Archive for 31 Days of Extreme Sunday School

Options for New Groups

The line “We have never done it that way before”, still brings some challenges to some folks in many of our churches.  But, when considering possibilities for new groups, we must be willing to get out of our comfort zones.  We may even need to break with some of our existing traditions that hold us back from new ideas.

I heard a statement that still rings in my ears concerning issues that hold us back:

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead…traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

When two out of three people in our nation are not involved in Bible study, it is time to look at options to reach them.

What should we consider?

  • When should we meet?  Forty percent of individuals age 18-40 cannot (or will not) come to Bible Study on Sunday.  Are we willing to change? We can offer options Sunday morning, night or weekdays
  • Where should we meet?  Many others do not feel wanted or accepted come to “church”.  The number one complaint, valid or not, is still  “The Church if full of hypocrites”.  But they would come to a home for a family gathering.  Let’s be willing to consider possibilities.
  • What should we study?  People are looking for answers to issues they face every day.  Studies on family, finances, and future challenges are still hot topics that attract all ages.  Those could be introductory studies that lead to strong inductive Bible study.  Let’s meet the needs of those in our communities.
  • Where can we find leaders?  Seventy-five plus percent of our people are sitting in our present classes and pews not being utilized and waiting to be asked.  Consider some of the suggestions by our writers for enlisting and equipping workers.  Enlist to specific responsibilities with specific equipping for the specific task.  God will provide the right leaders.  He has always done that for His people.
  • Who will be the target audience?  Look at your congregation and look at the community.  How do they match up?  Far too many of our churches do not reflect the community around them.  Look at groups of people not being reached.  Look at friends not involved in small group Bible study.  They are ready to be asked.

The late Andy Anderson, founder of the Growth Spiral strategy, was an amazing individual when looking at options for reaching people.  His statement still resonates.  “We must consider asking anyone we can, anywhere we can, anytime we can, any way we can, every time we can if they would like to be a part of a small group Bible study.  Many will say yes, and they will bring their friends.”  That is still a great practice.

Prayerfully accept the challenge.  Be willing to step out of the traditional mold.  Offer options.

Is Anytime, Anywhere in your Future?

A few years ago, the church I was serving decided to offer Bible study anytime, anywhere. The year prior saw us steadily developing new leaders. Now the time felt right to step out in faith. We offered to provide Bible study anytime, anywhere a group wanted to meet. Our insert in Sunday’s bulletin projected a variety of times and locations for Bible studies, with a place for suggestions. Since a Tuesday night group met including preschool teachers and those working on Sundays, the possibility of other untapped opportunities surfaced.

Following our worship service, a member approached me asking “Are you serious about offering Bible study anytime and anywhere?” When I replied, “We would not have offered the opportunity had we not thought we could do it,” he proceeded to explain he wanted to start a 4:30 A.M. Bible study at a Denny’s restaurant near his house, excitedly adding, “I already have five construction workers interested!” Ultimately he became the teacher. The first Tuesday they met, he spotted a senior adult from church eating breakfast and asked him to join the group.

There are numerous reasons why someone might not be able to attend Bible study on a Sunday morning or, in the case of small groups, on a weeknight. We must see the big picture. More Bible study involvement could happen if church schedules were not so restricting. Over the years, I have seen classes offered on a rotating shift for mineworkers working rotating shifts and telephone Bible study classes for shut-ins. Classes have been on Sunday afternoon, at lunch during the week, before work in the morning and on a week night evening – meeting in mobile home parks, apartments, homes, offices, assisted living facilities, hotel rooms and work break rooms. I have been in churches with internet Bible study classes.

Here are a few tips to help you think through going Anytime, Anywhere:

 1.    Identify your opportunities – Broaden your focus by stepping back and taking in the whole picture. Who is in your church but not in a Bible study group? Why? What are people doing in your community when your Bible study groups are meeting? When and where might they be willing to meet?

2.    Train the leaders – A church cannot go after the people until it is ready to provide the ministry. To start more Bible study groups a church will need a pool of trained leaders including teachers, outreach/ministry leaders, and prayer leaders. Usually, new groups are started with a team of leaders, not just a teacher.

3.    Set goals to start groups – Set specific locations and times with your target group in mind for starting new groups. Campaigns are often more successful everyone in the church is working together to start new groups for a few weeks.

4.    Go after the people – You’re ready launch your new groups or start your campaign! Success is having new groups launched and new people reached.

For additional insight into Anytime, Anywhere read pages 36-42 of Extreme Sunday School Challenge: Engaging Our World Through New Groups by Bruce Raley and David Francis.


