Ken Braddy said his Lifeway Christian Resources marketing partners were probably none too happy about his latest webinar title: “Seven Ways to Shrink Your Group.”
“Of course, I’m being tongue-in-cheek,” Braddy said. “We at Lifeway want Bible study groups to flourish, but there are some negatives to avoid.”
Braddy, Lifeway’s director of Sunday School and network partnerships, on Sept. 15 broadcast the ninth of 10 webinars in “Training Thru ‘22.”
Arrive on time
He noted the first way to shrink a group is for the leader to arrive late.
“Arriving late doesn’t communicate well,” Braddy explained. “It doesn’t show proper respect for the time of others, nor for the value of time set aside for Bible study.”
Citing the website CareerBuilder.com, Braddy said many Americans are accustomed to late arrival.
“CareerBuilder concluded 30% of the workforce is typically late, citing traffic, oversleeping and weather,” he said. “But the time set aside for Bible study may be the only time some of our members open their Bibles during the week, so we must use our time productively.”
Braddy suggested going to bed earlier on Saturday or waking up earlier Sunday, and cited the adage, “On time is late … early is on time.”
“Arriving early allows you to arrange your room, pray over it and interact with members and guests,” he noted.
“Throwing it together at the last minute” is a second way to shrink a group.
Braddy said Lifeway’s online resources have two spikes in use: Saturday night and Sunday morning.
“Whereas we’re happy to provide resources, it’s telling that some wait until the final hour,” he noted.
“I recommend that leaders at least read the scripture text for the next week on Sunday afternoon, and then give 30 minutes every day to study and preparation. This is half a lunch hour, or the time spent watching a sitcom on TV, but it means we can rest on Saturday knowing we’re ready to lead.”
Braddy quoted Robert Pazmino who said Bible study and teaching shouldn’t be a chore but an act of worship.
“Do all or most of the talking” also will decrease a group’s size.
“Your group should talk as much as you do,” Braddy declared. “That means if you have 40 minutes, you teach 20 minutes, and the group interacts for 20 minutes. Learn to ‘bite your tongue’ and not answer your own questions!”
Braddy said Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” teacher materials intentionally include five discussion questions each week for the leader’s consideration.
‘Tell me more’
“We get nervous waiting one or two or three seconds for a response,” Braddy acknowledged, “but sometimes waiting 20 seconds brings a good result. I’ve used phrases like, ‘Tell me more’ and ‘Keep going’ and ‘Who has had a similar thought?’”
The fourth way to shrink a group is to plant another group.
“This, of course, is what we want you to do,” Braddy declared.
“We need more of this in our denomination. We’re cooperating with the Holy Spirit when we keep a loose grip on our members and form new groups to reach more people. People belong to the Lord, not to us, so we should bless ‘missionary efforts’ in our churches.”
Ignoring absentees also will diminish a group.
“What we’ve seen for the past century is that Bible study classes, at least on the church campus, will have about 50% of their enrollment on a given Sunday,” Braddy noted. “So we have to show concern for absentees. We can create care groups, and we can call, email, text and visit. Another good practice is to have a ‘front porch’ visit and deliver new study materials when they arrive.”
The sixth way to shrink a group is to keep the fun to a minimum.
“If we’re ‘Grumpy Gus,’ we won’t attract others,” Braddy asserted. “Most of our groups need more fellowship opportunities and more fun events.”
He suggested a group member could be designated the “CEO of fun” and be responsible for planning events and having fellowship events once a quarter — as simple as, “Let’s go to lunch together after worship.”
Ignoring potential group members is another way to decrease a group’s size..
“People connect people. Programs don’t connect people,” Braddy asserted. “We need to ask for contact information when new people come so we can find some way to stay in touch.”
Braddy said his new book, “Breakthrough: Creating a New Scorecard for Group Ministry Success,” was released in August and offers suggestions for the post-COVID church. He also recommended, “Building A Disciple-Making Ministry,” which takes a new look at the five classic steps of “Flake’s Formula.
Arthur Flake wrote about building Sunday School after the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1919.
Braddy noted he plans to release two “seasons” of podcasts in 2023, the first in February.
“Think Netflix,” he said. “We plan to do something similar with a season of seven podcasts based on a single theme, and each podcast will be about 25 minutes with me and two or three guests discussing group issues.”
The first will deal with recruiting workers.
Braddy is soliciting ideas for webinar themes for 2023, which can be sent to email@example.com.
The final webinar in the “Training Thru ‘22” series will be Oct. 20, entitled, “Shepherding Your Sheep.” The registration weblink is lifeway.com/training22.