In his book Sunday School That Really Works, Steve Parr shares research about churches that provided ongoing training for their leaders compared to those that did not. The churches that provided training at least four times a year over a three-year time period grew more than 10 percent in attendance over that time, while churches that provided no training declined (pp. 62-63). Other factors may have contributed to the growth in those churches, but we must assume that ongoing training had some impact.
This type of training involves more than reviewing upcoming lessons. That approach might help some teachers, but simply reviewing the lesson eventually becomes counterproductive. The teachers receive the subtle message that the leader wants to tell them what to do and how to do it (micromanaged) or that the leader thinks they aren’t capable of studying and need to be rescued (messiah complex). There is a better way! Train them to be their best. Here are six steps for creating an effective plan for ongoing leader training.
Step 1. List All the Tasks
Create a list of everything you expect a Bible study leader to do or to be able to help someone else do. Don’t forget to include things you expect them to know as well, like who to call if someone in their group needs counseling.
Step 2. Categorize the Tasks
Review all your tasks and categorize them as either handout, video, or strategic. If that item can be addressed by a handout, then create the handout. You don’t need to call a meeting to explain how to make coffee. You might create a list of local resources you have vetted that could be distributed as a handout as well. Some things can be handled by video, especially things that rarely change. Visiting a hospital today is very similar to visiting a hospital visit 20 years ago. Shooting the video on your phone can be just as effective. The tasks you identify as strategic are the ones you need to address personally. These may be strategic because of the task (like teaching evangelistically) or because of the needs of your church (church without a pastor, so pastoral care may fall on the Bible study leaders). Rank the strategic tasks to help you plan.
Step 3. Schedule the Training
Determine how often you plan to offer training. Most leaders provide either monthly or quarterly training. If you do it monthly, you will most likely be conducting nine meetings (you will not plan a meeting in December or July, and the meeting prior to the start of the Sunday School year will be more inspirational in nature). If you conduct them quarterly, you will most likely conduct three training meetings with the one immediately prior to the new Sunday School year being inspirational. Assign the strategic tasks to each one of the training dates you have selected. Place the more strategic tasks on the days you anticipate the largest attendance.
Step 4. Gather Your Content
Create a file (actual or digital) for each task and start placing content in that folder. In effect, you are building a “go to” source for the future. After conducting training on that subject, place a copy of the plans you used in that folder. If someone calls you in the future needing help, you at least have a starting point. (I have more than 20 years’ worth of content in my folders, adding articles and ideas regularly. That folder set is invaluable to me.)
Step 5. Conduct the Training
Prepare to lead the training, and then do it to the best of your ability. If you are the leader, then you ought to be the one leading the training. If you are not the expert on a subject, become one. Read about it and learn to do it. Show them how as best as you can. Training others to lead Bible study groups makes you valuable to the organization. Room is always made for a person who helps others succeed.
Step 6. Evaluate
Evaluate yourself so you can grow as a trainer or coach. Ask people who attended the meeting to give you tips. Let them know you want to improve and need their help. Also evaluate the training plan. Other needs may have surfaced since you put together the plan. If you believe that need to be strategic, then look at how you can rearrange the remaining training sessions.
Aubrey Malphurs states: “If we ask our people to lead any ministry of the church, we’re responsible to provide them with continual leadership training. If we can’t do this, we have no business asking them to serve, doing both them and the ministry an injustice” (Building Leader, p. 27). This may seem harsh, but there is a great deal of wisdom in what Dr. Malphurs shares, and we need to heed his wisdom.
G. Dwayne McCrary is a project team leader for ongoing adult Bible study resources at Lifeway, including the adult Explore the Bible resources. He also teaches an adult group and preschool group every Sunday in the church he attends.