Tom Belew has served as Small Groups and Childhood Specialist for the California Southern Baptist Convention since 2002. He previously served as Minister of Education in churches in Arizona and California.

Life Cycles – What Goes Around, Comes Around

I was the pastor of several churches in the Midwest during college and in my early days of ministry.  Sometimes those churches grew and multiplied and there were years when we declined.  Of course, I fondly remember the years when we were growing and our Sunday School expanded.  It was a little like a roller coaster ride with ups and downs and it always came back around.

Classes cycled through their life and sometimes we found a class declining to the point it was absorbed into another class or just ceased meeting.  But when we deliberately started classes, we always gained in enrollment and attendance.

I found a single adult class was always a good place to start.  There were always single adults in every community and usually the church was expecting them to go into a “young adult” class–full of married couples.  Most singles would respond when I would offer to group them into a singles class.  Sometimes these classes dissipated on me due to a highly mobile community of singles who moved around often.  But every time we started a new class we grew our Sunday School (in 3 of the 5 churches I pastored in those years.

So when a class comes to the end of it’s life cycle, do you close it and consider it a failure?  Not necessarily.  Always be on the lookout for new opportunities with age groups or affinity groups or key leaders who will draw a class to themselves.  Know that some classes will go on seemingly forever and some will be short lived.

Churches go through life cycles as well.  Robert Dale, author of “To Dream Again” (Broadman Press, 1981) illustrated the “bell curve” of a church life cycle from dream to growth to plateau to decline and death.  His solution was to “re-dream” the dream periodically.  Plant new ministries, new classes, set new goals and see new people brought into the organization.

Extreme Sunday Schools start new things…new groups in particular.  What are you dreaming about in your next life cycle?

There is Hope

Yesterday’s article (Reality Revealed) conveyed to us the reality of today’s culture and worldview as it pertains to Sunday School. The last line of the article stated, “There is Hope.” There is hope because with Jesus there is ALWAYS hope; with Jesus there is light at the end of the tunnel; with Jesus there is victory when the whole world is against you; with Jesus there is hope for new Sunday School classes to be started. Does that last statement surprise you?

As Sunday School leaders from all across the nation catch the vision to begin new groups, a revolution will begin to take place. I am reminded of John 15 where Jesus said that He was the Vine, we were the branches, and God (the Father) is the Gardener. In this passage Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing.”

First of all, we need to remember that Jesus is our source of strength and the supplier of all our needs. We should not want to do anything apart from Him.

Secondly, Jesus said that as the Father (the Gardener) prunes us, He does it for a reason…so we will bare more fruit. Therefore, if we take this principle to heart and allow God (the Father) to prune, massage, and cultivate our Sunday School class, the natural reaction is New Growth!

One thing that I have learned as I ponder this passage is that it is not just the new branches that bring forth fruit, but it is the whole tree. Therefore, if Sunday School classes would allow God (the Gardener) to do His work in their individual lives, not only would we see new groups started, but those

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involved in the process would receive the benefit of new growth as well.

It was Arthur Flake who said, “Know your Possibilities.” He advocated surveying the community to determine what persons might be prospective Sunday School members. Goals were established based on real actionable information. There are various ways to do that today. Could new Sunday School classes be started because of your interest in the community in which you serve?

May God start His pruning today and new groups be started tomorrow.

Reality Revealed

In the book Extreme Sunday School Challenge, the authors raise the awareness of our current static Sunday School situation in American churches. In 1972 the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) reported 3.6 million people attending Sunday School. Forty-some years later the SBC is reporting that we are averaging right at 4 million Sunday School attendees. One might think that this is pretty good; however, in reality when you compare these numbers to the growth in US population, it doesn’t take a mathematician to see that we are not doing a very good job.

For years Southern Baptists have waved the banner of Sunday School and the importance it plays in the lives of Christian men, women, boys & girls. Yet, the reality is that we are losing touch with our communities. Experts are telling us that we are living in a post Christian society. The author defines post Christianity as, “A culture with language and assumptions that once were but are no longer rooted in Christianity.”

As the population has grown and society’s values vary, we have observed a couple of generations transition from a God mentality to a humanistic perspective. I am reminded of the verse in Judges 2:10 that says, “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done in Israel.” I believe this is the reality of the culture in which we live.

Whether we

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say “un-churched” or “non-churched” the reality is that many are “never churched”. Their limited exposure to the truth of the Gospel is not necessarily what they see on the TV screen, or hear on the radio, but rather what they see in your walk with Christ.

The reality is… we are not growing our Sunday Schools. We are not creating new groups, and we are not connecting with the lost. Don’t despair, there is hope. Tune in tomorrow as we unpack “Hope”.