When groups and group members are devoted to the Word of God, relationships that are authentic partnerships based on God’s relational directives, remembering and being challenged by Jesus death and resurrection, sincere, passionate praying, and meeting together consistently, the church and will be all God intended her to be.
Each day it will be our goal to give you some guidance that will be useful to you as we work together to create groups that make disciples that make disciples.
Rick Howerton is the small groups and discipleship specialist at Lifeway Church Resources. He has authored many small group Bible studies, is a highly sought after trainer and speaker, and is the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual as well as the revolutionary book, A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic. Rick’s deepest passion and his goal in life is to see, “a biblical small group within walking distance of every person on the planet making disciples that make disciples.
Bruce Raley has served as director of Church Education Ministry with Lifeway Christian Resources since May 2006. This followed a 10-year ministry as teaching pastor at First Baptist Church of Panama City, Fla., and a 13-year ministry at Walnut Street Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark. Both churches experienced significant growth during his tenures. In the past eight years, he has personally trained more 1100 new church education ministry leaders through a training conference called BETA. He has a passion to help churches reach people and see them mature through the creation of new Bible study groups. A native of Arkansas, he enjoys hunting, fishing and traveling with his wife Donna.
Leading a small group is a big investment of time and emotional energy. Because of this, quiting small group leadership has become an epidemic. I’ll bet some of you are reading this blog post because you’d like a few good reasons to step aside yourself. Maybe the list below will help you decide if you should give up your group.
- Setting up my DVR is just too much trouble and, “I’m not gonna miss another episode of The Good Wife!”
- My dog just hates it when I put him outside for the evening.
- I feel obligated to spend time in the Bible and prayer every day when I’m leading a small group.
- Just when I get to know the people in my group well, my church tells us we have to start a new group so that other people can start a relationship with Jesus.
‘Nuff said …
Rick Howerton has one passion — to see “a biblical small group within walking distance of every person on the planet making disciples that make disciples.” He is pursuing this passion as the small group and discipleship specialist at Lifeway Church Resources.