Starting New Groups

Note: this post is Part 10 of a series entitled, “Rebuilding the Sunday School/Small Group Ministry in the Local Church.”

Starting new groups isn’t something only bigger churches talk about, it’s vital to the health of every church. If you’re a leader entrusted with overseeing the small group ministry at your church, you’ve probably heard countless times how important it is to start new groups. I Googled the term “Starting New Small Groups” and found 1,480,000,000 results! There’s a wealth of resources out there to help you plan and start new small groups by people much more experienced than me.

So why read this article?

Good question! As a pastor who’s served in smaller and larger churches, I want you to know that starting new groups is rarely easy, especially at first. Every church and every group has its own unique personality and culture. Changing the mentality and vision for your small group ministry will take time, involve much frustration, often leave you feeling ineffective and wondering whether you have the chops for the job.

Take heart! That’s my encouragement to you.

  1. God has called you to this task. Get past this fact. Don’t let doubt fester. That’s the enemy seeking to discourage you. You’re the person for the job, here and now! (2 Tim. 1:9)
  2. God equips and empowers you for the task. In Joshua 24:12, God shares how He brought the Israelites into the promised land, not by their sword or bow but by His power. God has also equipped and empowered you. (Rom. 12:3-8; 2 Cor. 9:8; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 13:20-21)
  3. Be faithful to the task He’s given you. The first two points were God’s responsibility in the matter, you also have a responsibility to God to be a faithful worker. (1 Cor. 4:2)
  4. Read up! Be a student of your role. Two new books that cover the fundamentals of SS/Small Groups that I recommend are Breathing Life into Sunday School by Ken Braddy and Leading Small Groups by Chris Surratt. These are both very helpful in thinking through and starting new groups.
  5. Starting building up leaders. Do you have a leadership pipeline? The health of your future groups depends on the health of your future leaders. If you can’t find leaders, then start discipling yourself through a D-Group. (Read Growing Up by Robby Gallaty.) Develop leaders you enjoy working with, who will share and follow your vision.
  6. Start new groups. Figure it out in your context. Your methods will change and adapt as you do it. How do you start new groups? One at a time. Eventually, you’ll start multiple groups at a time; then, move on to start small group launch events. But it all starts with the “one” group.

As God works through your small group ministry and you see the fruit of His work through you, He’ll reveal Himself to you in ways you never expected. It will be your God-story to share with future leaders you enlist and will affirm you as His person for the job.

Take heart!

Author: Paul Keating is the Discipleship and Evangelism Pastor at First Baptist Church, Denham Springs, LA.

Sunday’s Coming—We Must be Intentional About Training New Leaders!

Note: this post is Part 9 of a series entitled, “Rebuilding the Sunday School/Small Group Ministry in the Local Church.”

Each and every year, our church choir places a priority in celebrating Christmas with a musical we call “Christmas Spectacular.” The musical is grand, the narration is superb, and the drama consistently points the viewer to Jesus. In all, the presentation is just one hour in length; however, the investment of time that our leaders train, is vast.  This special event is enjoyed by all; nevertheless, the presentation quickly fades until the next Christmas season rolls around.

So goes Sunday School. Each and every week, our church has the potential to reach people, teach people God’s Word, and minister to people. Our leaders have the honor to lead people to Jesus, to point them toward Him so they may thrive in their faith and experience the transformation that only Jesus can bring.  And, just like Christmas Spectacular, that occurs every year. Each and every week, our small groups need new leaders so the work of discipleship can take place, equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.

The work is vital, the task is consistent, and the impact often becomes immeasurable as we invest in the lives of men and women, training them to become leaders. Just as the choir places an emphasis on practicing each and every week in preparation for Christmas Spectacular, so must Sunday School leaders place an emphasis on training new leaders so that the work of discipleship can occur. “We should expect Sunday School leaders to be responsible and accountable for participating in a minimal level of training each year.” (David Francis, Great Expectations: Planting Seeds for Sunday School Growth, page 34.) We should expect and train new leaders, continuing the discipleship process.

