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What makes a T.O.P. 10 church? Here are some examples.

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DULUTH — As ministry practices have changed, so have the methods by which to gauge their effectiveness, says Tim Smith.

Smith, Georgia Baptist Mission Board state missionary with Groups and Faith Development, looked at various criteria to determine the most effective congregations in the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2017. The results identified some 100 churches whose practices could help Teach Other Pastors more effective ministry methods. Out of that list, ten churches of different sizes from around the state were identified for their ministry effectiveness.

Tim Smith

The result, the 2017 T.O.P. 10 Sunday School/Small Group Georgia Baptist Churches list, replaces what used to be known as the Fastest-Growing Churches list.

“These churches come from the best of the best,” said Smith, a Georgia Baptist state missionary since 1999 who has worked with Sunday School leadership for nearly 40 years. “Less than 2.5 percent of all Georgia Baptist churches made it to the list of 100.

“These churches in the T.O.P. 10 list were chosen because I feel they could help spread the best practices of a healthy Sunday School/Small Group ministry.”

The ten criteria for identifying those churches were:

  • Turned in an Annual Church Report for 2017
  • Giving to missions through the Cooperative Program in 2017
  • Percentage gain in Sunday School/Small Group (SS/SG) average attendance from 2016-17
  • Net gain in SS/SG average attendance from 2016-17
  • At least 80 percent of worship attendance in SS/SG attendance in 2017
  • Percentage gain in SS/SG enrollment from 2016-17
  • Net gain in SS/SG enrollment from 2016-17
  • Total baptisms for 2016-17
  • A baptism-to-attendance ratio better than the rest of the GBC churches in 2017
  • An increase in both SS/SG average attendance and enrollment in 2017.

From micro to mega

Don’t try to get Smith to single out any of those criteria as more important. But the health of a church’s Sunday School/Small Groups program largely directed to overall growth. Discussions with pastors revealed other insights, but Smith said his “aha” moment came in discussing new classes.

“Each of these churches averaged starting seven new classes in 2017,” he said. “That’s the typical number of classes or groups in the average GBC church! These churches started what is equal to starting ten new churches this past year!”

The T.O.P. Ten list and their categories are:

Micro – (49 or less in SS/SG average weekly attendance; 2,107 total churches in the GBC) Pine Haven Baptist Church, Brunswick

Small – (50-100 in SS/SG average weekly attendance; 804 total churches in the GBC) Gracewood Baptist Church, Statesboro

Intermediate – (101-199 in SS/SG average weekly attendance; 346 total churches in the GBC) Mount Alto Baptist, Rome and Mount Zion Baptist, Danville

Medium – (200-399 in SS/SG average weekly attendance; 173 total churches in the GBC) Change Church, Grantville and Faith Baptist Church, Monroe

Large – (400-699 in SS/SG average weekly attendance; 71 total churches in the GBC) Maysville Baptist Church and Peachtree City First Baptist Church

Mega – (700 or more in SS/SG average weekly attendance; 53 total churches in the GBC) Warren Baptist Church, Augusta and Concord Baptist, Clermont.

Growth of a group, through a group

“A strong Sunday School or Small Group ministry equals a healthy church,” testified Smith. A key part of that, he added, was having a group environment that not only urged others to grow spiritually but share life outside of the classroom.

“One of the things that separates these churches from the rest of the pack is their ability to really connect with people. In particular, they conducted a class for new members, encouraged and expected their members to be engaged outside of the classroom, and took part in some type of missions or ministry project together.”

Perhaps the biggest differentiating factor, he noted, pointed to leadership.

“A lot of churches are content to have one leader per group, but a well-rounded ministry will have a teacher as well as others to coordinate fellowship and outreach. The churches on this list averaged three leaders per small group. They understand the teacher can’t do it all alone.”

More information about Georgia Baptist Adult Groups and Faith Development, including its blog providing tips and tools, can be found here.

discipleship, leadership, small groups, Sunday School

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