How to Lead Small Group Bible Studies
The Importance of Christian Small Groups
Spending time immersed daily in God's word is crucial for Christian spiritual formation -- at least as important as weekly church attendance. Small group Bible studies can be a fruitful and rewarding supplement to the individual and congregational study of God's word.
According to Matthew 18:20, Jesus tells us that "where two or three [believers] are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Small group Bible studies should be a holy act of worship.
If you've volunteered to lead your church Bible studies, the tasks of planning the lessons, readings and classes may seem like a daunting prospect. Fortunately, leading an effective Bible study doesn't require any special skills - just a little pre-planning, and an inclusive, prayerful spirit.
It All Starts With Prayer
Before planning any Bible studies, I strongly suggest that you start with prayer. You can pray that the Lord blesses your endeavors and uses your group to help all of its members deepen their relationship with God through the study. This may seem like an obvious first step to some, but in the rush to get all the details "just right," it's easy to overlook turning to God's wisdom first.
Prayer can be an integral, active party of your church Bible studies, too, strengthening each member's Christian faith as a group. Pray before each meeting on your own, and ask the group members to join you in prayer at the start of the study, as well. Open the study in prayer, and close each meeting by taking individual prayer requests from your members, to create a personal connection for everyone present.
Location, Location, Location
The space in which you choose to have your Bible study can seriously affect the success of your Christian ministries. Here are some tips to make sure you pick the right space to house your small group.
- Choose a large enough location. The space must comfortably accommodate all the members of your group.
- Have extra seats, in case someone decides to bring a friend.
- Ask your church if it can provide you with a meeting space on its premises, if it hasn't already offered.
- Meet in the homes of your group members, if your church can't provide a meeting place. You can meet at the same home each week, if the host family is willing, or rotate meetings between your group members' homes so that no one is unduly burdened.
- Have a back-up plan, should something come up making it impossible for that week's family to host the meeting: the group can simply meet at another home.
Resources for Small Groups
What Should You Study?
In planning your new Christian ministry, you may be stumped by having to select the topic for the week's Bible study for your small group. There are two basic ways of determining what the reading should be.
- Select the subject matter first, then use a Bible concordance to find a corresponding passage that matches the subject matter.
- Select a favorite or particularly powerful passage first, and then choose the topics you'll be extrapolating from the passage for group discussion.
Some Bible study group leaders find it helpful to have their group read through an entire book of the Bible over a set period of time, covering one chapter per week. Since small groups tend to be more informal and personalized than formal Sunday school studies, many groups choose a relevant Biblically-based book or series as a study focus.
For example, a small group Bible study comprised of Christian mothers may choose a Christian devotional reader specifically for Christian mothers. As the leader of the small group, it's your job to decide how and what you're going to study, either by consensus or by your own personal preferences.
How to Study the Bible
To lead a sequential Bible study over the course of several weeks, you'll need to break down the passage you've selected into an evenly distributed number of verses, paragraphs, pages or sections. This is especially important if you want to read the verses out loud: divide up the passage into even increments.
For example, if your small group will be studying a book of the Bible, and the chapter you'll be reading has 40 verses and your group has 8 members, each participant can read five verses. These breaks in the reading are natural pauses that can be used to open the floor for group discussion.
Make notes in your Bible or book ahead of time, sectioning off the passages, or just jot them down in a notebook.
Encouraging Member Participation
An important part of your Christian ministries is to forge a personal connection for each of your members. Invite your group members to share their perspectives after each section of the selected passage is read out loud. A small group Bible study is most rewarding as a collective shared experience, and your group members will look to their leader to set an inclusive, open tone to the meeting.
You'll have to take an active role in fostering active, involved discussion among your members. Prompt your group members to share by sharing your own thoughts about the meaning of the section. Don't be afraid to tell about a time when the concept in the passage directly related to your own life experience, then invite others to do the same. This is a powerful method of personalizing the study, and it also creates the space for an engaging, interactive discussion.
Hymn: Be Thou My Vision
How to Close the Study
The closing of your small group Bible study can be just as important. Through the closing prayer and study, you have the chance to leave your group members with a lasting impression they can take with them throughout the week, or until your next meeting.
Close the Bible study by asking your members to think about and pray over a specific concept evoked by the reading between your group meetings. This may be something that the passage brought up directly, or it may be an issue or concept that arose during the group's discussion.
Distribute a prayer list that relates to the immediate needs of your group members. You can send it via email or write it down and make copies, if your facilities have a copy machine or all-in-one printer. Email is a convenient way to keep in touch between small group meetings, if everyone in your small group has email.
Relevance of Christian Faith
Find a way to connect what you've studied to your small group's daily lives, perhaps asking them to make daily or weekly notes, or to do additional related reading. A small group Bible study should sustain its members spiritually between meetings, and forge a constant connection between meeting times.
Don't forget to say a prayer of thanks when you're done!
Small Group Bible Study Tips
Personalities in Small Groups
- Avoid allowing the extroverts of your group dominate the discussion.
- Gently encourage the shyer members to share their thoughts often, to make everyone feel equally welcome.
- Every small group has its own dynamics, but as its leader, it's up to you to guide it in a positive, encouraging direction for all members.
Supplies to Keep On Hand
It's always a good idea to bring a couple of extra copies of the Bible or text you'll be reading. Someone will always accidentally leave theirs at home, and it helps visitors to your small group feel more welcome to have their own copy.
Also have extra paper and pens, for taking notes. You may want to print out the reading for the day, and any main points of discussion you want to bring up during the small group meeting.
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