By Dr. Steve R. Parr
Gwinnett Metro Baptist Network
It was just over one year ago when the pandemic became such a serious concern that businesses, schools, and churches closed down in-person experiences. At worst, people were operating from fear and at best from an abundance of caution. I don’t judge anyone regarding decision making given the unprecedented circumstances in which leaders found themselves. Maybe you were like me in thinking that the pandemic would all soon pass. I certainly learned that I am no prophet given that I kept expecting the next couple of months to be the turnaround. I thought that all year long.
I honestly think that with one year of accumulated knowledge, better understanding of protocols, accessibility to vaccines, and evolving therapeutics, we are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Lifeway Research reported in February 2021 that 76% of churches now provide in-person worship with about 36% of small groups now meeting in-person plus an additional 25% meeting online. Most churches that meet in person are currently averaging between 50% to 70% of their pre-COVID-19 in-person attendance.
Is it time to get your groups back on track? The answer is yes! It is time, and it will not happen overnight. Let’s consider what needs to happen next whether you are already regathering in person or not.
Plan a soft launch and a hard launch for your Bible study groups.
Let’s work in reverse. Begin now planning for a major (hard) relaunch of your groups when school starts back in August. I’m not suggesting that you should wait until then. I am suggesting that the August timeframe should be a major emphasis. I call the start of school every year the “Baptist New Year.” It is the season when we enlist and train new leaders, launch new groups, re-enlist and enroll people into groups, and move kids and teens to new groups when applicable.
Begin working now with the assumption that you will be fully back in August and you can adjust otherwise if you are not. You may have already had a soft relaunch where you are struggling to get your groups back together. If you have struggled do not be concerned. You are in the same boat with everyone else. If you have not yet re-opened your groups to in-person experiences, now is the time. With a soft launch you may limit the number of groups, have fewer groups, and not sweat over attendance at this point understanding people are still in “caution” mode. In summary, start or continue a soft launch now and plan for a hard (full) relaunch in August.
Organize based on who you want to reach rather than who is attending.
Growth is prompted more by expansion than contraction. In other words, adding a new group or groups can be an impetus for growth. I am for that. However, in this environment and in the initial stages of the relaunch, you will likely have fewer groups than you did pre-Covid. If you only have four students attending there is no point in having three groups at this point. Relaunch with one group with the expectation that you will expand again in the future.
But just as importantly, you must have groups for “all life stages.” You may think you need no preschool groups if you have no preschool kids. You never will unless you have a preschool group in place. Do you want to reach preschoolers and parents of preschoolers? Make sure you have a group for those you want to reach rather simply for those who attend and apply this strategy across the board. The first thing any group needs is a leader, not an attender.
Now is the perfect time to totally reorient your groups.
Getting groups to change rooms/locations, getting groups to launch new groups (“Don’t split our class!”), and getting groups to do outreach has always been an uphill climb. Many leaders have always wished they could just start over and orient everything appropriately. Guess what? Now you can. Don’t organize based on the past but based on the future of what it will take to lead your groups to advance.
Don’t neglect the one tangible principle that leads groups to thrive.
What is that one thing? It is biblically found in Ephesians 4:11-16 and specifically in verse 12. The result found in verse 15 is that it “causes the growth of the body.” The biblical practice found in verse 12 is the “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry.” Yes, it takes prayer and growth is undoubtedly a work of God. But do not ignore this biblical concept that was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not as an idea, but as a tangible expectation. In addition, the concept can actually be quantified.
Churches that provide “training systems” for their (Bible Study) leaders clearly experience more growth, that is people coming to faith and moving through the discipleship process, than churches that do not provide training. Admittedly training has changed. You will likely not have success with “weekly workers meetings” or 5 p.m. Sunday night teacher training. But Covid may have given you a gift in this regard. Training is possible and available practically 24/7 because of technology and your leaders have now grown accustomed to it.
What is the system you should use? The possibilities are numerous and the only one which will undoubtedly lead to failure is the one that does not exist. Grow your leaders and they will help to grow your groups.