5 ways to revolutionise your small group Bible studies

Small group Bible studies get rolling at La Trobe this week — having presumably been underway already at lots of churches through most of February.

So I thought I’d share 5 tips Natalie and I have picked up from our experience over the years.

They may not quite revolutionise your studies. But I’m convinced they have the potential to make a significant difference to your group life and time engaging with God together.

Here they are (in no particular order):

  1. Get comfortable with the three magic words — ‘Do you think’ (and ‘Do you feel’, ‘Do you imagine’, etc). Questions like ‘What do you think Paul means by X?’ are much more effective than ‘What does Paul mean by X?’ Although some people feel that studying the Bible isn’t about our opinions but about hearing from God, it seems to me that one of the distinctive strengths of small groups is the opportunity they provide to wrestle together with what the Bible says and discuss how to respond to him.
  2. Take the initiative to make yourself vulnerable and share your struggles. If you long for your group to be real with each other, you’ve got to set the tone. You’re meant to be an example of growing and repenting. But that doesn’t mean only ever sharing about ‘safe’ stuff — like the fact that you’re feeling rebuked for not praying or reading the Bible enough.
  3. Actually draw on all that stuff you’ve heard about different learning styles. Bible study can lend itself to academic, discursive style thinkers (and especially talkers). But even within a university context, it’s really important to make room for and support people who are more visual, hands-on or less inclined to feel confident sharing their views.
  4. Try to walk the line between making people feel welcome to pray out loud and recognising how culturally odd extemporary prayer is. All those cheesy, clunky things — like getting everyone to write down a sentence (‘God, I thank you for…’, etc) and then drawing them out of a hat to read out — are tremendously helpful especially early in the life of a group.
  5. I understand that this may be culturally specific, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to spell out the ‘right answer’ all the time. People won’t remember what you tell them. They’ll remember and ‘own’ what they contribute. Your job is to help them engage honestly with God in his word and take steps toward maturity from wherever they are. Its more of win when your group members put quality understanding into their own awkward words than it is for you to wrap up the study with five minutes of eloquent summary.
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4 comments

  1. A members’ guide that involves being a good member or one that trains up your leader?!
    I’ve worked hard on #2 at various times and it really does bear wonderful fruit. There are, however, times when I have deliberately not done this because I have thought that my own struggles would in some way clash with the issues of others in the group (ie not mentioned relationship struggles in a group with a recent/distressed divorcee). These are always the groups I’ve found most difficult.

    1. I was probably thinking something more along the lines of being a good group member (for group members) — although, that’s something I often struggled with. I’m definitely no expert! But I can resonate with the challenge of situations like the one you describe.

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