Note: this post is the fifth entry 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.