When I accepted the call to serve as Senior Pastor at Faith in York, Neb., I assumed that Adult Bible Class would be a walk in the park. I was coming from a 2,000+ member congregation in a large city. As Associate Pastor at St. Peter’s, I helped to oversee and execute a weekly Wednesday evening Bible study that brought in 300-400 people a week. This was in addition to teaching the Adult Information Class for new members and administrating the youth confirmation program. It did not take long to discover that rural and small town ministry has its own unique blessings and challenges! Over two years later, we are seeing 40–60 adults every Sunday morning for the pastor-led Bible class, in addition to strong attendance at many small groups that meet throughout the week. But it was not always this way. Here are some things I learned in my first two years at Faith.
Get the Lay of the Land
Every church is different, and it is important to understand where the congregation has been and where they would like to go. The first large-scale study we undertook at Faith brought new faces into the Adult Bible class, but it was also met with resistance. I might have avoided some heartache as the new pastor if I had been more patient.
Balance (διδάσκω) and (οἰκοδομή)
(διδάσκω) is a biblical Greek word for the kind of formal instruction at which Lutherans have historically been pretty adept. (οἰκοδομή) is the kind of teaching and learning we experience when we share life together. In 1 Thess. 5:11, Paul talks about “encouraging each other and building one another up.” This is an important function of the local congregation. At Faith, all the teachers are encouraged to know the material and to be able to share it compellingly, but we also understand that much of what brings adults into Bible class happens outside of Bible class!
Early into my time at the first ministry I served, I discovered that adults will more likely attend a study if there is an option available for their kids at the same time. Also, just about everyone is more excited to study if there is food present! This has held truth at Faith, and we often try to make sure some kind of refreshment is available when we gather to study God’s Word together.
Regardless of the generation you are attempting to reach, a congregation’s leadership must be intentional. I frequently mention the current Bible class topic in my preaching, and new faces are regularly encouraged to consider joining the discussion on Sunday mornings. We even managed, by God’s grace, to turn a potential Bible class destroyer into one of the most powerful evangelism tools at our disposal!
As with all things in ministry, this is an ongoing process. If you want more information, I invite you to join the free RSTM webinar on June 8th at 1 p.m. CST as I present on Teaching the Faith to Adults. I will also share some of the stories behind these revelations! In the meantime, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 402-362-3000.
LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission supports and encourages rural and small town congregations in engaging their communities and growing together in Christ through Word and Sacrament. If you have a good idea for outreach or a story you’d like to share so that we can share it with others, please email Amy Gerdts at email@example.com. Learn more about us at www.lcms.org/rstm ,by calling our office at 888-463-5127, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or “like” us on our facebook page at www.facebook.com/lcmsrstm.
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