Overseeing Adult Ministry

March 24th, 2012

Small groups are an excellent way to preserve intimacy as a church grows, but there are often growing pains associated with new groups and new group members. Change always creates stress, but often in adult education we try to avoid stress by simply ignoring change. We think if we ignore it, maybe it will go away.

Churches often expect adult groups to take care of themselves. Groups do need to feel independent, but without some organization you will find groups going in all directions, or more likely in no direction at all! Adult education must reach into every facet of life and encompass persons with no background in the faith, as well as persons who are ready to dig deeply into their spirituality. Needs vary widely, and groups need some oversight to ensure they are fulfilling their purpose appropriately.

Know the Personalities of Your Groups & Leaders

Whether your church has two or twenty groups, each group has its own personality. Warren Hartman outlined five categories of adult groups:

  • social action (centered on carrying out faith in service to other people)
  • traditionalists (centered on studying the Bible)
  • study (centered on studying faith and how it affects personal life events)
  • fellowship (centered around common life experiences)
  • multiple interest (combining two or more categories)

It is also important to know the leaders of your groups personally. Groups are much more open to change when suggestions come from someone they trust. When you know the personality traits of leaders you are better able to approach them.

If your ministry involves responsibilities for all age levels it is tempting to spend most of your time with the leaders of children and youth. Make time to visit and understand the needs of your adult ministries' leaders too!

Know What’s Happening in Your Groups

Because adult groups usually act independently, you must make an effort to know the content of what they are studying. If a group is studying questionable material, it is easier to redirect them early on. Provide copies of study materials that are within the teachings of your church. Arrange to discuss possible study themes with the leaders. Set up a display so that all adults will know what is available through your church. This discourages the selection of a book simply because it has a catchy title or flashy cover.

Adult groups can become self-centered. Provide groups with information and leadership for outreach and mission projects. If all the goals of an adult group are inner-directed and self-serving, then the members will be less likely to grow spiritually.

Monitor the Size and Format of Your Groups

Discussion groups do not function well when they grow larger than twenty-five to thirty members, unless the leader has the group discuss in smaller groups. Large group "discussions" usually center around dominant personalities, and others have limited opportunity to express their opinions.

There is a difference between multiplication and division when it comes to adult education! Dividing groups creates friction, particularly when members have been together for some time. Creating new groups, by asking members of an existing group to take a sabbatical from their group to help form new groups, works better than dividing. New groups should invite new people or feature a specific subject of study that interests people who are not already involved in adult education. Make sure visitors to your church are also invited, sometimes that is all it takes to grow new groups.

Change will come in any ministry that is growing. But with the foresight and understanding that a hands-on approach can bring, you can minimize the stress that such change brings.

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