By Ken Braddy
A few years ago my wife and I were in the process of searching for a new church home. We visited numerous churches and Bible study groups, and learned a lot about ways that churches are steering guests to groups.
Although most of our visits were pleasant enough, one church in particular ushered us to a group Bible study. A staff member who had escorted us opened the classroom door and completely lost us when he said (seriously) to the teacher and the group members, “Hey, I’ve brought you some fresh meat.”
He turned and left us standing in the doorway – talk about an awkward moment! I wouldn’t recommend that approach if you’re trying to guide people to the right Bible study group.
So what is a good way to guide people to a group where they’ll stick? The research from Transformational Groups tells us that people in groups pray more, give more, serve more, and “stick” more than people who are not involved in a group study.
Guiding people to the right group is so important, and there are several ways churches can do this with great intentionality.
1. Guide people to groups based on a starting point.
When you have a couple or an individual seeking to get connected to a Bible study group, one approach is to ask the person how they prefer to study the Bible.
At Lifeway, we have learned that people generally fall into one of three categories (starting points) for Bible study: text, life, or theology/chronology. Some people like studying a book of the Bible, going slower and covering most of the chapters and verses so they have a good understanding of the particular book of the Bible (we call that a starting point based on text).
There are others who don’t mind that approach, but really prefer to study the Bible based on a particular life issue; they want to know what the Bible says about marriage, divorce, family, creation, gender, the return of Christ, and a host of other real-life topics. The person who wants this kind of Bible study group has a starting point we call “life.”
The final kind of person who may want to connect with our churches for Bible study has a different preference altogether. Some people like to start their study of the Bible with theology and chronology as they attempt to grasp the storyline of Scripture and how all the books of the Bible connect to tell a larger story, the story of Christ.
It helps them to study the Bible chronologically so they can see theological concepts unfold on the pages of Scripture as they understand the order of events surrounding the meta-narrative of Scripture.
2. Guide people to groups based on the group’s leader.
A legitimate question to ask a potential group member is, “What kind of teaching do you prefer?” There are some people who prefer to sit under a teacher who predominantly lectures and guides the group’s study.
Others prefer a more interactive approach to learning, and like a more discussion-based teaching approach, valuing the opportunity to provide input, ask questions, and share their insights.
3. Guide people to groups based on size of group.
Most churches have variety when you consider the size of the groups. People seeking to connect will have preferences based on the overall size of the group.
Some people will feel much more comfortable and at home in a smaller group of 10 to 12 people. Others like a mid-sized group of 16-20 people, while still others prefer larger groups of 25 or more people.
One size may not fit all, so if your church has groups of varying sizes, you might consider guiding people based on this preference. Small, medium, and large groups all have advantages and disadvantages, so if you have a variety of different sized groups, let that work to your advantage and ask potential group members if they prefer a certain size group.
4. Guide people to groups based on the age range of group members.
This is a classic approach to placing people in groups. It works best when the group has an age range of 10 years or fewer.
5. Guide people to groups based on life stage.
Another popular approach to guiding people to groups is to base the recommendation on the life stage of the group members.
Offering groups such as parents of preschoolers, singles, college/career, empty nesters, and other kinds of life stages will place people in groups who are at a similar life stage. These people will bond quickly since they share much in common through their life stage.
6. Guide people to groups based on affinity.
If your church has what are known as “affinity” groups, use those to your advantage when guiding people to a Bible study group. Do you have groups for people who are golfers, bikers, hunters, or newer believers?
Sometimes gathering together with people who have similar interests helps connect people to the body of Christ more quickly than another kind of group.
7. Guide people to groups based on the group’s age.
This one will take just a little bit of explaining! This is different from sending people to a group based on the age of the people in it, but rather based on the age of the group itself since its inception.
It’s a tried and true fact of group life that newer groups grow faster than older, established groups. If you really want people to “stick” when they visit a group, send them to one of your newest ones.
8. Guide people to groups based on the group’s location.
You’ll have some potential group members who want the convenience of an on-campus group. Others will prefer the benefits of more intimate, off-campus home-based groups.
If your church offers both kinds of groups, ask your potential group members if they have a preference.
Connecting people to Bible study groups isn’t an easy thing to do. Churches everywhere must become more proficient in moving people out of rows (worship centers) and into circles (Bible study groups).
Clearly explain people’s options to them through the church website, brochures, and conversations with your greeter ministry team members. Using one or more of the above ways to guide people to groups will help you more quickly assimilate people into the life of your church through its groups ministry.