By James P. Needham
The Group Teaching Program is a plan whereby the congregation is organized into small groups for teaching, training, work, and attendance checking. It is not a painless, effortless way for a church .to carry on its program. No such plan exists. There is no short cut to success. The program cannot succeed beyond the willingness of those who constitute it — it is not a self-propelled, or perpetual motion machine. The secret of the success of this program or any other is people with willing hearts and working hands. The reader should also understand that such a program as this is a mere expedient way to accomplish the mission of the local church. While expedients must come within the bounds of generic authority, they are man-made products and therefore are not perfect, or complete. They are to be used or discarded as seemeth best for they are matters of choice.
The Plan Described
1. The Groups: The church is divided up into small groups. The number of groups depends upon the size of the congregation. Every member of the church is assigned to one of the groups. This means that an accurate list of all members must be compiled. As new members are received, they are also assigned to a group, but the program should be thoroughly explained to new members so they will understand what will be expected of them.
2. The Group Teachers: The minimum qualifications of group leaders are: (1) Faithfulness, (2) Willingness to work, (3) Leadership, or willingness to develop such. The duties of the group teachers basically are: (1) To keep an accurate record of the attendance of the members of his group at all assemblies; (2) Account for all absences by calling upon them, or having someone within the group to do so. Attendance records may be kept on large wall charts or in notebooks. (3) Meet with his group according to the designated schedule for the purposes set out in the mission of the program, which may be: (a) To Study, (2) To engage in various works (e.g. personal evangelism), (3) Training for service, etc.
3. The Group Meetings: One group meets each week. Meetings are rotated among the groups beginning at number 1, and through the last, then repeating. The frequency of group meetings, then, is determined by the number of groups formed.
Group Meeting Activities: These may vary according to the wishes of each congregation, but here are some suggestions: (1) Have a short devotional period, a song led by a member of the group, a prayer, a short talk by the group teacher, or others he may designate. (2) Then the group gets down to some practical activities such as: (a) Checking to see who is absent from the meeting, and contacting them. (b) Looking over the attendance record and contacting those who have been absent from any assemblies since the last meeting. (c) Writing personal letters to all visitors to the services during the past week. (d) Assigning personal calls to group members where such is needed. (e) Sending cheer cards to the sick signed by members present, or write them personal letters.
As stated earlier, the plan and purpose of this expedient may be varied from church to church according to its needs, size, etc. This is one of the excellent features of the program. It can be molded to fit almost every situation, and need.
The Purposes of the Plan
Basically, the purposes of the group teaching plan are as follows:
1. Accounting for absences: It is difficult for most of us to mentally note the absence of everyone in a congregation of any size. Heb. 10:25 and other passages obligate us to attend assemblies of the church. This being the case, it becomes the duty of each Christian to encourage other Christians to be present at such assemblies. Assembling with the saints is not optional, if one wishes to please God. A church that wants to do right, will know why its members fail to attend the assemblies as they should. Today there is frequently a spirit of “live and let live” in the church; that is, if a person does not want to attend the assemblies, that is his business and we should not “bug” him about it.
2. Distribute the load of responsibility in the local church: The church is made up of individual Christians with varying abilities, with resultant responsibilities (Rom. 12:4). There are no “vestigial organs” in the body of Christ, but every part works, and every joint supplies (Eph. 4:16). Every man must prove his own work (Gal. 6:4). Every branch must bear fruit (Jn. 15). Every man shall have his own reward according to his own labor (1 Cor. 3:8). It is neither right nor good that in almost every church the majority of the work is done by a minority of the members. While most of us complain of this, we seldom realize that this is frequently the case because there is no method designed to harness the energy and talents of the members. The group teaching program is one way of solving this problem.
3. Gives every member a sense of belonging: All members are part of the body, “There are many members but one body” (1 Cor. 12:20). “We are members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). Due to shyness, ignorance, indifference, and other causes, some members never feel like they are a part of the church. This program can go a long way toward solving this problem. It puts members in closer contact with each other, and makes them co-workers in a common cause. (If it is objected that the groups would tend to isolate members of groups from other groups, this problem can be solved by having monthly or quarterly meetings of all groups together, and/or rotating members from group to group at given intervals.)
4. Discover and seek to help weaker members: The program brings stronger members into direct contact with weaker ones, and gives them a better chance to be helped. It is a fact that many congregations do not even know who the weaker members are, so how can they help them?