I am thankful for the new people that participate in Christmas Spectacular.  I am thankful for the men and women, boys and girls who give of their time, practicing so that the Christmas message can be displayed. And, each and every year, I am reminded of the time, energy and effort it takes to conduct such a display. Likewise, each and every week, I am reminded of the importance of training new leaders within the small group ministry of our church. I am thankful for the men and women that serve. I am thankful for the time and energy spent in practice so that discipleship can take place. I am thankful for the new leaders that give of themselves, in training, so that First Baptist Church Ponchatoula can lead people to trust Jesus, and encourage others to thrive in their faith. And, yes, each and every year, I am reminded that we must be intentional about training new leaders.

Sunday’s coming! There are people in our lives that need to trust Jesus. There are leaders all around us that need be enlisted and trained. Are you training new leaders? Together, let’s equip the saints for the work of the ministry! Let’s enlist and train new leaders, so those that God has placed in our care can thrive!

Author: Josh Dickson, Minister of Discipleship, First Baptist Church, Ponchatoula, LA.

How To Build Small Group Relationships (with and Between Members and Non-Members)

Note: this post is Part 8 of a series entitled, “Rebuilding the Sunday School/Small Group Ministry in the Local Church.”

I’ll never forget the last time I was the new person at church. My wife and I walked into a Sunday School class for the first time and did not know anyone. Now, I have been on a church staff for twenty years, so that was a long time ago, but over the years, that experience has shaped me and helped me many times.  It was not the nightmare you often fear. It was actually a very positive and easy experience to go from a first-time guest to engaged member of the class and we developed friendships that have lasted through the years. I wish it was that easy for every new person who visits our Sunday Schools for the first time.

As a Young Adult Sunday School teacher, I tried to emulate that experience in every class I led. As a Minister of Education, I want all of our groups to be a catalyst for growing relationships between members, non-members, and new people. Ministry is all about relationships and without relationships it is impossible for ministry to happen. There is a saying I like: “People are not looking for a friendly church. They are looking for friends.”

Here are a few things to consider that will help your groups be catalysts for developing relationships.

  • Set up your space to facilitate relationship-building. Circles are better than rows. It is hard to talk to someone when you are looking at the back of their head. I prefer rooms to be set up in circles or semi-circles. This makes it much easier to see everyone and it is much easier to talk and hear.
  • Get a greeter for your class. Find the person in your group who is a connector. This person likes to talk and meet people. Make them the class Greeter and give them the tasks of welcoming new people, introducing and connecting them to current members. This practice goes a long way in helping new people connect and stick in your church.
  • Get a coffee pot. Coffee brings people together. They love to talk around the coffee pot; so, if you don’t already utilize this time as people are coming in to class, get one. Give them a few minutes to talk with one another before you begin the lesson. Encourage them to fellowship. Consider having an ice breaker question to answer with another couple.
  • Encourage your teachers to add more group discussion time. Help your teachers see the benefit of good discussion questions that allow people to share who they are and what God is doing or has done in their lives. Common experiences, both good and bad, build community and foster acceptance.

Grow through times together outside of Sunday morning. Do something together outside of your Sunday morning space. Invite a family to go to lunch together, after church, or, go together as a class. Host a game night or plan some other fun activity. There is something special about getting together for a fellowship in someone’s home, and we have been really missing these times due to Covid. Hopefully soon, those days will return to us.

Author: Jason Walsworth, Minister of Education, Ruston, LA.

3 Principles in Starting New Groups During and Post Pandemic

It has been almost a century since the church was challenged with a pandemic and its impact on church participation and member engagement. Frankly, most of us are struggling to know what to do, when. But one truth is indisputable: effective, healthy small groups are a catalyst to healthy, growing churches.

In a (hopefully) post-pandemic world, we need to exercise some urgency in re-engaging members who have “checked out” of their small groups, and reach new people who are starving for friendship and ministry.

Here are three principles and ideas to strengthen your plan and “revive” your small group ministry.

