“I left that church because they just didn’t care about me or my family.”
Haven’t you heard someone say that of their church or Bible study group, or have you seen something like this in social media? Sometimes a church accidentally drops the ball and misses an opportunity to minister to a person or a family. No one sets out to ignore the needs of others, but it happens occasionally. At other times a well-meaning group leader might suggest that we “drop” people from a list of Bible study participants “because we haven’t seen them in a long time.” To bolster a group’s percentage of attendance, a group leader might lobby to delete the name of a person or a couple simply because they have been absent for an extended time (this has been asked of me numerous times over the years!). This isn’t the time to drop a person – it’s the time to pull them back into the life of the group. It’s an opportunity to care for people more deeply!
Now that we are in our sixth month of COVID-19 distancing, it is a good time to make plans for reclaiming group members who have been absent over the summer. We will also want to make sure that regular attenders are also cared for. The needs of these two very different kinds of people can be met through a time-honored way of organizing groups into smaller sub-groups. For decades we have referred to these groups as “care groups.” As Sunday School groups begin to return to the church campus, we have an opportunity to hit a “reset” button and begin doing some things we should have all along. Instituting care groups in every adult Bible study group is one of those things we should do, thanking the Lord for the chance to use care groups to care for people while COVID-19 continues to make things difficult for groups.
What is a Care Group?
A care group is a smaller “group within a group.” Normally a care group is composed of six to eight group members. Single-gender care groups have advantages over co-ed groups, in my experience. I’d recommend that care groups are organized into men-only and women-only groups.
What Does a Care Group Leader Do?
In its most basic form, the care-group leader’s responsibility is very simple: contact every member in the care group every week. Some care-group leaders can take it a step further by adding prospective members to their weekly contact list. Some class situations call for the care-group leader to perform additional duties. In an arrangement where the last 10 to 15 minutes of the class time are set aside for sharing and praying in care groups, the group leader will lead this time with his or her group.
In large classes that employ a master-teacher/small-group approach that intersperses short lectures from the teacher with brief periods of discussion in small groups, care groups can sit together in semicircles with the care-group leader facilitating the discussion, typically utilizing questions provided before the class session. Occasionally, a care-group leader will step it up a notch on his or her own, initiating a caring response to a group member’s need or planning a ministry or mission activity just for the care group. When you lay out a picture like this for potential group leaders, you’ll be amazed how many God will lead to say yes.
How Might Your Church Begin a Care Group Ministry?
Don’t let COVID-19 keep you from taking this time to reinvent your Sunday School’s Bible teaching ministry. As groups return to the church campus (many groups are doing that now), or as your church sets a target date for later this year for the return of on-campus Sunday School groups, here are some key steps in implementing a care group ministry:
1. Explain the concept to your current group leaders. Using information from this article, help group leaders become familiar with the concept of care groups.
2. Seek buy-in by focusing on the benefits of a care group ministry. Care groups reduce the number of people in our churches who “slip through the cracks” and disappear. By ministering to adult members of care groups, we keep entire families engaged in the church.
3. Provide every group leader with a copy of the group’s ministry list. This is the list of all the members of a group – their names, addresses, contact information, and things like birthdays and anniversary dates.
4. Divide each group’s members into care groups of 6 to 8 people. Before you do this, see number 5 below!
5. Balance every care group with people who attend regularly, occasionally, and infrequently. As you create care groups, be sure to balance them! No one wants to be the care group leader who has all of the people who don’t attend regularly. Balance this so that each care group has a mix of people who attend often, sometimes, and seldom.
6. Ask group leaders to pray about inviting the right care group leaders to shepherd one of the new groups. Once a group leader has divided his or her group into smaller sub-groups, care group leaders must be recruited. Who is a good candidate for this work? People who are compassionate, dependable, and detail oriented. These may be some of the quieter people in your group!
7. Set a target date for care group leaders to contact the people assigned to their care group. Once recruited, hold your new care group leaders to a high standard and “put them on the clock.”
8. Determine how your church’s Sunday School classes will utilize care group leaders. Some care group leaders will do their work behind the scenes and outside of the class meeting. Other churches and Sunday Schools incorporate a 10-15 minute time during the Sunday School hour for care group leaders to meet with their group members at the end of the class time. On occasion, a teacher might ask care group leaders to meet with their people during the Bible study time, serving as group facilitators who ask their six to eight members to respond to a question or activity being driven by the teacher’s Bible study plan.