Class sizes are running anywhere from 30 to 55 women in each class (we offer six different classes--all offered Tuesday a.m. in the same time slot-- from which the ladies can choose each semester). The children's program, which runs simultaneously to the Bible study classes, is brimming with 110+ children.
While we're grateful for the privilege to serve so many and while we stand in awe of what God is doing, we're wondering what to do with this growth, as growth presents challenges: how to handle classroom dynamics when you have 50 women in class; how to foster intimacy and accountability yet have time for instruction; how to divvy up the children's classes so you don't have 40 two-year-olds in one room; how to prevent teacher and care leader burn-out; how to help women feel connected in so large a program; how to encourage new leaders to step up and help carry the load.
For those wrestling with similar challenges, here are some of the things we do to avoid burnout and facilitate personal growth, even when the numbers grow:
- each women's class is led by a team of four people: one lead teacher; one assistant teacher; one hostess; and one care team leader. The teachers teach (the two teachers share the teaching load and/or cover for one another); the hostess handles room set up and refreshments (including sign-ups for the women in class to bring in refreshments); and the care team leader recruits a few others in class to help her with "care" or special needs: sending cards or notes of encouragement; arranging meals for someone who is in need, etc....
- the larger classes utilize small group break out times in class: when I teach a class of 40, for example, I divide the class list into eight groups of five people who sit together in table groups for prayer, sharing, small group discussion, or in-class activities. Part of our two-hour session each week, then, includes both large group interactive teaching and small group time. This allows those in larger classes to connect more closer to a few others in their class over the semester.
- all six classes combine once a month for joint worship: to keep us feeling like a single Bible study program (and not six separate Bible studies), we join together on the second Tuesday of each month to worship together as a large group. Though our worship times only take 15 minutes out of our 2-hour program, they foster a larger sense of connectedness.
- all classes take turns doing "service project" twice a semester: though our children's classes have regular staffs who teach the entire semester (each children's class has three regular teachers who serve in that class each week for continuity), the ladies' Bible study classes take turns being the "helpers" in the children's program. Yes, the entire class of 30 or 40 women takes a week off from their regular classtime to serve together as workers in the children's program (that includes their Bible study teachers, too). Since our semester runs 12 weeks and we have six adult classes, each adult class takes two turns helping in the children's program over the twelve weeks. We call these weeks "service project" weeks, because we're trying to foster a Bible-study-wide sense of service, and because we provide alternate service projects for those women who (for medical or other reasons) cannot participate in helping with the children (anything from stuffing envelopes for the church office to dusting the sanctuary to cutting out craft project pieces or shelving library books). This strategy finally solved our never-having-enough-helpers issue and gives the ladies an opportunity to interact in ways they would not in their regular Bible study class.
- we provide an intentional variety of study topics from which to choose to best meet a spectrum of needs: every semester we offer at least six classes (sometimes seven), each class filling one of these broad categories: an Old testament book study (e.g.: I Kings or Hosea); a New Testament book study (e.g.: Romans or John); a practical topical study geared toward daily life issues (e.g.: parenting, marriage, busyness); a doctrinal or theological study (e.g. God's sovereignty, Christology, the character of God); a basics study (e.g.: discipleship, how to study the Bible, Bible survey, etc.) and an inner life or spiritual growth study (prayer, spiritual disciplines, fostering awareness of God, etc.).
- we offer a variety of difficulty/commitment levels: within the six categories listed above, we also make sure we offer different levels of difficulty: our studies range from requiring only in-and-out attendance with no homework to weekly attendance requiring an hour per day of homework between sessions (and various levels of commitment in between). Most of our classes require somewhat regular attendance and about 90 minutes per week of homework, but we offer more and less for those women who need or desire it.
These are just some of the strategies we employ, and we'll use them as long as they work. But our continuing increase in numbers may require more strategizing. :o)
How glad I am the God is sovereign over it all.
'Til next time,