Archive for Countdown31


bibleI really do not like Garmin.  We had purchased the GPS device while on a trip back home from visiting our daughter and son-in-law in South Carolina. At first, I became mesmerized with the woman’s voice, how she knew every turn in advance, specific conveniences were listed on the device’s screen. Wow! Then, it began, “Recalculating.” I missed a turn – actually because I was watching the shiny, new GPS screen and didn’t turn where I was told.

The more we drove, the more she interrupted, “Recalculating.” A little annoying now. Toward the end of our trip, her voice growing hoarse at my every misdirection, I thought I heard her say, “Oh, have it your way. I give up.” The lesson for me? The teacher (in this case, Garmin) is only as successful as the willingness of the student (me) to be taught.

Proverbs 16:9 has continually spoken inspiration to me at several turns in life, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” I need that kind of wisdom taught to me. Often. With clarity. Even at times when I ignore it. It is essential for me in attempting to stay on the right path along my journey.

It is essential because the Bible – every word, every verse, every chapter, every book – is the only trustworthy essential guide for my life. For all our lives. Collectively, for all believers in community.

We may choose, as Christian educators or individual believers, to meander through our study of God’s Word. Or, some would take a menu approach, selecting portions that give us the most direction in lives at various stages – from preschoolers to children to students to adults.  Ultimately, the long-term success comes with having a map. A trusted source that we can depend on for perfect direction. Individually? Yes. Collectively? Definitely.

I cannot remember the first person I heard say, “The textbook of Sunday School is the Bible!” But, I know it is something I say often to leaders in practically every local church with whom I work. I say it not because I love to hear the sound of my voice. It is my consistent directive to listen for that “still small voice” of God which can come to us any time we are diligent in seeking His guidance through His Word.


Phil Miller is the Director of Discipleship for the Baptist General Convention of Texas

Two Words that Will Determine Your Group’s Destiny

groupsI believe that your Sunday School class or small group will grow proportionally to the degree you embrace, advance, and insist that your class/group always remain SMALL and NEW!

There are some jumping for joy because their class/group has been small for fifty-seven years and they think that’s good.  Well its not good.  Every group, every class and even all churches should be reaching new people.  If your class, group and church are not adding new people then something is wrong.  Don’t use the excuse of staying small for the reason of failing at evangelism.

The most effective size of a group is 8 to 12 in weekly attendance.  If your class/group is larger than 12 then it is difficult to really connect.  Your class/group must be small in order for real disciple making to occur.  Jesus preached to the crowds but he spent more time with a small group of disciples.

Your class/group needs to be small enough for people to open up and share what’s going on in their lives.  It needs to be small enough for people to be engaged in discussion during the Bible study.  The members should know each other and also be willing to encourage as well as receive encouragement from others.  If your group is larger than 12 it will be nothing more than a class and based on my experience that’s all you will ever have, a class that meets on Sunday.

The way you keep your group small and stay faithful to the mission of reaching others with the Gospel is by starting new groups.  If your class is stuck and you’ve not added a new person in the last three years, then it’s time for you to start a new group.  If your class has been growing and the average attendance is over 12 then it’s time for y’all to start a new group.  If it’s been five years since a new class was started in your church then it’s time to start a new class.

Churches, classes and groups that start new classes/groups are reaching more people than those that refuse to multiply.  They are seeing more people saved and baptized.  Not only are they growing numerically but the churches, classes and groups that focus on the SMALL and NEW are growing spiritually as well.

The first step toward NEW and SMALL is you as the leader/teacher enlisting an apprentice.  Pray.  Ask God to give the name of the person, then go to them personally and share what God is doing.  Begin leading your group as a team.  Train the apprentice modeling for them and then allowing them to lead.  Start the new group.  You take one and your apprentice takes the other.  Repeat the process.

Every year your church must have NEW and SMALL.  Every year your class/group needs to start a NEW SMALL group.


Dr. Smith serves as a state missionary with the Georgia Baptist Convention and is the Sunday School/Small Groups Specialist.  Visit their website at for more information and other resources to aid your Sunday School or small group ministry.  You can also connect with Dr. Smith at, or

Stage 5: Deploy

7968765254_133dddc4b3_zEvery football season begins the same way for just about every team at every level. Each team has high hopes of a championship; develops a playbook; positions its players at their areas of strength; and has weeks of training and practice. Imagine how foolish it would look however if at the season opener, the offense went out on the field, huddled up, called the play… but never left the huddle.

As ridiculous as the above scenario may be, unfortunately it is a visual image of what happens in many churches all over the nation. Teachers have been trained and Bible study lessons have been prepared. Rooms have been furnished or homes have been cleaned and made ready for company. But the play that our Lord and Savior has given us is to be fishers of men; to share the Gospel; to make disciples! Can I share a three words of encouragement with you if this scenario describes your church and small group.

Run the Play!

The fifth ingredient of Flake’s Formula is “Go after the people.” Rick Howerton and David Francis define it using one word – deploy. Jesus said “Go make disciples…” It is an imperative direction. It requires action. Groups that choose to always remain in the huddle are not going to engage people with the Gospel. Many churches use a passive approach of engagement and outreach. Announcements about Bible study groups are made from the pulpit. But announcements are passive.

Here are three suggestions to help deploy your church’s groups (or your group):

Weekly outreach
Weekly outreach fell out of favor years ago. There are all kinds of reasons given as to why churches no longer have weekly outreach, such as; families do not like people knocking on their door; participation by church members is low; events at the church facility have replaced outreach; and… well it just isn’t cool anymore.