  • Relationships – It is now, and will always be true, that small groups are about relationships. What makes small groups so important and functional for a church is their core value– relationships. When people feel loved, accepted and cared for, they are much more open to learning and applying biblical principles; which, by the way, is a core competency for making disciples. People learn and grow in their faith at different paces. In the context of relationships, we can guide people to move forward and still be there for them when they fail.
  • Smaller Groups – Smaller groups function better and more efficiently than larger groups. Realistically, larger groups are easier to hide within and tend to lose more people over time. Smaller groups often do a better job of inviting new people, interact better during Bible study time and tend to be less lecture-oriented. Smaller groups also tend to do a better job of staying in touch and ministering to one another during a crisis. That leads to the question, “what is the ideal size for a small group?” That answer depends on the leader. Typically speaking, the optimum group size is 12 to 15 people. Yet, some effective leaders can manage and grow a group to 25-30 without losing ministry, care, creative bible teaching, and outreach. Remember, Jesus had 12 disciples, and even He lost one (Judas). The size of the group matters less than the ability of the leadership to have a healthy, growing small group.
  • Intentional Ministry – If a group does not know its purpose or have goals and objectives to strive toward, they are simply gathering as friends for a time of sharing and Bible study. That’s not all bad if it meets the needs of the people in the group, but, two questions must be answered. First, is that group intentional about making disciples? Secondly, is that group intentional about reaching new people for Christ so they can also know Him and grow as a disciple? Making disciples who make disciples is the ultimate objective. If you aren’t planning and working toward that goal, you are not an intentional small group.

Here are a few ideas of how you can start new groups, right now.

  • Launch a new group with folks who (pre-pandemic) were in a group, but haven’t come back. It might be that the former group wasn’t a good fit, or, it could be these people would feel more comfortable re-joining with a smaller, new group.
  • Start a new group online. Online groups can transition to in-person groups later, when we finally reach a post-pandemic timeline. Occasionally, online groups can meet in person as small groups for fellowship, Bible study and to build relationships.
  • Start groups that meet outside of traditional hours for groups. Consider different locations which might have less traffic and offer more space for people to stretch out. Some people are looking for convenience and accessibility; a different time and location might just be what they are seeking.

Starting new groups is a MUST if you want to begin to rebuild your small group ministry.

Give us a call and share your ideas and plans for starting new groups. We’d love to learn what you are doing, and offer additional input to help you get back on track with your small group ministry.

How to Restructure and Adapt Your Sunday School/Small Group

Note: this post is Part 7 of a series entitled, “Rebuilding the Sunday School/Small Group Ministry in the Local Church.”

Twenty-twenty forced us to adapt to an unprecedented reality. We adapted how we worked, how our children went to school, how we shopped, and how we went to church—all from home. As ministers and staff members, the last adaptation especially challenged us. We adapted to livestreamed services, Zoom small groups, video small group, and much more. Now, as we return to our church buildings and offices, let us not stop adapting. While 2021 might not forceus to adapt like 2020 did, the new year provides an Adaptation Opportunity to foster lifelong, transformational discipleship.

To adapt to something requires change. Change can result in a reorganization of ministries and structures. I cannot tell you what adaptations you should make or what should be reorganized in your church, because I do not know your people, culture, or context. But let me suggest: If the local church is going to seize the Adaptation Opportunity it might help to ask some questions. I want to share with you a few questions I have been asking myself as I Look Back, Look Around, and Look Forward.

LOOK BACK:

What Were We (Are We) Doing Well, And How Can I Build On That? Each ministry has its sweet spot. Maybe it is good teaching, fellowship, or outreach. Now is the time to highlight what you do well. Call together your champions in these areas and empower them to do what they do best.

What Were We (Are We) Doing Poorly, And How Can I Improve On That? Likewise, each ministry has places where they fall short. Now is the time to seek out new champions to take on these struggling areas. This might mean they stop doing something they are good at so they can start doing something they are great at doing.

LOOK AROUND:

What New Ministry Opportunities Do You See? The essential point here is not new opportunities, but new ones that you see. The last year has highlighted different aspects of discipleship ministry. Determining which of these are positive and helpful will open doors for transformational growth.

What New Ministry Challenges Do You See? These challenges could include the loss of key leadership, declining budget numbers, lower attendance, or a general air of malaise. Each challenge calls for a different response, but each can also be an opportunity. Prayerfully consider how to turn your challenges into an opportunity to reorganize and adapt for transformational discipleship.

