Is Your Sunday School Class Too Big?

These factors will reveal if you need to create smaller Bible study groups.

People sitting close together

As we begin to regather in person for church and Sunday School, the size of our Bible study groups is suddenly becoming an issue. While social distancing may be one reason to consider the size of our group, some other factors ought to tell us our class is too big. 

As we begin to regather in person for church and Sunday School, the size of our Bible study groups is suddenly becoming an issue. Social distancing creates a new limit for us to consider. A room that might hold 10 couples prior to COVID now only has space for 6 couples. If our class is gender-based, that same room may now only hold half of what it could hold prior.

While social distancing may be one reason to consider the size of our group, some other factors ought to tell us our class is too big. 

Limited Interaction

As we regather, interaction with others will be more important. We have been relegated to our homes and online meetings. Nothing replaces face-to-face interaction, but interaction usually doesn’t happen in a larger group. Most of us will not take the risk of saying something in front of a larger group. Some interaction may still happen in a larger group but many will be left out of substantial interaction.

So how do you know when substantial interaction is less than it should be? One way is to recruit someone in the group to track the interactions during the group time. They should record the number of times each person talks and who they address. We may be surprised to find out how few people are actually engaged in the group time. While a variety of factors may contribute to the lack of interaction, the size of the group will be one of those factors. 

Fewer Teaching Methods

Another factor impacted by the group size is teaching methods. Some teaching methods just will not work in a larger group. As teachers, we lose some tools simply because of group size. The larger the group, the more likely we will rely on lectures only. One action to take is to review the methods used after a group time. Use a list of learning styles and see how many of those styles were used in the group time. Granted, other factors may impact the use of varied teaching methods, but we also know the limits of a method when it comes to size.

"If we want to reach people during this challenging season and help them grow spiritually, we will need to start new classes more frequently that are smaller in size."

Dwayne McCrary

No One Notices When Someone Misses

One more factor to note about the group size relates to mass. In a larger group, people become part of the scenery. As Major League Baseball restarted, several teams added cardboard cutouts to the stands. Fans could provide a photo and then look for themselves in the stands. The cutout fans are just a part of the scenery. The same can be said of a larger class, the people are a part of the scenery and can go unnoticed. When a person who once attended suddenly misses a few weeks and no one notices, the class is too big. As teachers, we are responsible for every sheep on our class list and we ought to at least know when that sheep is not present. 

So how big is too big? Prior to COVID, my answer would have been 18. The factors above impact that number as so does my ability to know the group. Most of us can present to larger groups, but teaching requires us to know the group so we can tailor the study to their lives. Most of us will need to relearn how to interact with people as we begin to regather which impacts my answer post COVID. Twelve may be our limit but we will not know for sure until we start gathering again. 

So what do we do if our class is too big? 

Recruit an apprentice. Help that apprentice get ready to take on the current class. Begin to ask the group to pray about starting a new group. Talk about the need for interaction and more flexible teaching options. Once the apprentice is ready, ask them to take over the current class. You can then recruit a few people in the current class and go start a new class. Build the new class and then start another one. If we want to reach people during this challenging season and help them grow spiritually, we will need to start new classes more frequently that are smaller in size.

Dwayne McCrary is a team leader for ongoing adult Bible study resources at LifeWay. He teaches an adult and preschool Bible study group in his church, and is an adjunct professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

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