LifeWay Christian Resources is challenging churches to start 100,000 new Bible study groups by the end of this year.
The new groups initiative is a partnership between churches, state conventions and LifeWay.
It’s designed to help longtime churchgoers jumpstart their faith and to help new believers grow spiritually, Bruce Raley, director of church education ministry for LifeWay, said.
Whether they meet on Sunday mornings or during the week, small groups are the best way to learn the habits of faith, such as prayer, Bible study and serving others, Raley said.
“Discipleship takes place best in the context of a relationship,” he said. “And relationships are most likely to develop in a small group.”
So far, about 17,000 new groups have been registered at GroupsMatter.com, which includes guides for starting new groups, resources for new leaders, and promotional materials.
Raley and other organizers say the new groups can be started at any point in the year. But they suggest the first Sunday in September as one of the best options. That way, he said, churches can spend the summer months getting ready.
“We believe thousands of new groups will kick off on that day,” he said.
The idea of starting 100,000 new groups began as a grassroots effort.
About three years ago, Bob Mayfield, a small groups expert at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and some other state small groups leaders were having breakfast at a denominational meeting and talking about ways to draw more people into groups.
“We needed something dynamic — something our people could grab hold of,” he said.
Not long afterwards, Mayfield and the others met with Raley, who brought up the idea of starting 100,000 new groups, as part of the Groups Matter campaign. It was just what they needed to hear, Mayfield said.
“This is something people have been waiting to do,” he said. “But nobody had said, ‘This is what we are going to do.'”
The new initiative piggybacks on existing small group ministries that most churches already provide, Mayfield said.
“It’s the one strategy virtually all of our churches have — either they call it Sunday School, life groups or community groups,” he said. “It’s already the largest organization in most churches.”
And small groups are often their most effective discipleship program. Small group members read the Bible more, give more and are usually more spiritually mature.
A study of 3,500 Protestant churchgoers in North America from LifeWay Research found that those who belong to a Bible study group are more likely to go to church at least four times a month (79 percent) and to read the Bible daily (28 percent). Being in a group helps them feel closer to God (69 percent) and understand the Bible better (74 percent), and become more loving in their relationships (47 percent).
Group members also develop deep friendships, often staying together for years.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press