LOOK AHEAD:

Where Do We Want To Go: The preceding questions help determine your present situation. Now is the time to fix your eyes on a destination. This is probably not the time for a five-year strategic plan. Looking forward to Fall or Christmas will allow you to set attainable goals and establish “wins” for your ministry leaders.

Who Do We Want To Be: Looking forward will give you the opportunity to proceed with missions and ministries. Now is the time, though, to examine the focal points of those ministries and align them to God’s vision for the church. As you adapt and reorganize, you also have the opportunity to shape the essence of your spiritual formation ministry.

Adaptation and reorganization can be challenging for people, but as my pastor says, “It is hard for people to be down on what they are up on.” Communication is essential at this time. I encourage you to go through an exercise similar to the one above with key leadership and seize this Adaptation Opportunity to foster lifelong, transformation discipleship.

Author: J Cardinell, Associate Pastor of Education, Fairview Baptist Church, Coushatta, LA

What’s So Great About the Great Commission?

Hudson Taylor, missionary to China in the 1800’s, may have been the one to popularize the term Great Commission for Jesus’ last command to his followers on earth.

Matthew 28:18-20 CSB – “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

What’s so great about the Great Commission? For starters:

  • Jesus said it. This is a directive straight from the Master himself. And it’s the last words he left with his followers. This statement makes it clear what Jesus wanted and expected the cause of our lives to be as his people until his return.
  • It’s repeated in all four gospels. The four gospels vary on some details about the life of Jesus. Some version of this Great Commission is repeated in all of them, as well as in the beginning of Acts. This tells us that this statement left an indelible mark on his followers & served as a highlight of Jesus’ teaching in their hearts and minds.
  • If we obey it, people are changed for eternity.Obedience to the great commission means communicating the gospel which will result in people being included in eternal life in Heaven forever. Neglect means the opposite.
  • Jesus did it and so did his first followers.If we want to follow the example of Christ and the early church, we’ll busy ourselves with going, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching them to obey the commands of Christ.
  • If you’re a Christian today, it’s because someone else took it seriously.

The question is: Do I live like this commission is GREAT? Do I take it seriously? Does my church take it seriously? Unfortunately, many of us as Christians LIVE like the Great Commission is NO BIG DEAL.

How can we make Jesus’ commission GREAT?

  • Get serious about how to be and make disciples.
  • Give to and pray for those who are on the front lines of making disciples worldwide.
  • Take responsibility for your home, neighborhood, and work place.
  • Use your gifts to serve through a local church that is purposing to make disciples.
  • Pray for those around you and look for opportunities to start conversations about the gospel.

Pray for Eastern Louisiana Baptist Association

Associational Mission Strategist: Richard Blue

  • Covers most of Livingston Parish.
  • Major cities are Denham Springs and Walker
  • 140,789 souls reside in the Eastern Louisiana Baptist Association.
  • 5% of the population, or 44,359, are evangelicals.
  • 72,788 or 52% of the population are listed as none’s or non-affiliated with any church.
  • 5,488, or 3.9% of the population, attended the 44 SBC churches in the Eastern Louisiana Baptist Association in 2019.
  • 8 new SBC churches have been planted in the Eastern Louisiana Baptist Association since 2010.

Church to Population ratio is 1 to 3,200. 5 new churches would be needed to get to our statewide ratio of 1 to 2,850. 26 new churches would be needed to get to NAMB’s suggested ratio of 1 to 2,000.

Livingston Parish has been one of the fastest growing parishes in Louisiana over the last 20 years, experiencing a growth rate of 10% annually. Devastating floods in 2016, which saw 80% of the land in the parish flooded, has not slowed the growth. Pray for the pastors and churches of the Eastern Louisiana Baptist Association. Pray for people to hunger for the gospel. Pray for believers who will share the gospel with neighbors, friends, and family members. Pray for Church Planters, RePlanters, and Partnering churches to join the workers in the harvest on the Northshore.

How to Reinvest in Small Group Leadership

Note: this post is Part 6 of a series entitled, “Rebuilding the Sunday School/Small Group Ministry in the Local Church.”

As we emerge from the pandemic, it is important for church leaders to reinvest in the Small Group leadership. So, why not take this opportunity to “reboot” and get back to the basics? Use these unusual circumstances to recapture the vision and purpose of Small Group Ministry.

