By Ken Braddy
Memorial Day is behind us, and July 4 is looming. Church members are headed off on vacations, and for most of our churches, VBS and summer camps are just around the corner.
Before you know it, fall will be here. That’s when group members return in droves from irregular attendance patterns during the summer. If you want your group to be effective this fall, there are some things you can do during these busy summer months to get ready.
You’ve heard the expression, “A stitch in time saves nine.” That simple phrase reminds us that we don’t wait until a major repair is needed; we can do some preventative maintenance now so that we don’t have to deal with a major issue in the future.
That old saying works for clothing, and it also works for Bible study groups. Here are six things you can do now to be ready for the opportunities that will come your group’s way this fall.
1. Reach out to inactive members.
Members of groups tend to go AWOL during summer months. Vacation travel, family gatherings, and outdoor activities sometimes drain groups of even the most committed group members.
Emails, phone calls, or home visits can help absentees feel more comfortable about re-engaging with your group when fall arrives. Who knows—you may even experience success before then and have group members re-engage during summer months.
Summer is a good time to take your group’s ministry list and contact every person on it, regardless of their attendance pattern.
2. Enlist and develop an apprentice.
One of the key indicators that a group is serious about reaching new people is whether or not they have an apprentice teacher. In fact, this may be the best sign that a group has embraced the mission of making disciples.
An apprentice group leader is very different from a “sub.” A substitute will only take on the teaching function when the group leader is absent; an apprentice regularly steps in at the request of the group’s leader to teach from Scripture.
The group leader strategically uses the apprentice’s teaching skills to allow them to build rapport and a following with the group’s core members. An apprentice group leader always has in mind the goal of starting and developing a brand new Bible study group.
3. Posture the group to start a new one.
Group leaders are typically the catalysts for launching new groups. They can either support this important (essential) task by encouraging their group members to branch out (“franchise” the current group and start another one), or they can selfishly hold onto group members, saying things to church staff like, “Don’t split my group” and “Don’t ruin our fellowship by dividing us.”
Catalytic group leaders understand they should hold onto group members with a very loose grip. The group and the church both belong to the Lord, not to the group leader.
Talking to the group during the summer months about the need to start new groups in the fall, and talking about the mission of reaching people with the gospel (see 2 Peter 3:18) helps to prepare the group to be effective for the fall.
4. Encourage group members to leave your group.
What? Leave your group? Summer is when church staff search for new group leaders in all age groups. Remember the goal of your Bible teaching ministry isn’t to have the largest group in the church.
The real goal is to help your church in its mission of making disciples. The preschool, children, and student ministries of your church will need new group leaders to serve the youngest members of your congregation. Encourage people in your group to leave and serve others as group leaders themselves.
By doing this during the summer, you’ll prepare your entire congregation to be more effective this fall.
When the Lord looked out over a wheat field that was ready to be harvested, He told His disciples His kingdom was like that field—people were ready to be “harvested” and gathered into His heavenly family, but more workers were needed.
Jesus’ solution wasn’t for them to work longer hours or to place want ads in local synagogues. Jesus told his disciples to pray that His Father would provide the additional help they needed. The Greek word translated “pray” is the word deomai, and it means to ask or beg because of a lack or a need.
Does that sound like the way you pray for help in your group? If not, ask God to provide other leaders from within your group to help you lead and advance His kingdom. Involve your group members in the process of leadership discovery by praying for specific people whom you want to assume specific leadership roles in your group.
6. Develop a list of ministry projects and dates.
Adult Bible study groups should plan to reach out to the people in their community by brainstorming a list of potential places the group members can serve (crisis pregnancy center, clothes closet, homeless shelter, etc).
Serving together can meet people’s real and felt needs, but it can also create camaraderie among your group members. Starting the fall with a list of projects and dates can help busy group members say “yes” to the opportunities to serve.
If you start the fall with a list of service opportunities, you’re much more likely to create momentum and get people involved, rather than starting the fall with nothing more than good intentions.
Use summer months to do your research and coordinate your group’s service calendar with events on the church’s calendar.
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. He is the author of several books, including Breathing Life Into Sunday School.