How to Create a Great Bible Study Group
By April Love-Fordham at aprillovefordham.com
The Importance of Prayerful Consideration
Most people starting a Bible study skip the prayerful part. I think it is because we often see prayer about asking for things we want and “why wouldn’t God want a Bible study?” so we don’t bother to talk it over with God. But prayer is essential to building a strong, meaningful, and fun group. Yes, there is no reason Bible Study shouldn’t be fun! My advice is to sit quietly every time there is a decision to make and tell God about all your ideas and then let God speak into your free-flowing thoughts.
How do you know your thoughts are from God? Trust the Holy Spirit to speak into your heart. God is love so all thoughts that are loving come from God.
The Type of Bible Study
There are many reasons people have Bible studies. It might be simply to learn about scripture, it might be to apply scripture to one’s life, it might be to search for answers about a particular issue one is dealing with – like LGBTQ inclusion in the church or grief or depression. Prayerfully decide on the type of study. Be able to articulate the type of study you are forming as you ask people to join the group.
The Length of the Bible Study
How many weeks (or months) will the study span? How long will each meeting last?
It is easier for people to commit to a study for a set span of time than it is an ongoing study. If you are meeting once a month, then about six to nine months (spanning school year) seems to be a good goal. If you are meeting weekly, about six to twelve weeks seems to work well. These are not hard and fast rules, but I have seen them work well. My point is that you will have better attendance and commitment if you set a time frame for people to commit to.
The group will do best if they know they are committing to a set time at each meeting. If you decide an hour meeting is long enough, then make sure you end on time by announcing that those who need to leave can go. If some people want to stay for more discussion, you can do that after saying goodbye to those who must leave. Make it easy for people to leave and allow for more discussion for those who want to stay a bit longer. When meetings go on too long, people dread coming even though they enjoy them.
If the study has no discussion, make it no longer than 30-45 min. If the study is interactive, an hour to an hour and 30 min works well. Big groups may want to divide into smaller groups for discussion after a teaching session.
Again, be able to articulate the length of the entire study and the length of each meeting as you ask people to join your group.
Size of the Group
The size of the group is an important decision. Two can make a great and fulfilling group. Do not discount the beauty of studying with just one other person. Six is still small enough for good discussion and participation. More than ten and some people will never talk – might be best to start splitting the group for a discussion time when it reaches ten or more. As you ask people to join, be able to tell them how many people you are asking to join.
Forming the Group
There are many different levels of commitment people are willing to make. Will they be willing to do homework between meetings and how much? Will they be willing to attend each week?
If your group is unwilling to study between meetings or unable to commit to attending every week, you will want to choose a study that you can teach without a lot of informed participation. If you want a more committed group, you will need to articulate exactly what their commitment is as you ask them to join. Realize if the study lasts six weeks and they must miss two weeks due to vacation, they will be missing 1/3 of the meetings which can be detrimental to their learning and to the group experience.
If people unexpectedly miss meetings, the group will be better off if you spend time with them prior to the next meeting to catch them up. Otherwise, they may want to rehash the prior meeting’s topics and hold the group back.
Deciding what to Study
This is as varied as there are Bible studies. But if you know the answer to all the things already discussed in this article, you will know what to look for in a study. Take your time with this. Choose it before you invite others to join. After the group has been through one study together, you might ask them for suggestions for future studies, but it is probably best to choose the first study materials before you ask people to join.
My Bible Studies are designed to work for just 1 person to a church-wide study. There are discussion questions and spiritual practices to try. I like for people to commit to both reading the chapters and doing the spiritual practices before coming to class. If they want to answer the discussion questions, that is great too, but I don’t require that. Pastors often use my books for a church-wide study where they preach based on the corresponding scripture each week while small groups study the books.
James in the Suburbs (Epsitle of James) challenges people to action. Regretfully, this is the only book that does not have suggested spiritual practices. Dismantling Injustice (Song of Solomon) reveals how the Good Shepherd is calling us to address injustice. St. Francis and the Christian Life (Galatians) helps us think through what it means to live a Christian life. It is also a travelogue that anyone who has been to Assisi or wants to go will enjoy.
Setting a Learning Tone
Be gracious in hearing others’ impressions and ideas. You may even hear opinions that sound heretical. That is nothing to worry about. Let the Spirit work. None of us know all there is to know. Welcome diverse views and try to learn from them. Let everyone share without judgement.
The Christian life is not about figuring out the right theology, it is about loving God, others, and ourselves. Love has to be your goal in any Bible Study. I had a New Testament teacher in seminary who I disagreed with on some theological point. I challenged her. She responded with, “April, I don’t have to have the perfect theology, I am trusting Jesus to have it for me.” I was humbled by her answer. She was right. Studying scripture is important, but it is not more important than loving the people we study it with.