Here are some ways our church has determined to reinvest:

Ongoing Training.  We have chosen to train our leaders through a combined Small Group study of our own.  Currently, we are walking through Allan Taylor’s “Sunday School Matters” video study. There are twelve sessions, so we come together and watch one video session per month.  At the same time, we are also reading Ken Braddy’s book, Breathing Life into the Sunday School, focusing on one chapter per month. Our monthly leader meetings offer great fellowship and discussion of these studies. Find a study/book that meets the needs and challenges your team.

Designate an “Apprentice Day.” Schedule a recurring “Apprentice Day.”  On this day, the Adult and Youth Sunday School Teachers hold a breakfast meeting during Sunday School while their apprentices teach the classes. The meeting focuses on organizing classes for ministry and growth, which accomplishes two goals: 1) developing future teachers for a growing ministry and 2) recruiting more class leaders for other roles (i.e. Fellowship, Outreach, Class Secretary, etc.).

Offer Sunday School Teachers’ Roundtable. Hold a Sunday School Teachers’ Roundtable on Wednesday nights (or any other time that suits). One teacher can lead the discussion as others share lesson plans for the upcoming Sunday, discuss the applicable Scriptures and how to encourage class members to live them out in everyday life.

Special Speakers. Engage a Bible scholar or professor for a short term unit to teach the congregation about a specific Bible doctrine, topic, or book. (This might take place on Sunday evenings.) For instance, our church invited a professor from a local college to discuss Creation and The Fall. We made the teaching event available to everyone, but emphasized it to our Sunday School Teachers. Our leadership responded so well, that we plan to do this again, each January.

Offsite Training. Encourage Teachers and other class leaders to attend an outside training event, like Louisiana Baptists’ ”ReGroup Conference” (August 14, McClendon BC, West Monroe). Our leadership will make it a “road trip,” finding somewhere good to eat, after the training, so we can debrief and fellowship. After a day of inspiration and new ideas, leaders will be excited to share.

Provide Needed Resources. Make sure teachers have the resources they need and will use! Find out what your teachers want in order to benefit while teaching their classes. Some will prefer to use Leader Packs with the maps and posters.  Others may like a commentary or Quicksource. Once you know the preferences, work to provide those resources. This past year, our church bought each of our teachers the Ultimate Bible Guide.  Resource your teachers as much as you can.

These are just a few ways to reinvest in your Small Group Leadership…training, equipping, learning from one another, getting others involved, hearing from experts and scholars, supplying teaching supplements, and gifting books for their personal libraries–all are ways to reinvest in your Bible champions!

Author: Kevin Roberts, Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church, Pineville.

Making Small Group a Priority of the Church Again

Note: this post is Part 5 of a series entitled, “Rebuilding the Sunday School/Small Group Ministry in the Local Church.”

I’ve never met a Pastor who didn’t agree that the Sunday School or Small Group Ministry in their church is important. However, I have discovered that most Pastors spend very little time actually involved in the week-to-week work of making it the best it can be. Please don’t mistake this as a criticism. I’m simply asking you to evaluate how much time, energy, and resources your church puts into the Sunday School or Small Group Ministry.

When the pandemic hit, every church worked hard to make sure that Worship was online, or, available in some form for participation. The next step was to get Sunday School/Small Groups online. A lot of time and energy was devoted to making them available, but, not much direction or training was given on how to maximize the experience for members. Early on, people participated. Then, as time went on, people dropped out, or, their video feed dropped off and so did their engagement level.

Currently, most of our churches are still struggling to get people to attend weekly Bible study in-person or online. What the pandemic revealed was that we weren’t doing a great job of staying connected during the week… just on Sundays or whenever the Bible study was held. In the midst of our changing environment, we still depended on the designated weekly time to “engage” our members in Bible study and ministry. Separated by time and space, many just stopped participating, and the truth is, we are not sure why they stopped.

Consider this…pre-pandemic, the Small Group ministry in our churches was more about an event, rather than the people. It was easy when the people showed up. But, when we couldn’t see them face to face every week, our attempts to stay connected and engaged became more challenging. Now that many groups are meeting regularly, again, we are noticing lots of empty seats. And, added to that, we aren’t really reaching a lot of new people at this time.

