How many lost people should we have in our small group?
That’s a great question! If your Sunday School or small group seeks to reach lost people with the Gospel, then it only makes sense that you need to have lost people in your group. The simplest answer to the question is as many as you can! But most Sunday School teachers or small group leaders would like some way to measure how effective their group is when it comes to sharing the Gospel and inviting lost people to be part of their group’s community.
The great Southern Baptist Sunday School pioneer J.N. Barnette actually researched the ratio of church membership compared to Sunday School enrollment and discovered some startling, although in hindsight, rather obvious information. Below is a graph from Barnette’s ground-breaking book, One to Eight.
As is obvious from the title, Barnette’s goal was to enroll one lost person for every eight people enrolled in the group. However, he states in his book (page 7) that for most churches, even a modest +25% (1:13 ratio) would result in solid evangelism. Although these ratios might have changed over the years, the principle is still the same. The more lost people a small group can share the Gospel with, the more people it will see come to Christ. (In other words, your group will catch more fish in an ocean than a swimming pool.)
For a pastor or church leader, Barnette’s discovery emphasizes the importance of group enrollment. If more people are enrolled in Sunday School or small groups than church membership, it is going to see more people baptized. The higher percentage… the better! To hit Barnette’s reasonable goal of 1:13, then your enrollment needs to be 60% higher than your church membership (see chart above). If the church attained this number, then 12.5% of your Sunday School enrollment would be baptized every year at this ratio!
So let’s bring this down to an average group. In fact, not just any group… but your group. If your group has 26 members (enrollment) and 20% of the group are not church members, then your group’s membership would look like this:
21 group members would also be members of the church
5 group members would not be church members
Results: 2 group members would probably accept Christ as Savior each year (1 baptism for every 13 group members)
What is the essential ingredient? That’s right… asking lost people to join your small group (enrollment)! Now imagine if 20% of the people enrolled in your Sunday School were not church members? Based on our example above of a group with 26 members, then if your church has 10 groups, then you could expect 20 lost people to receive Christ and follow Him in baptism. Why? Because 1 of 5 group members are not church members and are likely to be unsaved.
The graph above actually illustrates two vital evangelism principles.
- Lost people must come into contact with the Gospel message in order to be saved (Romans 10:13). Enrolling unsaved people in Sunday School places them in a place where they can see the Gospel on display, hear it, study God’s Word, “kick the tires” (so to speak), and ultimately repent and believe.
- The second vital principle is that the percentage of church members that are participating in small groups reflects the value of the church’s commitment to its groups strategy to evangelism and discipleship. Churches with lower percentages may have a high commitment, but the communication of the value of its groups strategy is not connecting with church members. The less committed the church is to using small group organization as its primary strategy, the fewer church members will belong to a group.
Here are five steps to bring reality to the concept of an evangelistic Sunday School:
- First, decide if your group is going to be evangelistic. Personally, I do not think that this is an option if you believe the Great Commission, and I can not imagine an open group intentionally choosing not to have soulwinning as its primary mission (see Mark 1:17). But…
- Have some type of Gospel emphasis at every group meeting. Examples… Develop a group evangelistic prayer list; enlist a group member share their testimony; invite lost friends to group social events; teach a Gospel presentation; memorize important verses about evangelism. Any of these activities can be done in five minutes. Rotate them and you can have one evangelistic activity for each Sunday of the month.
- Ask guests to join your group! Your group (and your church) may be missing out on dozens of evangelistic opportunities if you never ask people to join your group. If your group is that great, then who wouldn’t want to be a part of it!!
- Follow up on guests to church events. The men’s fish fry had guests attend? Follow up! The church just had Vacation Bible School? Follow up! Dozens of first-time guests attended Easter? Follow up!
- Celebrate what you want done. When a group members shares with the group that he or she shared Christ with a friend… celebrate!!
Bob Mayfield is the Sunday School/Small Groups specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. You can follow Bob on Twitter at @bobmayfield and also follow his blog at bobmayfield.com. Bob also leads the ReConnect Sunday School Initiative that produces quality online video training for Sunday School and small group leaders at reconnectss.com.