5. Tie up loose ends within the church: Many responsibilities are left unfulfilled in most local churches. Most churches urge visitors to sign the guest register, or fill out a visitor’s card, but to what purpose? It is, in many cases, never processed further than simply collecting it! This problem will not exist where the group teaching program functions efficiently because the visitor’s cards are turned over to the group teacher whose group is meeting that week, and he sees that letters are written or visits are made as the need may be. Sick and shut-in members are frequently left unattended because nobody seems to be interested. But with a group teaching program, someone can be assigned to call upon them.
6. Give elders closer contact with members: In congregations where there are elders (ideally in all, Tit. 1:5; Acts 14:23), the group teaching program can be just the thing the elders need to get the help they need to properly oversee the flock (Acts 20:28). It is a fact today that many elderships do not have the time, or do not take the time, to really see after the flock. Granted, elders have to work for a living, and take care of their family obligations, but they still have the obligation to oversee the flock. They do not have to personally take care of every little detail, but they have to see that the details are taken care of. The group teaching program can be just what they need.
7. Promote congregational activities: The group teaching program is a great asset when it comes to promoting congregational activities like gospel meetings or Bible schools. The group teachers can be prompted by the elders or others to make their group members aware of these activities, and work toward their success. This writer has witnessed a marked increase in congregational awareness of all such activities as the result of the group teaching program.
8. To teach and train: As stated earlier, the group teaching program can be molded to fit each church’s needs. If there is a need to teach and/ or train persons to be personal workers, how to better participate in worship, or to explore some Biblical subject, then the group meetings can be consumed in such activity until the need is met.
Essentials to the Success of the Plan
As stated above, the plan will not work by itself. It’s secret is people. There are some basic essentials to its success which I shall now note:
1. Good Leadership: A good leader is an aggressive leader. The group leaders must not wait for someone to tell them what to do. They must be able to see what needs to be done, and use group members in dispatching it. Good group leaders will also work closely with the elders, where there are such, so that all efforts will be coordinated through them. In the absence of elders, they will work closely with other group leaders and with the business meeting.
2. Full cooperation of the membership: The program cannot fully succeed unless the entire membership is determined that is shall. The program can function without this element, but not as successfully as it might otherwise.
Dangers to the Program
Every program has certain dangers it must face. Here are some I have observed to the group teaching program:
1. It soon becomes “old hat. ” Many people can get very excited about a new program, but soon the new wears off and they lose interest. This often comes about because too much is expected of the program. I cannot overly emphasize that this is not a “perpetual motion” machine. It requires much effort and continuous effort to succeed.
2. May lose sight of its mission: I have seen this happen more than once. I think this is a real danger to the program. It is, to say the least, a bit complex. Such complexities are likely to become an end within themselves, rather than a means to an end. We must be careful not to allow the tail to wag the dog or spend all our time and energy greasing the machine.
3. Members view support as optional: Some members always take the attitude that I am an individual, and I can decide which programs of the church I will support. Thus, they say, I will not participate in the group teaching program. Such will hinder the success of the group teaching program.
4. Program will fall into ill repute through misrepresentation: In some places where the program has been used, it has been falsely labeled “a Gestapo program,” “a pressure program,” “a program designed to embarrass those who do not attend,” and, you guessed it, “Communism!” It must be admitted that abuses of this program could make these labels somewhat appropriate. Such abuses must be guarded against. This is why I said earlier that we must not allow the tail to wag the dog. The essential ingredient of the group teaching program is loving concern for the souls of men. Any person who uses any other motivation is completely out of order. The program can be handled in such a way as to cause some members to resent it. There are some members who will resent it regardless, of how it is handled. But we must not allow weak and indifferent members to “run the church” by objection. We must do some things over the objections of some persons, even though we do not like to do so.
One person said the group teaching program is “a substitute for elders.” Maybe it was in his experience, but it does not have to be, and it is not designed to be. Rightly conceived, how can such a program be a substitute for elders when it is designed to help and encourage members of the body in doing God’s work. Are we to conclude that any program designed to do such is a substitute for elders? Hardly.
This is a brief presentation of the group teaching program, but it is sufficiently elaborate to acquaint the reader with the basic essentials of it. If I could help explain it in further detail to someone interested in it, I shall be most happy to do so.