Basically, we forgot that the main thing is connecting people to God and to each other, not to a weekly event or location. So, how do we overcome our situation and start having healthy, growing groups again?

  1. Focus on Relationships – Pastor, love on and pay attention to your Sunday School/Small Group leaders. Encourage them, inspire them, challenge them—love on them. In turn, ask them to do the same for EVERY member of their group.
  2. Communicate the Value and Purpose of Groups – People sense and know your priorities within the church. If you don’t talk about or engage in the leadership and direction of your Small Group ministry, these leaders will not have the same sense of urgency that you want them to have about their ministry role. Talk about it from the pulpit, in person, and in digital and print form.
  3. Start new groups, recruit new leaders – Realize that many people will not be back. Move forward, instead of spending lots of time trying to get them back into their old groups, start new groups with new leaders– giving new opportunities for returning and new attenders. New groups grow faster and reach more people than older established groups. That’s a fact. This may not be the easiest thing you will do this year, but it could be the most significant thing you do.

Your Brown Bag Miracle

Over the last year we’ve been asked to cut back on most everything – time with family, trips to restaurants, retail establishments and public gatherings. During the recent winter storm we’ve been asked to cut back on our power usage, water usage and more due to the demand on the system.

While our infrastructures may be limited in their ability to meet currents demands, I’m reminded that God’s resources are not.

Take the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 in John 6. From nothing, Jesus fed the multitudes! He does that which otherwise seems impossible. Like the other miracles, this miracle confirms who Jesus is, confirms what others say about Him, and what He said about Himself. This miracle appears in all four Gospels so I believe God is trying to communicate something of importance if we’ll take a moment to reflect on this truth.

If other miracles communicate “nothing is too big for God” (and this miracle stands in agreement with that) this miracle reveals “nothing is too small for God.” We need to be reminded of that sometimes – maybe even today. Roofs are leaking, pipes are bursting, no electricity, no water—all small problems on the global scale, but still very real, especially when it’s happening to you.

In this miracle Jesus reveals several things:

  1. He cares.

You know what I like about this miracle? It’s just a kid’s lunch. It’s not the royal official’s son who is about to die. It’s not the man by the pool for 38 years. The crowd gathered with Jesus and His disciples have only been there a day. They are not going to starve to death if they do not have something to eat. Uncomfortable? Yes. Sick? Possibly. At the point of death? No! But this miracle shows you don’t have to be dying or permanently disfigured for God to care.

Does it make a difference for you to know that if it is important to you, it is important to Him?

Some of you might be thinking, “Well, his need is greater—her need is greater.” Don’t fall into the comparison trap. Your need is great because it is yours.  And because it is your need, your Heavenly Father cares.

  1. He is conforming.

I believe John 6:6 is the most important verse in this miracle. Jesus asked the disciples about feeding the multitudes in order to “test them.” Interesting isn’t it? Are the disciples needed for the miracle? No. Yet we see in all of His miracles. Jesus, the Master, Messiah, Miracle-worker, uses weak people to produce the miracle. Could He be doing the same in you? He is conforming you to His will. What if what you are struggling with today is a test?

Does it make a difference that your trial may be a test?

It should – because if it is a test, God is the One in control of the test. Know this – God tests you not to defeat you, but to develop you.

He is conforming you to His way, His Word, and His Will. How can that make a difference in what you are facing today?

  1. He is confirming who He is.

Realize in the midst of your need, God knows what He is going to do.

God has a plan. There is no panic in Heaven. There are no emergencies in Heaven. Just because Jesus sent the disciples to look, certainly did not mean He had no idea of what He was going to do. So, why did He send them? First, they had more than they thought. Second, what they had was still woefully short. So when they collected twelve baskets of leftovers, everyone knew Jesus performed this miracle.

As many have said, “You do not know that Jesus is all you need until He is all you’ve got.”

As we come out of another trying circumstance and head towards the next (sorry to be the bearer of bad news) remember nothing is too big, or too small, for your heavenly Father. He has a plan that will meet your need and in the process, show people who He is and make you more like Him.