As a new year begins, many people resolve to leave bad habits behind while embracing better ones. Among people’s most common resolutions, according to a study by Lifeway Research, are losing weight, staying fit and healthy, enjoying life, spending less and saving more and spending more time with family and friends. Most of us have made one or more of these personal resolutions.
Bible study groups can also act on a number of ideas that help them become healthier, more focused and more effective in making disciples. The start of a new year is the perfect time for groups to consider ideas they could pursue together.
No matter which ideas a Bible study group chooses to pursue in the new year, leaders must make SMART decisions. This acronym can guide a group to make good resolutions for a new year of ministry. The goals pursued should be:
With this in mind, here are 10 ideas that would benefit Bible study small groups:
- Plant a new group by the start of summer.
Too many groups don’t reproduce themselves by planting another group. New groups tend to grow faster than established ones, and they have a more intense focus on people who are not connected to a group (or the church). On average, one new group will reach a total of 10 new people, creating life and energy in a church’s group ministry. Healthy things grow, and growing things change. Groups can evolve and change by planting new ones.
- Engage in quarterly community ministry projects.
One of the visible signs that a disciple is growing is their willingness to serve God and others. Four community ministry projects per year give group members the opportunity to serve God and others and focus their ministry on people in the community.
- Schedule four fellowship events this year.
It’s been said connection and community will outweigh content in our post-COVID world. People can find and consume all kinds of biblical content online, but they cannot receive face-to-face interaction with others in an online environment.
Bible study groups make a good decision to increase the fellowship opportunities of the group members. These don’t have to be expensive, but they do need to be regular. Every time a group has a fellowship event, everyone should be invited — regular attenders, absentees and potential group members.
- Enlist an apprentice leader in the first 30 days of the new year.
Every group should have an apprentice leader, someone who is being intentionally trained and coached to plant another group in the future.
Without apprentice leaders, churches will struggle to plant new groups. Apprentice leaders keep a group of people focused on reaching new members. Apprentice leaders also help in the fight against the idea of permanence — the idea that a group will be together forever, or at least a very long time. And they signal that the group will plant a new one, some people will leave the group to start a new one with the apprentice leader, and that the cycle will continue with a new apprentice leader.
- Teach every group member how to share the gospel.
What a great resolution for a group to make! When I led two different Bible study groups, I took time to teach my group members two important things. First, how to articulate their testimonies.
They learned from me that a testimony is made up of three things: what their life was like before coming to Christ, how they came to Christ, and what life has been like since then. I had them write out their testimonies, then share them with a partner during a group session. The second thing group members need to know is a simple gospel presentation. Using only Romans 6:23, I taught my people how to share the gospel with someone in under five minutes.
- Send out at least 20% of the group members to serve in church ministries.
Groups should be clearing houses, not building storehouses.
A great new year’s goal is to make sure group members are regularly encouraged to leave the group to serve in church ministries. It should be a group’s goal to send out 20% of its members to be leaders in the church’s kids and student ministries.
Adult groups are the primary source of new leaders, so holding onto group members is not the proper goal —holding them with a loose grip is. It should be a joyful occasion when people leave a group to use their God-given gifts to serve others.
- Bless the pastor and staff with random acts of kindness each month.
Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, pastors and staff leaders have been through difficult times. Some have been approached by church members who were not pleased with their leadership or their approach to issues during the pandemic (masks or no masks, reopen or remain closed, etc.).
Our pastors need to hear words of encouragement. And groups can undertake service projects at their homes (such as cutting the grass) that puts some time back in their pastor’s schedule. Not only will a group bless their pastor and staff, but they will also grow closer as a group when they serve together.
- Wear name tags weekly.
This one is pretty simple to do! A group can purchase the “Hello… My Name Is _______” stick-on name tags and ask every member to wear one at each Bible study. It makes assimilating new people easier, and it also helps group members remember one another’s names.
Wearing name tags signals that a Bible study group is expecting new people each week and is setting the stage for a great experience for guests.
- Study from an ongoing Bible study series.
Each of these has a well-planned scope (the total number of studies) and sequence (the order in which they’re studied). A strong scope and sequence provide a balanced experience over time. Ongoing studies are also designed to provide satisfying, stand-alone sessions each week. This is increasingly more important as people’s attendance patterns become more and more non-linear.
Ongoing studies also provide resources for group members to study on their own, which empowers group members to self-feed between the times they participate in a Bible study.
- Adopt a kids’ group.
A great idea for adult groups is to adopt a kids’ ministry group.
The adult group can provide substitute teacher support to the adults leading the kids’ group and send group members to teach the kids’ class once a month so the teachers in the kids’ group can spend a Sunday morning reconnecting to a group of adults.
One of the side benefits of this practice is that some of the adult group members will realize they enjoy teaching kids and may leave their adult group to serve in the kids’ ministry.
As you make personal decisions about the new year, make sure your Bible study groups think of ideas to do the same. Set goals early (SMART ones), keep them, and watch your group grow in a variety of new ways.