When was the last time your church used the word “outreach”? When you use the word “outreach” does your church automatically focus internally on taking care of the needs of current members or focus outward toward a lost world? It seems pretty apparent to me as I work with churches, that many have lost the vision for what outreach really is for the local church, especially when it relates to their Sunday School/Small Group Bible study ministries. Many Sunday Schools, small groups, and churches do not seem to place much priority on visitation, contacts, follow-up and outreach in general. Research continues to reveal that most churches (and their Sunday School/ small groups) are plateaued or declining in their enrollment, attendance and baptisms. If your church is struggling in this area, or if you have lost sight of this work, perhaps you should rethink outreach through the Sunday School & small groups.
Observed Trends that may Contribute to this Dilemma
- Adult groups, both Sunday School and small group models, have focused primarily on Bible study and fellowship. While these should be a priority, especially Bible study, if we stop inviting prospects and unchurched people to our classes and groups then the focus becomes inward.
- When adult Sunday School or small groups begin to focus inwardly, then there is no need to start new classes and groups; nor is there a need to encourage members to leave and teach in other age-groups. To do so would disrupt one’s Bible study and fellowship.
- Follow-up of prospects and inactive members ceases to be a priority as well. Events such as Vacation Bible School, Harvest Parties, Easter Egg Hunts, often provide names of children and parents who are not involved in a church. Worship service guests are often asked for contact information in the form of guests cards. Unfortunately, little is done with these names to connect and assimilate them into the small group ministries of the church.
- There seems to be an assumption that is based on people’s needs instead of the biblical mandate. That assumption is that visitation no longer works. The argument is because people are busy and don’t want to be contacted and bothered. While we should use wisdom as we reach out to the unchurched, we can’t ignore the gospel. Plus, we need to realize the reality that, when the gospel is shared, there has been and always will be resistance. There will always be people who don’t like the church fulfilling their mandate to share the gospel by whatever means available.
I believe some of the most influential persons in the church are the adult Sunday School or Small Group teachers. Group leaders have tremendous influence over the adults entrusted to their care, as well as the purpose and direction of their class or group.
How can an adult group teacher influence the challenges facing the church today?
- Lead your class/group to be outwardly focused. Do mission projects through your class/group.
- Strongly encourage individuals in your class/group to serve in other areas and to start new classes and groups. Lead your class to fulfill the Great Commission through making disciples!
- Reconnect with inactive members. Follow-up with prospects until they are followers of Christ, assimilated into the church and learning to serve others.
Times have changed and will continue to change dramatically. However, the personal touch is still a human need in our high-tech, impersonal world. People still want and need friends.
Jeff Ingram is a member of BACE and the Adult Ministry Strategist for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.