How to Lead a Small-Group Bible Study
Pray. Ask the Lord to direct you to those He wants you to invite.
Choose curriculum. Know that adults learn best through discussion, not talking heads, so you don’t have to purchase a video series or find a lecturer. Look for a written study that encourages group members to dig into the Word for themselves. Decide what version of the Bible you want everyone to use—or let everyone go with her own favorite. (Warning: Different versions create many opportunities to “chase rabbit trails.”)
Invite people. Decide on a time and place to meet. Will you go to a home, a coffee shop, or meet at church? If the latter, work with the appropriate staff member(s) to schedule your time. Once you have all the details nailed down, ask others to join you, and set a deadline for commitment.
Place your order. Take book orders and collect payments. This allows you to take advantage of bulk discounts. Or download free studies from bible.org. Know that people are more likely to follow through in attending if they have a study in hand.
Plan. Before your first meeting, decide whether to distribute studies in advance or to hand them out when you get together. And provide instructions about your first meeting. Do you want members to do nothing, read only the introductory information, or actually come prepared to discuss the first week’s study?
Prepare. Complete your study for the week. Then select the questions you’ll ask by going back and choosing about seven open-ended questions out of the curriculum to discuss as a group. You can simply circle these in your guide. Be sure at least one of your choices covers what you feel is the most important point from the text for that week. Put a star next to that one.
Plan to spend most of your time together as a group discussing what the Bible says. If group members hardly know each other or seem reluctant to talk, use an icebreaker question to get them started. Try to come up with something that relates to the topic without requiring a spiritual answer. You may have people in your group who are completely uncomfortable talking about spiritual things, and the icebreaker is a way to help them participate in a way that’s less threatening.
For example, a study on Revelation 2 might speak of the suffering church at Smyrna and our tendency to fear people more than God. So you could come up with a question like this: “What makes you crazy-afraid? Spiders? Snakes? The dark? Enclosed spaces? Horror flicks? Snowboarding? My niece freaks out when she sees a gecko. My cat is terrified of the vacuum cleaner; she skulks off to hide under the bed whenever it goes on. What frightens you?”
Do your lesson one week ahead of the group so you can talk about the homework and provide any guidance they might need.
Hold your first meeting. Open in prayer. Provide opportunities for members to get acquainted if they don’t already know each other. Add a non-threatening question with the potential for humor such as, “What is your favorite household appliance—a water heater, a blender, a coffeemaker…?”
Obtain permission to distribute contact information among the members to encourage discussion and fellowship throughout the week. Include phone, email, and street addresses. Consider setting up a temporary and private Facebook or Yahoo group for communication.
Manage the time. Begin each session with prayer, and do your best to start on time. Set a clear ending time, and respect participants’ schedules.
After opening in prayer, ask an icebreaker question, if you plan to use one. Then move to discussion. Allow about 45 minutes for this. Be careful to avoid dominating as the leader. Your job is less to instruct and more to draw out others. If you have a member who rarely says anything, periodically direct an easy question specifically to her.
When you finish the final question, ask members if you skipped a question or issue they wanted to cover. Feel free to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out” to any question you can’t answer.
Ask everyone to share prayer requests, items for thanksgiving, or announcements. Be sure each prayer request is actually covered in prayer, and encourage the group to refrain from answering such requests with advice or related stories (like, “I know someone else with that kind of cancer and she used an herbal supplement”).
Before you dismiss everyone, talk about what they should do to prepare for your next time together.
Keep in touch. Between meetings, pray for participants. It will mean a lot if you can follow up with a phone call, particularly when people have shared urgent requests. If you can make one visit to each member’s home during the course of the study, you will likely find a huge dividend in the time invested. “Just showing up” goes a long way toward building community and facilitating spiritual growth.
I wish there were a way to
I wish there were a way to save this to my bible.org profile, Sandi! This is terrific, succinct, practical advice that I can use RIGHT now. Thank you!
Thanks, Sharifa. So glad to hear you are connected with a small group focused on the Word.
If or any other reader has any suggestions to add, this would be a great place to tell us about them.
Sandy, this was a great post with lots of good and comprehensive information. I hope you have the opportunity to coach new small group/Bible study leaders at your church since they could really benefit from what you know. Here are some tips I put together: http://www.christianlayman.com/2012/10/10/church-small-group-best-practices/