I was the interim education minister at a church recently. This church had not done ANY outreach at all for over a decade. They had adopted a “if they need us they know where to find us” approach. Now that is the ultimate “passive outreach” strategy! Instead of beginning an ongoing, 52 weeks of of outreach plan, we began with an 8 week outreach burst. We met on Sunday evenings and went visiting! After eight weeks, our outreach teams had visited in the homes of over 350 people! Our teams led people to the Lord. We saw people baptized as a direct result of our action-oriented strategy. Every week we heard comments like this; “We have visited several churches the past couple of months, but your church is the first church that ever came to visit us.” Guess whose church these people joined! (This church continues to effectively use this strategy of short, 6-8 week outreach bursts 3-4 times a year.)

Connection Day
You may remember it as Friend Day or High Attendance Day, but set aside a couple of days a year that encourages and organizes church members to invite friends to come to church with them. In other words, “run the play”. If only 10% of your people respond, your church will have a lot of new faces present and it will engage a lot of people that need Christ and community.

Special Events
If your church’s process for engaging people with the Gospel is to ultimately to get them into a small group or Sunday School, shouldn’t the church’s events help pave the way for that to happen? Every event hosted by the church should point participants toward small groups. Register every person present (you can not follow up on people if you have no contact information). Enlist a person or two to share their story at the event of how their small group has ministered and helped them during a difficult time. Always have a table or booth set up with information about your groups and a person or two to help answer questions or provide needed information.

Deploying group members is vital to making disciples. As group leaders it is important for us to create opportunities in addition to our Bible studies to help deploy our group members.

It is one thing to call the play…. but it is another thing to actually run the play.

Run the Play!!


Bob Mayfield is the Sunday School/Small Group specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO). Bob also has his own blog at The BGCO also has an online training site with over 200 videos available at

Follow Bob on Twitter – @bobmayfield, or on Facebook – theBobMayfield

Stage 2: Declare and Resolve

ResolveMost of us have good intentions. We mean to keep our New Year’s Resolutions but our resolve is not as strong as our hopes. When it comes to starting NEW GROUPS; your resolve must be strong. New Groups are rarely started by accident. They don’t typically happen on their own. New Groups in most cases happen because of a catalyst. That is usually one or more people who have decided that a new group is not a possibility but a definite. The key is figuring out the right timing.

Growing things are healthy and healthy things grow. That’s not my opinion. It just happens to be true. Face it, if you haven’t started a new group (especially an adult group) in a long time; it will not be easy. Oddly enough, the more new groups you start the easier it gets. The first barrier to starting a new group is your resolve. Adopt this phrase: “it’s not if we will start a new group, it’s when we will start a new group”.

In the book, Countdown: Launching and Leading Transformational Groups, David Francis and Rick Howerton use the statement “a declaration phase”. When your plan to start a new group gets to the point that you have set a date, chosen a leader, selected a curriculum and put a sign on the door of a room; you are there. As a matter of fact, if any one of those items mentioned above are true, you are well on your way. This philosophy of name and claim it I can embrace.

Flake’s Formula reminds us that after we have “imagined the possibilities” it is time to “enlarge the organization”. In order to enlarge the organization, you need to start new groups and enlist and train new leaders. New Groups and New Leaders are the two most powerful forces in creating the dynamic of change in a stagnant culture.

Don’t settle for less. Name it and claim it for the kingdom of God. Determine today that you WILL start a new group and declare it to your church. That might seem like a lot of pressure but then again accountability sure goes a long way in helping you keep your resolutions.


Sean P. Keith is the Sunday School/Discipleship Strategist for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

Start With The “Why Groups?” Question


For several years now, I have been sharing about Simon Sinek’s video and book, “Start with Why” with anyone who would listen. Simon suggests that people buy into the “why” better than the “what.” I would agree! He uses what he calls the Golden Circles, with the “What” being the outer circle, the “How” being the next circle and the “Why” being the inner circle.

I have discovered that most churches focus on the “what” and “how” of small groups rather than the “why”, which is the mission. Here is my “why” for small group Bible study:

Interior Motivation: Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:3740 NIV)

Exterior Motivation:  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

With the “why” suddenly the “what” changes and includes all followers of Christ should be in a small group Bible study to love God with all your mind.

We should minister to each other. It is more than fellowship, and requires us to be vulnerable.

Outreach, evangelism and discipleship must be at the forefront of what we do!

The “how” changes as well! When you consider the Great Commandment and Great Commission, we realize that small group Bible studies can happen any day of the week and any place! Every person who begins a small group should see themselves as missionaries and reach others for small groups. Here are some ideas to change your focus to why:

Nametags: David Francis and Rick Howerton, in Countdown: Launching & Leading Transformational Groups on page 38 share an example of mission by suggesting every member of a small group wear nametags. If it is about expecting new people in your small group and seeing yourselves as missionaries, name tags become an essential part of helping newcomers feel welcome.

Connector: Instead of greeter to welcome newcomers, see yourself as connector. Your ministry is to know guests in such a way to connect them to two other people in the small group who have similar interests or vocations. There is a much greater chance to see them return if they have a connection to others in the group.

Investor: Discipleship is about investing in the lives of others inside and outside the small group. Investing in the spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing of newcomers is investing in the Kingdom of God.

Start with why and discover the mission behind small groups. Small groups matter!


Dr. Tony Brooks is the Field Strategist for Southside Virginia and Sunday School/Discipleship Specialist for the Baptist General Association of Virginia. For more resources visit their website at: or Tony’s blog: