By Ken Braddy
A weekend baseball tournament for teenagers. A change in work schedule. An invitation to play golf with the boss.
There are some things that will keep your group members from attending your Bible study group. Those things are out of your control. My advice? Don’t worry about it because you can’t control the forces at work in people’s lives, especially during a pandemic and the different levels of disruption it can bring.
It would be better to focus on things you can control that keep them coming back to your Bible study group. These three things take away some excuses people have for arriving late or for not attending at all—whether your group is meeting in person or virtually.
1. Start on time.
Not starting on time is one of the reasons why people avoid a Bible study, or why they casually come to the group study late.
Isn’t it curious that people can drop kids off at school on time, attend meetings on time, get to work on time, make it to a movie on time, get their kids to sports practices on time, and yet when it comes to Bible study they can’t (or more accurately, won’t) arrive on time?
If you, the group leader, don’t start on time, then you’ve trained them to arrive late. Why punish those in your group who are sitting there, having arrived on time? It’s one of the most insulting things you could do to those people who respect the posted start time of your group and are waiting for the others to finally get there.
If you start on time, you’ll find that people will adjust their schedules. William Shakespeare said, “Better three hours too soon, than one minute too late.” Being late doesn’t help anyone, so my preference is to either start on time, or just a bit early.
People will appreciate the stance you take, and in time they will come around to the “new normal” of starting right on time.
2. Don’t waste time.
During the Bible study, keep things on track. The key here is balance. Don’t let any one element dominate the others, thereby wasting time that you need for the other elements in your Bible study time.
If you have an over-talker in your group (see my article on how to deal with that) you must handle that situation so they do not dominate and waste the time of everyone in your group.
Don’t talk about sports, the weather, and politics; people aren’t there for that. Instead, do what we used to call “total period teaching.” That means that everything that happens during the group’s time together is driving toward the completion of the teaching objective for that session. And that always means you don’t have time to waste.
3. End on time.
Almost as important as the first item in this list, ending on time is vital to the long-term health of your group. People want to know you’ll honor their time commitment, but not encroach upon other things they have planned that day.
They’ll always overlook a slightly extended Bible study experience, but they will not tolerate you regularly waxing eloquent and chewing up 10-15 minutes of time when the group’s study should have already ended. If you manage the first two items above, this one won’t be a problem.
If you don’t manage this one, you’ll find people will do one of four things:
- Mentally check out toward the end of your study
- Start checking their watches, giving you a hint you’ve gone over your allotted time
- Get up and walk out so they can move on to their next scheduled event
- Avoid attending the group altogether in the future
William Penn once said, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” Remember that you, the group leader, control how time is used during your group’s study. Use your time wisely and you’ll take away at least one excuse people give for not plugging in.
Ken is Lifeway’s Director of Sunday School and is a 30-year veteran of church education ministry. He is a writer, author, and practitioner—serving a church in the Nashville area as its director of Sunday School and discipleship ministries. Ken also manages Lifeway’s adult ongoing Bible study series.