By Ken Braddy
Ed Stetzer once said we should seek to move people “out of rows and into circles.” When he said this, he was referring to creating the most important movement in the church—the movement of people from the church’s worship gathering to involvement in Bible study groups.
People who are involved in Bible study groups serve more, give more, pray more, and are retained at a higher level than those people who aren’t connected to a Bible study group. It’s imperative that churches move people “out of rows and into circles.”
Forget what you call your Bible study ministry—Sunday school, small groups, community groups, connect groups, or something else—it is the place your church has chosen as a primary means of making disciples.
Growth happens in groups, so we must be intentional about creating a pathway for people to become involved in the church’s most important ministry.
To give you some ideas for creating this movement, here are some strategies for encouraging people to step out of worship and take a step towards group life.
Talk about groups often from the pulpit
A tried and true reality in church life is this: If it’s important to the pastor, it becomes important to the church.
One way pastors can help create movement from the worship service to the church’s Bible teaching ministry is to regularly speak about the importance of belonging to a group from the pulpit.
My pastor has said regularly, “If you are going to give the church just one hour on Sundays, please attend a Bible study group and not this worship service.” I admire him for taking that stand.
He understands that although we have a great worship service with strong biblical preaching, people will ultimately drift away if they aren’t connected to others relationally.
Promote your upcoming Bible studies
Most churches use ongoing Bible study curriculum in Bible study groups. The curriculum has a study plan that can be taken advantage of by savvy church leaders.
Bible Studies for Life is created in six-session units of study. Explore the Bible normally studies one book of the Bible, sometimes two, every 13 weeks. The Gospel Project moves people chronologically through the Bible.
To create movement out of the worship service, promote attending groups when new studies start. Say to your congregation, “In two weeks many of our groups begin a new study on the gospel of Mark,” or “Many groups will start a new study on dealing with difficulties in life.”
Emphasize that you’d love to help connect people to a group at the start of one of these new studies, and that you believe the group would fit them perfectly.
Invite unconnected members and guests to take a connection card that is normally found in the pews, fill in the information on it, and then write the words “groups” in large letters and place it in the offering plate.
Promise to have a group leader from an appropriate group contact the person or couple with an invitation to the new upcoming Bible study.
Interview individuals and couples about group life
Attending a group can be intimidating for people who don’t have a background in church life. From time to time, a pastor can really help people understand what happens in Bible study groups by interviewing a person or a couple, or both.
During the worship service (or perhaps as an illustration used during the sermon) a pastor can interview a few people about their experience in Bible study groups.
Helping the unconnected members of the worship service know groups are places where people have fun, care for one another, study the Bible together, and serve in a variety of ways can reduce the barriers that keep people away from Bible study groups.
Pastors can provide each interviewee with one or two questions in advance of the interview so they can be prepared to respond well.
If unconnected members hear their peers encouraging them to come and get connected in a group, you might be surprised how much of an impact that can make in creating movement toward groups.
Emphasize group involvement at your new members’ class
I lead my church’s new members’ class multiple times each year on one Sunday morning. During this one-day class, I always emphasize how important it is to be involved in a Bible study group.
I like to cite Thom Rainer’s research that discovered if people don’t attend a Bible study group, over 85% of them cannot be found in five years. I then ask if they want their children growing up unconnected to the church, which of course, they don’t.
Our church’s Sunday school is experiencing rapid growth, and this is due in part because we are emphasizing belonging to a group during the new members’ class.
Clearly present the options
Many people who attend our churches begin the journey by looking for information on our church’s websites. It’s wise to make sure people who come to the church’s website find clear information about when and where groups meet.
Basic information such as the location of the group’s meeting place and constituency are vital. It’s not necessary to put the name of the group online, such as “The Joy Class,” if it doesn’t tell people who the group is designed for. In fact, it works against connecting people if they see a class name like that but cannot tell who should actually attend the class.
It’s much better to label a class something like, “Married Adults 30-35” or “Women 50-60.” The designation should tell everyone who the group is designed to reach. If people can’t understand their options, they won’t move toward a group, and the movement we want to see dies quickly.
Have a well-staffed greeter center
This final strategy is an important one. When guests journey into our churches, they quickly look around for key things like the worship center, restrooms, and an information center.
When guests drop by the greeter center to get connected to a group, they must be greeted by people who know the options. And one last thing—you must coach your greeters never to point and tell a guest that their classroom is “down that way.”
You should have enough workers so that each guest family can be escorted one by one to their classes, starting with the youngest family member.
KEN BRADDY (@kenbraddy) manages the ongoing adult Bible study department at Lifeway, blogs about Sunday School and groups at kenbraddy.com, and disciples a group of adults at his church in Shelbyville, Tennessee. His new book, Breathing Life Into Sunday School, releases April 2019 at Lifeway.com.